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Obama visit: A dinner not so long ago when Modi connected with a top Googler

Obama visit: A dinner not so long ago when Modi connected with a top Googler

india Updated: Jan 24, 2015 21:40 IST
US-President-Barack-Obama-welcomes-Prime-Minister-Narendra-Modi-at-the-dinner-hosted-in-his-honour-at-the-White-House-in-Washington-PTI-Photo
US-President-Barack-Obama-welcomes-Prime-Minister-Narendra-Modi-at-the-dinner-hosted-in-his-honour-at-the-White-House-in-Washington-PTI-Photo

It was a dinner that made news because the chief guest had only a glass of warm water, while others feasted on halibut, mango creme brulee, washed down with chardonnay, and some guilt.

Conversation flowed with the chief guest, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his host President Barack Obama finding much in common in their first days in office.

Until PM Modi got caught in a conversation with a former Googler, Megan Smith, who was just a month old then as President Obama’s chief technology officer.

“For a while, and it seemed a long while, the two of them just went back and forth,” said a senior India diplomat who was at the dinner, wondering, recently, how it was never reported.

Possibly because most in the Indian team, but for the above diplomat, had no idea who Smith was and, according to others, she and Modi made little sense to the rest of the guests.

“Prime Minister Modi was awesome,” Smith told Hindustan Times recently at a New Year reception hosted by Indian ambassador to the US S Jaishankar.

It is not sure if she is travelling with the president for the Republic Day parade. The White House has not yet released the president’s travel team — Democratic senator and India caucus co-chair Mark Warner announced Friday he was on it — or his schedule.

But Smith is no stranger to India, she has been to Bengaluru. She left Google in September 2014, at which time she was vice-president in charge of Google X, the moonshot people.

Modi, who was on a nine-day fast then and that’s why asked only for a glass of warm water, had a similar back-and-forth with the president, White House aides said later.

They had much to share about their respective experiences from their fist day, essentially in the use, or the lack thereof, of technology. And they had little patience for the old days.

An avid believer in technology, Modi has even impressed Obama’s top political operative David Plouffe, who left the White House after getting his boss a second term.

Writing about the future of politics in the digital era, Plouffe wrote in July: “In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke new ground by using holograms throughout the country to extend his reach. These were just presentations of his speeches.”

“With advancements in artificial intelligence, you could soon have holograms of presidential candidates at your door, interacting with you and asking and answering questions.”