Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday answered questions from the audience at a Townhall at the Facebook headquarters at Menlo Park, California. Welcoming Mr. Modi to the Facebook campus, CEO Mark Zuckerberg appreciated ‘Digital India’ and talked about the need for connectivity. He also spoke about how Mr. Modi is setting an example on how to connect with citizens using social media.
11:00 pm: Townhall Q&A session ends. Mr. Modi thanks all; Mr. Zuckerberg thanks the Prime Minister.
10:55 pm: Mark Zuckerberg asks: I believe in the importance of family. Can you tell us about your mother?
I congratulate Mark’s parents (who are in the audience). I come from a poor family and my family played an important role in my life. No one could have imagined that the world’s largest democracy could have accepted an ordinary tea seller. I salute the Indian people. My mother is illiterate. My father is no more. My mom understands things through media. My mother took lot of pains to help me grow. Lakhs of mothers in India have dedicated their lives for the dreams of their children. I salute all mothers for their inspiration and dedication. I hope this will inspire all to stick to the right path.
10:48 pm: There is a lot said about women empowerment in India. What is your view on related schemes and women equality?
There is an imagination about God in all societies. Only in India is the woman imagined as God (durga, Kali, Saraswati, etc.) For our government to achieve economic progress, we have to utilise the potential of the 50 percent population — the women in India. Women are very involved in education and health sectors today. Women should be empowered to be decision makers and not just participants. We will focus on girl child education through ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ scheme.
10:40 pm: Next question: do you think there is an increased ease in doing business in India?
It is difficult to move a long train as opposed to a scooter. In a large country, changes take time to cumulatively be effective. 180 million people didn’t have bank accounts We managed to get bank accounts for them in 100 days..what was not managed in 40 years. Ease of business international rating for India is 140. I brought all States in India to work on this. Today, there is unprecedented competition among states to improve ease of business. I am sure India’s rating will soon improve. The relative lower pay, improving skills and manpower will help the Make in India initiative. There has been a 87% growth in foriegn investment in India. Clearly the success of Make in India is linked to this.
India’s unique strengths: 3D. Demographic dividend, democracy and demand. I have added another D: deregulation.
10:35 pm: The co-founder of Babajob.com asks a question: digital infrastructure needs to be empowered by government to foster connectivity and jobs. What forms of investment are you looking at to the enable this?
I ask young people here to emulate Vir [of Babajob] and come back to create jobs in India. We need both highways and i-ways in India. I want to connect all 6 lakh villages in India via fiber optic cables. People today live in places where infrastructure is present unlike past when water was the reason. Soon we might live in places where there is good digital infrastructure. I don’t think there is a shortage of money to invest in the world. I request people who have enough money to invest in India. We took a decision to reserve 30% in the police force for women in some Union Territories. Women reservation is to the tune of 50% in local bodies in some States. This is a great achievement.
10:26 pm: You were one of the early adopters of social media. Did you expect the impact on policy, foreign policy etc.?
Social media was like a “guide” and an easy textbook to know about things for me. It helped mould my thought process. Build a world consciousness and it helped the world accept me for what I am. Social media has helped people recognise and accept me for what I am. When I took office .. I realised that there was a large gap between people and govt. By the time one gets to realise this, elections come up! But social media allows for accountability instantly. I ask all world leaders not to avoid social media and to connect to it.
If governments are alert and conscious about real time accountability. It will be good for democracy. Social media helps here and has allowed for connecting people among different countries rather than just the capitals. For example, I used Chinese social media to wish the PM there. It went viral. I wished the Israel PM in Hebrew and he replied in Hindi! The fact that the world is a community is explained by social media.
10:25 pm: “Technology will play an important role. In the last few years…many talk about the change in perception about Indian economy. In the last 15 months we have managed to win back the confidence about our economy. This is our greatest achievement.”
10:23 pm: India is world’s largest democracy. Economically, every multilateral institution says that we are the fastest growing economy. My dream is to increase our GDP from 8 trillion to 20 trillion dollar economy: PM Modi
10:22 pm: We want to focus on agriculture, services and manufacturing, says PM Modi
10:21 pm: Facebook’s initiative to connect the world will not be only a way to increase its bank balance but will be a means to reach out to the aspirations of crores of people. I am thankful to you for this: PM Modi
10:17 pm: Steve Jobs told me to go to India to seek guidance during early days of Facebook: Zuckerberg
10:13 pm: Supporters cheer for Mr. Modi and CEO Zuckerberg as he greets the crowd at Facebook HQ.
10:08 pm: Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, NSA Ajit Doval, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Arun Singh, among others, reach the venue.
9: 45 pm: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Facebook Headquarters.
9: 15 pm: Protestors outside the venue where PM Modi is scheduled for a Q&A session.
9:10 pm: For Mr. Zuckerberg, India is more than just a big market. It is a test bed where he hopes to enable the development of tools and ideas that can be useful for the entire world. More..
9: 00 pm: Prior to Mr. Modi’s visit, Mr. Zuckerberg declared his support for ‘Digital India’. “I changed my profile picture to support Digital India, the Indian government’s effort to connect rural communities to the internet and give people access to more services online,” he posted on his page.
8:30 pm: The crane workbench at Facebook which has stayed here since the beginning. Facebook has retained it as a symbol of its beginnings.
A Townhall Q&A at the Facebook headquarters along with its founder Mark Zuckerberg — something, according to Narendra Modi, “you shouldn’t miss” — is billed to be a high-profile event during the Prime Minister’s five-day visit to the U.S. this year.
A day after Mr. Modi met up with leading technology entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley – from Microsoft, Google, Apple, Tesla, Adobe, Cisco, and Qualcomm among others – he is set to address a Townhall style Q and A session with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the latter’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California at 9:30 a.m. US Pacific Time. As with the other technology companies in the Silicon Valley, Facebook is looking at India as a leading market – it’s the second largest user base for its social media products – and has launched initiatives with markets such as India in mind. The most prominent initiative is the internet.org rebranded as “Free Basic Services by Facebook”.
Mr. Modi and Mr. Zuckerberg are, according to a Facebook post by the latter a few days ago, going to dwell upon how “communities can work together to solve social and economic challenges”. Mr. Zuckerberg’s post gained more than 7,10,000 likes and 40,000 comments, with questions ranging from FDI in India to the country’s current reservation system.
The townhall is to be held at the sprawling Facebook headquarters, which has issued strict instructions for employees and media personnel to follow a formal dress code, moving away from its vaunted informality on campus.
(The writer is in Menlo Park, California at the invitation of Facebook)