Facebook’s Town Hall Q&As — where Facebook users around the world get to ask Mark Zuckerberg questions — aren’t typically emotional events. This changed Sunday during a special Q&A Zuckerberg held with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
During the 50-minute event held at the social network’s Menlo Park, Calif., campus, Modi fielded questions about government investments, the ease of doing business in India and what was being done to empower women. But it was a question from Zuckerberg himself, about family, that got an unexpectedly emotional response from the prime minister.
“I understand that your mother is very important in your life,” Zuckerberg said. “So I’m hoping you’ll tell us a bit about her.”
Before diving into his own story, the prime minister first asked Zuckerberg’s own parents — who were sitting in the audience — to stand up so the crowd could congratulate them for raising Zuckerberg.
Then, his voice breaking with emotion, Modi paused before recounting his childhood.
“I came from a very poor family,” he said. “When we were young, what we did to get by … she 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.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this article said “we” instead of “she.”
“What she must have gone through … and that’s not just the case with Narendra Modi. In India there are hundreds and thousands of women and mothers who sacrificed their entire lives for their children.”
Modi answered four other questions during the Q&A, from Facebook users and pre-selected members of the audience.
1. You were one of the early adopters of social media. Did you at that point think that social media and the Internet would become such important tools for governing, citizen engagement and foreign policy?
Modi said that when he first signed up on social media networks, it was out of curiosity, and he could not have imagined the impact it would have.
After giving a convoluted spiel about social media as a tool for allowing people to accept one another as they are, he spoke of how social media has given his government a way of directly connecting with citizens everyday.
“We used to have elections every five years,” he said. “Now we have them every five minutes.”
2. What investment is your government going to make to enable the next 800 million to 1 billion people in India to get connected?
Modi spoke of ambitious goals of linking all 600,000 villages in India through an optical-fiber network over the next five years, and prioritizing digital infrastructure alongside physical infrastructure.
“All those who are familiar with India, if you look all over the world you’ll see civilization has generally developed and settled along rivers,” Modi said. “But times have changed. … In the future I think we will find cities are going to be situated along networks and optical fibers, and that’s something we need to keep in mind for the future.”
3. Do you think it has become easier in the last 15 months to do business in India? There’s a perception that reform is slow.
The prime minister made an analogy about diverting a moving train, and how change happens slowly when dealing with big machines.
“When you have such a big country and you want to bring about change, there are many things that need to be changed,” he said. “And when you have changes that are taking place, there’s a cumulative effect.”
Without directly answering the question, Modi assured the audience that could and would happen, perhaps faster than some might expect.
4. Everyone is keen to know your stand on women’s empowerment. What is your thinking of the role of women and female children [in progressive India]?
“If we want to achieve our economic goals, then we cannot do that if we imprison 50% of our population inside their homes,” Modi said. “This 50% of our population, female power, we have have a 100% partnership with them.”
Modi also spoke of the importance of young girls being educated in India, and spoke of his own track record of launching campaigns to encourage families to send their daughters to school.
“I think a very big change is already happening,” he said.