These are quixotic times in India. On the economic front, the Narendra Modi government appears to have embarked on yet another grand project. It wants to offer the Indian market on a platter to the much-criticised data behemoths and other tech giants from the United States.
“Today, there is global optimism towards India. This is because India offers a perfect combination of openness, opportunities, and options. Let me elaborate, India celebrates openness in people and governance,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted in his interaction with the US India Business Council on July 22.
India has attracted more than $20 billion foreign investment between April and July, he claimed. However, he did not provide the breakup of these investments or which companies had actually invested.
That these imploring calls of Prime Minister Modi to the US business behemoths contradict his grand pronouncements on the Atmanirbhar campaign of self-reliance is well known.
Otherwise, it is difficult to explain that, at a time when the American tech companies are being pilloried in their own Congress for their anti-competition policies, India is ready to embrace them. One popular strategy seems to enable key tie-ups with Indian monopoly giants to monetize the data of more than 400 million Indian users of ‘GAFA’ – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple.
Consider for a moment the proceedings against the GAFA companies in the US Congress on July 29. These proceedings appeared like the infamous 1994 congressional hearing of the tobacco executives who raised their right hands to claim that cigarettes were not additive. CEOs Mark Zukerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, Tim Cook of Appeal and Jeff Bezos of Amazon also raised their right hands to say that everything they are doing is for the public good. If that is the case, how is it that they are able to rake up profits to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Of course, the Congress just simply dismissed the claims of the CEOs of four tech companies. Indeed, they were lampooned for stifling competition and bringing monopoly into the data industry.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal tore into what she described as Facebook’s strategy to prevent competitors from getting footholds by copying competitors. “Facebook is a case study, in my opinion, in monopoly power because your company harvests and monetizes our data, and then your company uses that data to spy on competitors and to copy, acquire and kill rivals,” said Jayapal, raising several questions to Mark Zukerberg.
“Our founders would not bow before a king, nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy,” warned Congressman David Cicilline, the chair of the committee looking into the dangerous practices adopted by the GAFA companies. He suggested the time has come to break up these companies.
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella could not attend the proceedings as he was busy negotiating with TikTok, which could soon become the new jewel in the Microsoft crown. It remains to be seen whether the deal will go through, as President Trump is placing near-extortionist demands on Microsoft to comply with.
Consider the investments made by big Silicon Valley tech companies in India. Facebook’s $8.8 billion, “amount to a bet that Jio Platforms Ltd, and Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and shareholder of its parent company, Reliance Industries Ltd are the players best positioned to bring legions of Indian consumers fully into online and e-commerce,” according to a Wall Street Journal report of 20 May.
Already, Facebook has a huge presence in India and generates more than $100 million in the Indian market. How hard will it be for Facebook and WhatsApp to manipulate public opinion and influence elections for the party of its liking? And what are the chances it will be the ruling party, whose chief has already embraced Zuckerberg?
Google has also invested more than $4.5 billion in India’s Jio Platforms Ltd. Google is exploring an investment in a move that could pit the US internet group in a battle against Facebook for the world’s fastest growing mobile market, says Financial Times of 28 May.
Amazon has reportedly tied up with Bharti Airtel to fend off Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio and Microsoft in the battle for India’s cloud computing market, according to a report in the Financial Times. Ironically, these very companies are now going to be the largest beneficiaries of the Modi government’s munificence. They can use the data of hundreds of millions of Indian users for creating demand for future products through their machine intelligence involving use of complex algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI).
While Siraj-ud-Daulah valiantly fought against the East India’s company’s armies to stop the plunder of India, the Modi government seems to revel in joy for turning the Bharat into the playground for American tech behemoths.
Ravi Kanth Devarakonda is a senior journalist.