India’s Modi courts Silicon Valley execs at dinner

India’s Modi courts Silicon Valley execs at dinner

SAN FRANCISCO - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed more than 350 business leaders on Saturday evening as he continued his US West Coast tour, promoting the ability of Internet connectivity to help lift people out of poverty and connect users to education and health services.

The 65-year-old Modi, the first Indian leader to visit the West Coast in more than 30 years, announced at a dinner that Google Inc would bring wireless Internet to more than 500 Indian railway stations "in a short time."

The wildly popular Modi, who boasts an 87 per cent approval rating in India, also used the speech to sell technology executives on his "Digital India" initiative, which aims to connect thousands more Indian villages to the Internet, create more tech jobs and move more services online.

Modi hopes to attract funds and skills from US innovators to help India's burgeoning startup scene grow, and will seek during the trip encourage some Indians who have thrived in Silicon Valley to bring their knowledge back home.

"We must bridge the digital divide and promote digital literacy in the same way that we seek to ensure general literacy," Modi said, according to prepared remarks. "We have the talent, enterprise and skills to succeed. We also have the strength of the partnership between India and the United States."

Indian-born CEOs Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai of Microsoft Corp and Google were among those who moderated a panel before Modi's speech.

Modi's speech included nods to numerous US tech companies he said have helped reshape India, including Facebook Inc , its units Instagram and WhatsApp, Twitter Inc.

Modi has driven digitizing of the Indian government and has garnered a large social media following, making him the second-most followed world leader after US President Barack Obama. He has 15 million Twitter followers and more than 30 million "likes" on Facebook.

The first day of Modi's West Coast visit included a visit to Tesla Motors and a meeting with Chief Executive Elon Musk, where the two discussed renewable energy, which Modi is eager to bring to India. Modi later met with Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook.

On Sunday, Modi is set to host an open town hall with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and will also visit Google headquarters. Modi will end his tour with an event at the San Jose Convention Center that more than 18,000 people are expected to attend.

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