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Excited Fans, Angry Protesters Greet Indian PM Narendra Modi at Facebook

Excited Fans, Angry Protesters Greet Indian PM Narendra Modi at Facebook
Riya Bhattacharjee
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a town hall with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.

Tight security, protests and Bollywood beats greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Facebook's Silicon Valley headquarters Sunday, where hundreds of members from the Indian community showed up to catch a glimpse of the leader of the wold's largest democracy.

It was obvious Modi was the star of the show — an hour-long Q&A with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — where he answered questions pre-selected from thousands posted by people on the social networking site.

"We received more than 40,000 comments for this town hall, that's pretty incredible," Zuckerberg, sporting a suit and blue tie instead of his trademark hoodie, said to applause from the crowd.

He told Modi how a trip to India had inspired him, "It was a temple Steve Jobs told me about," he said.

"I hope that the inspiration you got in India will help you be the voice of millions of people ... Your experience shows that those who come to India with certain hopes and aspirations, are able to meet those hopes and aspirations," Modi said.

Modi's followers and members of the Indian press — some of whom had flown in from India — described him as a "global brand" whose reach has far surpassed the Indian subcontinent.

Indian Prime Minister Visits Silicon ValleyIndian Prime Minister Visits Silicon Valley

Preparations are underway Friday evening for the Prime Minister of India’s visit to the Bay Area. Sunday’s event at the SAP Center is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak. Marianne Favro reports.
(Published Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015)

But his visit is not without controversy. Outside, Sikh groups held a protest, contending that Modi's tenure has resulted in deteriorating religious freedom for Indians. According to a memo handed to attendees — along with samosas and steaming cups of hot chai — the group believes that Modi is trying to turn the world's largest democracy into a Hindu nation through forced conversion of Muslims and Christians. They urged Zuckerberg to ask Modi about it.

About 100 Modi followers stood on the opposite side of the street, chanting" "East or west, Modi is the best." Police officers kept both groups on the sidewalk, preventing any kind of direct confrontation.

Social media, women's rights and the importance of family were the highlights of the Q&A, at which Zuckerberg's parents were also present.

Modi, who received a rockstar welcome from the Indian community when he arrived in San Jose this weekend, is in California to meet with tech leaders to talk about his vision for a digital India. On Saturday, Modi toured the Tesla factory with CEO Elon Musk and Apple CEO Tim Cook. He also met with Google's new CEO, Sundar Pichai, as well as Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, both Indians.

Modi spoke at Google after the Facebook event Sunday, where Pichai announced plans to bring high-speed Wi-Fi in 400 railway stations across India. Modi will also be speaking to a sold-out crowd of mostly 18,000 Indo-Americans at an event at the SAP Center in San Jose Sunday evening.

Indian Prime Minister Visits Google HeadquartersIndian Prime Minister Visits Google Headquarters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to tech fanatics at the Google headquarters Sunday.
(Published Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015)

An avid social media user, Modi has more than 30 million followers on Facebook and 15 million followers on Twitter. He had urged people to send him their questions on Facebook, and they did. Questions ranged from immigration to pollution to music piracy, topics an entire generation of Indians are tired of not getting answers to.

When asked about women's equality in India, Modi said that women have to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with men. He talked about his own humble beginnings, about how he had risen from a simple tea seller to become the prime minister of the world's second-most populous country. He also spoke about his mother, and was moved to tears remembering the time she had to take up a job as a house maid.

"This shouldn't happened to anyone," he said, to applause from the crowd.

Modi was asked about the "Make in India" program, that's designed to transform India into a global manufacturing hub.

Modi said he aims to take India from an eight trillion dollar economy to a twenty trillion dollar economy by focusing on the agriculture, tourism and service sectors. "I want to connect villages with optical fibre and build highways," he said.

Modi praised social media's role in diplomacy, and how it had brought him closer to leaders of other countries, including China. "With social media you have daily bonding," Modi said. "Government can use this real-time information to speed up their work ... Social media has played a very big role as far as government is concerned."

“We used to have elections every five years. Now we have them every five minutes,” he said to a crowd cheering at his clever repartees. 

As the event drew to a close, Modi's supporters surrounded him, chanting "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" or "Hail Mother India," as Secret Service officers tried to keep the crowd from mobbing him.

In the end, some even managed to get a selfie.

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