SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Lights flashed and chants of “Modi, Modi” filled the 18,000-seat sports arena in San Jose, California, on Sunday as the Indian premier took the stage for the final event of his Silicon Valley tour, marked by sporadic protests over his human rights record.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was winding up a whirlwind two-day U.S. West Coast trip and Sunday’s event followed visits to some of the world’s biggest technology companies, hoping to convince them to bring more investment and jobs to India.
Modi, 65, was the first Indian leader to visit the West Coast in more than 30 years. His trip followed a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who met several tech leaders in Seattle last week. Modi aimed to deepen ties with the U.S. technology sector and boost India’s digital infrastructure by promoting his “Digital India” campaign, which seeks to connect thousands more villages to the Internet.
“(India) has moved on from scriptures to satellites,” Modi said. “The world has started to believe that the twenty-first century belongs to India.”
Technology executives, eager to expand into India with its 1.3-billion population, embraced Modi’s initiative, with CEOs from Facebook Inc, Google Inc and Tesla Motors all hosting him at their headquarters. Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook met with Modi at his hotel.
The second day of his visit began with a town hall at Facebook headquarters with Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, where Modi spent 50 minutes on stage and discussed the importance of social media, Digital India and technological expansion in the country. Modi is an avid user of social media and the second-most followed world leader after U.S. President Barack Obama.
He became emotional at one point when Zuckerberg asked him to speak about his mother. “I came from a very poor family. ... We went to our neighbors’ houses nearby (to) clean dishes, fill water, do hard chores. So you can imagine what a mother had to do to raise her children.”
Modi later visited Google headquarters and met with Indian-born Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, who announced that Google would bring wireless Internet to 500 Indian railway stations, news that Modi revealed at a dinner Saturday night with more than 350 business leaders.
Though Modi remains wildly popular in India with an 87 percent approval rating, some of his stops were met with protests of his human rights record. Some claim that Modi did not do enough to stop 2002 religious riots in Gujarat that killed about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, when he was chief minister of the state. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Mostly Sikh protesters calling on Modi to answer for his rights record temporarily blocked one of Facebook’s entrances. Several hundred people gathered outside San Jose’s SAP Center ahead of Modi’s speech that lasted several hours. Half were protesters shouting over metal barricades and holding signs that said “Modi believes in violence, not development,” and “#ModiFail” that resulted in several scuffles.
Much of Modi’s U.S. visit, on which he received rock-star welcomes, also focused on connecting with the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley, the IT professionals who migrated in their droves over the past two decades to seize job opportunities that weren’t available back home.
Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Nick Macfie