Modi’s Friendship with Zuckerberg Cannot Wish Away Digital Policy Issues

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: Wikipedia commons

Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi being too generous in the way he has chosen to endorse brand Facebook by spending exclusive time with its CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the tech company’s headquarters in California?

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any of our past PMs spending such quality time with the CEO of a multinational company. Some may even argue that Modi is displaying a certain naïveté by endorsing Facebook, which has not been free of raging controversies, calling into question the global tech giant’s commitment to net neutrality, privacy policy and other practices such as actively cooperating with the Prism Program run by the US National Security Agency under which it kept tabs on state and non-state actors globally.

This came out of the Snowden revelations. Facebook has over 1.2 billion users globally and India is one of its fastest growing markets at 125 million plus users. Facebook strategists might argue 125 million users in India is tantamount to just whetting one’s appetite in a market with potentially 800 million plus smart phone users.

So what is Prime Minister Modi getting out of giving Facebook so much of his personal attention? Mind you, Modi has also talked of “Start Up India” and “Stand up India” which presumably means the government would give special encouragement to home-grown Internet companies which will give competition to established giants like Facebook and Google. This has happened in China already. So the domestic tech companies will also demand the government’s attention, in terms of a more conducive policy and regulatory environment, which enables them stand up to the Facebooks and the Googles of the world.

It is in this context that the PM’s presence at the Facebook headquarters must be seen. Normally heads of MNCs queue up at home to meet any Indian Prime Minister because they see India as a juicy market for future expansion, and therefore it becomes important for them to keep the government in good humour. During his forthcoming US visit, the Prime Minister is also visiting the CEOs of Google, Oracle and other tech companies who clearly have a strategy to grab a big share of the Digital India project which is close to Modi’s heart. Former TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar says the Digital India project, if implemented seriously down to the district, block and Panchayat level, will require an investment of Rs.30,000 crore per year for at least four years. This cannot be done by the government alone. The private sector will have to share the cost of the digital infrastructure. Of course, the private sector will eventually benefit greatly as new users come on board exponentially after all the infrastructure, both hardware and software, is in place. Foreign companies, whom Modi is wooing, are clearly eyeing this opportunity.

Policy framework

So it is all very well that the Prime Minister is encouraging foreign companies to come and do business in the digital space. But we also need a strong policy framework, which enables small start-ups in the digital space to flourish and take advantage of the new digital infrastructure and potential explosion in the Internet user base in India. So, a conflict is bound to emerge between big tech companies and the smaller ones in the domestic market. We have already tasted some of this tension in the net neutrality debate in recent months. In this context, one must not forget that global tech players like Facebook have a natural tendency to use their accumulated market power and dominance to create disruptions in the Indian market. Prime Minister Modi must remain mindful of these factors when he showers praise and personal attention on these global brands.

Let’s not forget that only last year 65 advocacy organisations in 45 countries released an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg protesting that Facebook’s launch of  “violated the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security , privacy and innovation”.

Tax on digital companies

Facebook’s ostensibly altruistic objective of offering free services to certain segments of Internet users through is yet to take the developing world by storm. More discerning citizens understand that it could be a deep strategy on Facebook’s part to build a quasi-monopolistic ecosystem in the digital world. Global regulators, including the ones in the developed world, are yet to fully come to grips with competition issues in the digital space. There are intractable tax issues too, which specialised committees at the United Nations are grappling with. Tax jurisdictions are very difficult to determine for apportioning taxable income in the digital business. What proportion of‘s global profits is to be attributed to its business in India, Indonesia or Brazil for the purpose of levying tax? This question continues to trouble governments and regulators.

These and many other complex questions will arise as India tries to build its digital business landscape. This would require more nuanced answers to policy and regulatory questions, notwithstanding all the bonhomie on display at the Silicon Valley during the PM’s forthcoming visit. By being seen in Zuckerberg’s company, Modi may appear ‘cool’ to over 125 million, mostly young, Facebook users in India. There could be some political play there too.  But hard reality will follow soon. Ultimately the government will be expected to provide a truly level playing field for the next 500 million Internet users and digital service providers to emerge in a properly designed, net neutral regime. That will be the biggest challenge.

  • Vissionary

    Can TCS, IBM, Accenture, Infosys, Cognizant (CTS) be set up in AGARTALA which will provide job and ray of hope to many ?

    Is there any ray of hope for TRIPURA ?

    Lakhs of Educated Youths (and their families) of TRIPURA (2nd highest populous state in NORTHEAST) have been languishing in complete frustration for over a decade now (recent news on TRIPURA can be referred for details) due to lack of —> Forward looking and Progressive Economic policies, Meaningful development, Best of the industries and quality professional employment opportunities, Best of the class healthcare, Quality Education , Proactiveness in being nationally and globally competitive.

    Does anyone know why capital AGARTALA is not yet even an inch near to a tier-2 city like PUNE ?

    Does anyone know what TRIPURA have achieved (in terms of giving its educated youth much needed professional career opportunities at par with other progressive states) till date by focusing only on natural resource (rubber, bamboo, plastic, agarbatti) based industry, which in progressive states (e.g. Karnataka, Maharashtra) is considered as intermediary industry, while IT and High Tech industry (in Software Export) are the prime economy drivers !! Does any one know WHEN BRAIN DRAIN would be REVERSED in TRIPURA ?

    Does anyone know WHY poor and lesser educated people are still not able to live a life with self dignity – at par with those in other progressive states (e.g. An Healthcare firm or IT MNC firm not only employs Doctors, Engineers, Managers and other graduates – alongwith them there are many other supporting and maintanance staffs who get due trainigs, well paid and can make their own career as well !!).

    Does any one know HOW LONG (and WHY) people of TRIPURA (Youths especially) have to languish in backwardness when rest of the progressive states are vying for attention from top IT MNCs and High Tech firms to set up their base ??

    If tier 2 cities like PUNE, GURGAON – (with top talents from India making careers in these cities) – can achieve same through right mix of people, policies, push and willingness to embrace technology and competition – why can’t AGARTALA ?? Does anyone know what is (national and global) COMPETITIVE INDEX of AGARTALA CITY ? Does anyone know WHAT is STOPPING TRIPURA to be a significant contributor to country’s GDP ?

    Hope much needed ECONOMIC VIBRANCY (like Bangalore, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad) is created in AGARTALA (to emerge as new SMART CYBER CITY of India!) with best of the policies and setting up of World Class Infrastructures.

    Really hope leadership in CENTER, TRIPURA Govt and Other Concerned DIGNITARIES takes a FUTURISTIC and PROGRESSIVE approach and goes BIG to put TRIPURA into national & international scheme of things and strives hard in making AGARTALA into an world class city signifying uprising India’s growing prowess!

    We really need to move forward by developing TRIPURA with world class infrastructures and bring it at par with best of the other Indian states in the shortest possible time!

    Yes – we do have logistical issues in terms of connectivity,tough terrains – which slowly but surely being overcomed with multiple links opening up through Bangladesh,Myanmar!

    Appreciating TRIPURA Govt and Center on the development works so far,would request to set higher goals and aim to make TRIPURA the new face of emerging India!

    Some of the very important issues plauging TRIPURA badly:

    1.INDUSTRY – Not a single High Tech corporate, Big MNCs – especially economy driving Service Sector (from IT, High Tech – source of higher disposable income – source of thriving economy) have a presence in TRIPURA – Need of the hour (with major connectivity projects on and due for completion in next 1-2 years) is to have many of these companies (e.g. IBM,Accenture,TCS, Infosys, Wipro,Cognizant, Tech Mahindra,HCL) set up Delivery & Consultancy centers (by facilitating them with setting up of necessary IT zones / parks – in the line of ITPL Bangalore, Electronics City Bangalore, HITEC Hyderabad, Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park Hinjawadi Pune, DLF IT Park Chennai – with due URGENCY) – Which is a must to open up window of professional opportunities (and mass employment) for bright (More than 6 lakhs UNEMPLOYED !!) youths of the state. TRIPURA is also home to massive talent pool with combination of huge number of working professionals (working in other Metros and abroad currently), local educated youths, youths (and working professionals) from other parts of INDIA, neighboring NORTHEAST states and legal working professionals from Bangladesh and Neighboring countries! At the same time geographical proximity of AGARTALA to important BANGLADESH cities (and subsequently to other SE Asian countries) gives ample business opportunities for IT Majors to expand their client base across industrial domains (e.g. Digital Bangladesh project being envisaged by Bangladesh Govt). Does anyone know when a QUICK and DECISIVE step will be taken to make AGARTALA an epitome of IT opportunities where it would solve MOST SEVERE UNEMPLOYMENT ISSUE for lakhs of educated youths from TRIPURA ?

    2.LIFESTYLE – Not a single world class 5 star hotel (Taj, Leela, Oberoi, ITC), World class shopping mall (Phoenix Market city Mumbai, LuLu International Shopping Mall Kochi, Mantri Square mall Bangalore), multiplexes (PVR, Big Cinemas, INOX) , World class Retail chains (Walmart, IKEA, Pantaloons,Shoppers Stop, Croma, Reliance Retail etc) exists in TRIPURA – Need of the hour is to have many and which is a must for a better and modern lifestyle for both people of State as well as thousands of (domestic and international) tourists arriving in the state.

    3.EDUCATION – Not a single higher education institute of quality and national importance (IIM, IIT, IISc, AIIMS, PESIT, BMS Engineering College, BITS Pilani, Symbiosis management institutes, Xavier management institutes etc …) exists in TRIPURA – Need of the hour is to have many (given the fact that a huge number of students from TRIPURA migrates to other states for pursuing Engineering, Medical and Management from best of the institutes) which is a must to bring youths at par to the ones in other part of India !! This will also help best of the brains from other parts of INDIA to know NORTHEAST (TRIPURA in particular) better!

    4.HEALTHCARE – Not a single HOSPITAL of quality and national importance (in terms of professionalism , proven quality and trusted brand) exists in TRIPURA which is a must for those helpless people of state who has to run around and rush to Chennai and other cities for treatment even during those critical hours of life! – Need of the hour is to go PROACTIVE and INVITE best of the brands available (e.g AIIMS, FORTIS, APPOLO, MANIPAL Hospital, Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology) to set up their HOSPITAL CHAINS at AGARTALA, at the same time highlighting enormous business opportunities they can derive from Medical Tourism Market comprising of Tourists coming from other Northeast states, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and other Neighboring countries. Does anyone know HOW LONG and WHY people would continue to suffer due to lack of best of the class healthcare in TRIPURA ?

    5.RAIL – Really hope TRIPURA gets connected to Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) Network with individual lines to MYANMAR and BANGLADESH – in the earliest possible time. Given the huge prospect of being a important Rail hub (catering to domestic and international traffic) connecting NORTHEAST to SE Asia and further to Europe, Hope AGARTALA rail station gets transformed into a world class Rail station (with best of the technologies, equipments, infrastructure and amenities) in the line of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Maharashtra) and Chennai Central station (Tamil Nadu). Also, need of the hour is to have a seamless Rail connectivity between all the NE capitals (Mumbai-Chennai like network need to be put in place for people to move across NORTHEAST easily without any hassles/security issues). Does anyone know when first Bullet Train will arrive in TRIPURA ?

    6.CITY TRANSPORT – Not the best of the Road Infrastructure and City Transport System is in place in AGARTALA! Need of the hour is to have world class technology (e.g. GPRS enabled systems) and equipments embedded in ROADS (e.g. Digital Sign boards, CCTV cameras, Automatic Traffic Signal Control System etc.) and PUBLIC TRANSPORT VEHICLES (e.g. High Tech VOLVO AC and Non-AC Buses, Double-decker Buses) ; and install a organized process (e.g. Daily, Monthly and Yearly Passes, Dress code for Bus operators) in place – with something like Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transit system, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System! Even Lucknow, Meerut have set their eyes on Metro rail rolling shortly. Does anyone know when AGARTALA METRO will be flagged off ?

    7.AIRPORT – Really hope AAI comes up with an world class international terminal (in the line of Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore , Mumbai Airports) in AGARTALA with modern technology, infrastructure, equipments and best of the amenities! With growing economic linkage between INDIA and other ASEAN countries (latest being PM’s visit to Japan and Thailand) as part of INDIA’s ACT-EAST POLICY,it hardly leaves any room for imagination – the role AGARTALA going to play in near future being the hub of international trade. And SMOOTH and AROMATIC flow of INTERNATIONAL and DOMESTIC travelers (includes businessman, tourists, patients, students) will hold key to fully realize potential of ACT-EAST policy envisioned by INDIA’s leadership. Does anyone know WHEN International Airport would actually come up at AGARTALA ?

    8.WATER Ways – TRIPURA Rivers are connected to Rivers in Bangladesh. Need of the hour is to transform TRIPURA rivers into national waterways, set up World Class Inland ports (in the line of Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project) and connect them to Bangladesh River and Sea ports, which would ease TRIPURA’s landlockedness to a significant extent and improve Supply Chain and Logistical delivery of goods and services!

    9.HIGHWAY – Hope AGARTALA gets incorporated to have seamless access to SE Asia connectivity points (India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and Kaladan Multi-modal Transit). Also Need of the hour is to have Multi-lane express highway (in the line of Mumbai-Pune expressway, Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway) connectivity among all NE capitals. Can there be a Express Highway (via DHAKA) connecting AGARTALA and KOLKATA ?

    10.BUSINESS MEET – Not a single Global Investor Meet organised yet in AGARTALA (whereas in Karnataka, Gujarat and even Chattisgarh these are almost frequent affairs – Recent one being PUNJAB getting thousands of crores of investment out of a Investor Summit !!). Need of the hour is organize such event which would surely put TRIPURA in global map and radar of world class corporates! Does anyone know why there is no attempt yet to showcase Brand TRIPURA ?

    11.SPORTS – Not a single International stadium exists in AGARTALA to hold national and international level football and cricket tournaments (ODI, T20, Test matches, IPL, ISL, Challengers League etc) !!! Need of the hour is to set up an World Class International stadium with latest technology, infrastructure, equipments and best of the amenities (to the level of Eden Gardens Stadium, M Chinnaswamy Stadium, M. A. Chidambaram Stadium) to facilitate football and cricket crazy fans of TRIPURA (2nd Populous NE state!!), fans from neighboring NE states and neighboring countries of Bangladesh & Myanmar, budding cricketers and footballers from NORTHEAST to watch their favorite STARS in action !! This would also be a huge boost to Tourism, Relationship build up with neighboring countries, Opening up of many other avenues in industry starved NORTHEAST TRIPURA! For an instance, even though INDIA will be hosting 2017 U-17 FIFA world cup, there seems to be no chance of having few matches played in TRIPURA – though that would be the nicest thing to bring WORLD much closer to NORTHEAST TRIPURA !! Does anyone know when first international cricket match will be played in AGARTALA ?

    12.ECONOMIC ZONE – Really hope AGARTALA gets incorporated in the proposed BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) corridor project and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) project. Having close geographical proximity with important cities like DHAKA and CHITTAGONG will surely help TRIPURA leverage it’s strategic location of being India’s Gateway to SOUTHEAST ASIA! Also there is a urgent need to build economic and industrial corridors connecting all NE capitals to leverage economic potential between Northeast India and Southeast Asia. Does anyone know when a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) will come up in AGARTALA? Can there be a ECONOMIC CORRIDOR set up between AGARTALA and DHAKA ?

    13.TOURISM – There seems to be no concerted approach in Branding and Marketing TRIPURA TOURISM with a wider internet reach through Social Media network, Top travel and hospitality web sites (in the line of Maharashta Tourism, Tamilnadu Tourism, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, Kerala Tourism, Goa Tourism) even though there is a huge scope for TRIPURA in both National and International Tourism Market. Also hilly terrains can be transformed into a major hub for Adventure Tourism (in the line of Ladakh) in addition to existing eco, cultural and religious Tourism.

    14.TECHNOLOGY – There seems to be no approach in promoting and using modern technologies e.g. Internet Of Things (Combination of Physical things, Sensors, Internet, Cloud, Big Data and Real time Analytics) – which allows to overcome day to day challenges and enhance quality of public life (e.g. Wireless sensors on Bridges and Buildings for precaution against earthquake and natural disaster; Smart farms to improve Agriculture productivity; Effective Monitoring of Healthcare for patients; Managing Rivers, lakes and flood situations; Managing Traffic Congestion; Managing Air Polution; Managing Forest Degradation; Maintaining Roads and Highways; Monitoring Goods Transportation; Monitoring vehicle speed and preventing Road Accidents).

    15.SMART CITY – Can AGARTALA lead in implementing every aspect of a (technologically advanced) Global SMART CITY and set an example ?

    16.ENTREPRENEURSHIP – Does anyone know why there is no notable start up (like RedBus, Snapdeal, Flipkart) yet from TRIPURA ? Does anyone know WHEN Startup ecosystem will be set in AGARTALA ?

    17.NRI – There seems to be no approach to involve NRIs from TRIPURA to come up with ideas, investment for rapid economic growth of TRIPURA – whereas Karnataka, Tamilnadu have seen major contributions from NRIs.

    18. TELECOM – Internet and Telecom services are still WAY BELOW PAR in AGARTALA (compared to cities like AHMEDABAD or BANGALORE)- while country have moved on with latest technologies like 4G !! Does anyone know HOW LONG people of TRIPURA have to be deprived from – seamless HIGH SPEED Internet and Best of the class Telecom services ? Does anyone know when AGARTALA would become a WIFI enabled city ?

    Also urgent need of the hour is to complete all the existing infrastructure projects as soon as possible and identification and sanctioning of all other infrastructure projects fulfilling above infrastructure gaps without any further delay!!

    Anything less than ‘WORLD CLASS’ would only defeat the very purpose behind infrastructure development of TRIPURA under ACT-EAST Policy!!

    IMPOSSIBLE – just means I AM POSSIBLE! If India need to catch up with developed part of the world,the most strategically placed Northeast (especially TRIPURA) need to be made into a developed region in the shortest possible time!

    I strongly believe TRIPURA govt (in close co-ordination with Center, other concerned dignitaries & all corporate vissionaries) can certainly achieve this sooner rather than late, which would definitely give its people a better employment opportunities, a better healthcare, a better access to quality education, a quality lifestyle, and last but not the least a confident and connected TRIPURA leading India’s charge towards contributing to a more stable and stronger global economy!!

    • vivek

      Lets change the red mindset of Tirupura now a railway line is going to be completed after long overdue, Now we have signed treaty with Bangladesh for road and railway connectivity and will become easier for the people of all India and especially NE to become Integrated,the you see how Tirupura is going to develop please give NDA some time they will take care of you

  • Sujad Syed

    Zuckerberg, r trolls multiplying FB’s popularity in India?

  • vivek

    We have all kind of techies working in major MNC’s around the world,end of the day we get experience and hi tec manpower to start our own,but it will take time.Learn from japan and Germany they rose from ashes of second world war. If Nehru and family would have liberalized India from 1947, just imagine where we would have been today