Prime Minister Narendra Modi concludes his visit to the west coast of United States this weekend with a townhall at Facebook, meetings with tech executives, and a reception in his honour by Indian-Americans in San Jose. It is not just Modi who will be on display in these events, but Silicon Valley, an endless object of desire and fascination for Indians.

The Indian-heavy enclaves of Sunnyvale, San Jose, Fremont, and surrounding towns are the embodiment of a kind of aspirational utopian modernity, explaining their powerful hold in the imagination of both expatriate and middle-class India. The Silicon Valley, especially its Indian sections, is a symbol of what India could have been under right conditions, manifestations of a technocratic Western modernity it could have achieved while keeping its cultural heritage intact. And Modi is the person who might yet be able to help India achieve this ideal balance.

To be sure, Narendra Modi, like any leader, represents many things to many people. Many of Mr Modi’s enthusiasts in Silicon Valley are not be dyed-in-the-wool adherents of Hindutva nor drawn from the overseas ranks of the traditional mercantile constituencies that form the base of the Bharatiya Janata Party. However, in general, the mix of economic prosperity and cultural conservatism represented by the world of Silicon Valley India is the bedrock of the mutual attraction between the Indian Prime Minister and his Silicon Valley supporters. As Achin Vanaik has argued, Indian elites have always been attracted to the idea of a strong state. Narendra Modi promises to transform India into such a state by representing a majoritarian vision of Indian cultural identity in addition to fostering initiatives related to the economy.

The fantasy of modernity

But the modernity of Silicon Valley is itself a kind of fantasy, which points to the troubling underside of the desires for India that are projected on to it. For all the talk of Silicon Valley  and its surroundings as a meritocratic culture anchored in a radically libertarian egalitarianism, many of the highly prosperous, neatly-ordered towns between San Francisco and San Jose are sites of significant inequality.  Each such town reflects what the economist Tyler Cowen has described as the “Average is Over” phenomenon: societies with very affluent elites who are served by an underclass and a shrinking middle-income population.

This inequality, however, is utterly invisible in the fancier parts of these towns. Drive through them and all you see are the perfect sidewalks with trees planted at regular intervals, most of the million-dollar plus homes shielded by fences, hardly a soul walking on the roads, an occasional Indian grandmother wheeling her grandchild in a stroller, and the odd landscaping truck with a couple of workers pruning a slightly overgrown tree. The people that serve the wealthy of these towns increasingly do not live in them; those that do are corralled into apartment complexes hidden from plain sight or on the wrong side of the tracks.

A similar will-to-segregate seems to animate elites in India as well, through a combination of both old and new traditions of discrimination. If the “servants-only” lift has been a longstanding feature of buildings in Cuffe Parade in South Mumbai, the gated community, imported from America to various Indian cities, incorporates this custom into a new constellation of exclusionary practices. If the nature of India megacities is such that the poor cannot be herded away entirely, it is the rich who claim public space in all kinds of ways  – from grabbing it by aligning with the developer-babu-politician nexus to parking their exotic cars on pavements. In either case, the underlying imperative or effect is the same: the management of those unruly, unproductive, or lesser populations who do not fit the profile of a certain kind of ideal global and national subject.

The waiting room of history

Being Indian, the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has suggested, means permanently being consigned to the “waiting room of history,” dreaming and yearning of arriving into a fully achieved modernity that seems tantalisingly within grasp, even if elusive. Perhaps this is true for a certain kind of middle-class India, prone to imagining the West as a reference point, or perhaps it is true of a much wider swath of Indians.

This deeply felt sense of waiting will be readily recognised by Indians across generations, suffusing, as it does, our conversations, dreams, and frustrations. This, of course, was the promise underlying the developmental vision of the independent Indian state. This was the hope placed on the Rajiv Gandhi government, projected on to the initiatives it took with regard to the telecommunications and computing industries. This was the hope again in 1991 with economic liberalisation. And yet again in 2014 with Narendra Modi’s election, and symbolised recently in his Digital India initiative. This is the aspiration underlying the magnificent housing complexes promised by Indian developers, steel and chrome buildings boasting pools in the sky, state-of-the-art gyms, and office spaces with cappuccino machines. This was the dream supposedly behind the creation of mini-townships like Kaushambi in Ghaziabad, where, it was believed, NRIs would settle in droves, once the economic reforms of 1991 ushered India into an era of unparalleled prosperity.

Yet despite some parts of the commercial neighbourhoods of big Indian cities, the occasional swank mall or a US-style bowling alley or microbrewery, the economic and social landscape of India have not alchemized into a fully-formed model of a particularly type of neatly ordered rationalised modernity. The waiting room of history may have been renovated, but it is still a waiting room. In Silicon Valley, though, especially in the million-dollar homes of successful Indian immigrants, it appears to be in full bloom.

It is this compliment, I think, that Modi promises to deliver to the Indian-American community, when he addresses it in San Jose on September 27. That they already are the ideal future of India, even if that future may never actually materialise in India itself.