Internet can help tackle poverty: Indian PM

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks on stage during a town hall at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California on Sept 27, 2015.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks on stage during a town hall at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California on Sept 27, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

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.

Mr Modi, 65, the first Indian leader to visit the US West Coast in more than 30 years, announced at a dinner that Google would take wireless Internet to more than 500 Indian railway stations "in a short time".

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

CLOSING THE DIGITAL GAP

We must bridge the digital divide and promote digital literacy in the same way that we seek to ensure general literacy.

INDIAN PM NARENDRA MODI

He hopes to attract funds and skills from US innovators to help India's burgeoning start-up scene grow, and sought to 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," he 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."

India-born chief executives Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai of Microsoft and Google were among those who moderated a panel before Mr Modi's speech.

His speech included nods to many US tech companies that he said have helped reshape India, including Facebook , its units Instagram and WhatsApp, and Twitter.

Mr Modi has driven digitising 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 his West Coast trip included a visit to Tesla Motors and a meeting with chief executive Elon Musk. The two discussed renewable energy, which Mr Modi is eager to bring to India.

The premier later met Apple chief executive Tim Cook.

Yesterday, Mr Modi was set to host an open town hall with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and also visit Google headquarters.

Mr Modi was to end his tour with an event at the San Jose Convention Centre that more than 18,000 people were expected to attend.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Internet can help tackle poverty: Indian PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe