PM Modi at Facebook: ‘Like’ all the way


SAN JOSE: It was “Like” all the way. Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley provided India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi the perfect platform to showcase his social media skills and vision for Digital India at a townhall meeting where he and his host Mark Zuckerberg began by sharing intimate stories.

In a seldom-told episode that will become part of the Valley’s lore and its connection to India, Zuckerberg related to Prime Minister Modi how he followed his tech guru Steve Jobs’ advice to visit India, including a certain temple, before he launched Facebook. Zuckerberg said he followed the advice, and traveling in India for a month and seeing its millions connect was an inspirational part of the Facebook story. (Jobs was drawn to Neem Karoli Baba in India).

The story visibly delighted Modi, providing him another avenue to present India as an inspirational destination for business success even as he explained his own early embrace of technology in reply to Zuckerberg’s question. It’s human nature to look for short cuts in education like forsaking text books for shorter guides, notes, and 101s, and social media was a perfect tool for someone like him who lacked in depth formal education, Modi explained frankly.

He also explained how his “daily bonding” with his audience over social media was helping bridge the gap between the government and the people in way unimaginable a generation ago.

Social media had also changed the nature and face of diplomacy, he said, citing how he could greet a Chinese leader on his birthday on the Chinese platform Weibo and wish the Israeli people in Hebrew. There was a moment of mirth when he mentioned his use of Weibo, because Facebook is blocked in China.

They were among several candid and intriguing moments in an hour-long q/a in Facebook’s Hacker Square where its employees gather to hear assorted guests.

But seldom has the place seen the likes of an Indian leader who derives so much heft from the country’s three million diaspora in the US (and 30 million worldwide). With scores of Indian employees on its rolls, it could well have been a townhall in New Delhi’s Friends’ Colony, as a fanboy atmosphere greeted the prime minister, with the PA system belting out Bollywood songs before Modi’s arrival.

Remarkable, the Silicon Valley superstar who isn’t shy of being seen in a hoodie wore a jacket and tie on a Sunday morning, while the Prime Minister was dressed more informally.

Mildly difficult questions about the ease of doing business and gender gap in India were easily fielded by Modi with elaborate explanations about the steps his government in taking. In the process, he also smacked down one of his cabinet colleagues (culture minister Mahesh Sharma; without naming him) who had suggested an Indian women’s place is in the kitchen.

“If we are to progress we cannot imprison 50 per cent of the population (women) in their homes. They must walk shoulder to shoulder (with men) and have 100 per cent participation,” he said.

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