India's Leader Tours Silicon Valley, Swaps Stories With Facebook's Zuckerburg

Sep 28, 2015
Originally published on September 29, 2015 1:37 pm
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Silicon Valley got a high-profile visitor over the weekend - India's prime minister, Narendra Modi. India has strong ties to the high-tech sector in the United States. And as NPR's Aarti Shahani reports, at a meeting at Facebook's headquarters, the leader of India became unexpectedly emotional.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The town hall here started off festive, lighthearted. The prime minister and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage. Zuckerberg shared this anecdote early on when Facebook hit a rough patch, he felt lost. He went to his mentor, Steve Jobs.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: And he told me that in order to reconnect with what I believed as the mission of the company, I should visit this temple that he had gone to in India.

SHAHANI: And so Zuckerberg did for about a month. Modi applauded the young CEO.


NARENDRA MODI: (Through interpreter) You went to a temple with a lot of hope and look how much you've achieved since then.


SHAHANI: Modi proceeded to share a lot of ideas about how Indians could build billion-dollar companies with U.S. investment capital. He hit the libertarian chord, promising to move forward on deregulation. And if so many leaps forward sound unlikely, Modi offered his personal story.


MODI: (Through interpreter) My mother is still alive. She's more than 90 years old.

SHAHANI: Modi's family grew up poor.


MODI: (Through interpreter) When I was little, at that time to earn money, she would...

SHAHANI: And recalling his mom, he took a long pause, recounting how she would go around the neighborhood.


MODI: (Through interpreter) To clean dishes, fill water and perform hard labor.

SHAHANI: But now the cleaner's son is the head of India. People here felt moved, connected to Modi. Outside Facebook, protesters raise concerns about how the prime minister has treated religious minorities. They urged Zuckerberg to ask a question about it, which he did not. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.