Monday, August 15, 2016

This independence day, a call for Digital Independence

With tremendous grit, determination and zeal, millions of Indians led by some of the finest leaders struggled for, and were able to, freeing the Indian subcontinent from the clutches of one of the most rapacious colonial masters ever, 70 years ago.

Jai Hind, Vande Mataram, Indian independence, 1947, 15th August, Freedom, Democracy
Vande Mataram
India was free, on 15th of August, exactly 69 years ago. The biggest, bulkiest and the most promising democracy of 130 crore citizens is now entering its 70th year of freedom.

These seven decades have been tumultuous for India, which has swerved through the highways of disorder, confusion, conflicts, evolution but definite progress on all fronts. All, but one that's defining global discourse and power today.

Times have changed dramatically in the last few years, however. From a purely brick-and-mortar model of economy dominating the discourse on what freedom and achievement could mean, we are now witnessing a profound shift towards click-and-mortar or pure-click models dominating not just individual national economies, but spanning the oceans at literally the click of a mouse.

Today, digital assets define some crucial aspects of a national economy like
  • Ability to share information (email, messengers, chat tools, social media)
  • Ability to transact commercially online (marketplaces, payment gateways)
  • Ability to connect to the world and showcase one's work (social media)
  • Project national power through platforms everyone uses daily (Apps, Software)
  • Running parts of the real, hard economy (giant digital corporations)

And in the middle of this profound change, India has emerged as with many natural advantages. A growing nation of 1.3 billion individuals where the per capita income can only improve with time represents the biggest commercial and strategic opportunity for any brand or company. That is the reason for almost every large global brand to make a beeline for starting operations in India where they need to be physically present here in a large way, or to operate with minimum physical presence where the nature of things do not require them to.

Crores of Indian constantly email, chat, blog, transact, move, buy, sell, entertain, get entertained, upload and download data, and live a part of their lives online. This is just the beginning. In another 10 years, the changes would be much deeper, much broader and far more permanent despite all the impermanence attached to such electronic empires and their contours.

To any patriotic Indian, and 15th of August is the perfect day to ponder upon this, the one aspect of this revolution taking place is very striking. It is - the near total absence of homegrown, Indian-owned digital brands that dominate any sector of what is written above.

Indians run Google, but do not own one, and no dream to create one.
Indians crowd on the Facebook, but do not own one.
Indians love Amazon, and do not own a company even a quarter of that size.
Indians love to email, and have to do it on some foreign platforms.
Indians love to chat for free, and multiple foreign brands enable that.
Indians love to drive using Maps, and no Indian brand dominates the space.
Indians love creating and watching video, and multiple foreign brands happily enable that.
Indians love to celebrate the power democracy offers on Twitter, and have none of their own.
A large part of the business of government of India is transacted using foreign email providers! 
And we are now planning to help our government schools by learning videos from the mighty Khan Academy, so coming generation of authentic Indians will learn through American-accented lessons.

So much for 70 years of freedom, and Bharat Mata ki Jai.

We are blindly allowing all our key digital experiences to be totally dominated by mostly American brands, who are only to happy to offer the same. And we are handing over our national digital markets to them on a platter.

China, our arch-rival, perhaps read this decades ago, and started preparing. And today, they have national champions that not only beat American internet brands at their own game, the likes of Alibaba are planning to dominate Indian markets as well. 

And we are happily allowing that, without a murmur of protest.

Naturally, "protest" here carries entirely different connotations. It means a sense of unease, marked by genuine patriotic concerns of getting edged out of this version of commerce which will totally redefine everything in a decade.

The figures of the past one decade prove this beyond a shade of doubt. Digital dominates, totally.

Had India will a small country with little or no growth prospects, a dwindling population, or a very rich country with no bubbling youth with global aspirations, perhaps we could have afforded giving a damn.

So with a little common-sense, if we exptrapolate today's scenario into the future, the picture is clear, and not pretty at all.

Where is mighty India in any of this? The tragedy is that Indian talent runs a lot of what you see in the table, but while staying abroad. Because back home, in swatantra India, something is holding everyone and everything back.

I appeal to prime minister Modi to think hard and deep about all this. You are a visionary and nationalistic PM with a digital vision. Please make it happen through Indian means. The road will be long and hard, but a start has to be made now.

If that means a huge government-funded centralised effort, so be it. If that means hiring the brightest and capitalizing their dream heavily, so be it. If that means getting the best and brightest Indians back from the US and supporting a chosen set of strategic projects, so be it.

Let true digital independence dawn on India.

Jai Hind!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you sir, for sharing your valuable view.It is surprising and sad that day by day our we are lagging to carry our own ancient indigenous glory.Although we have sufficient resource (3M man ,material and money ) to develop our nation in our own way still we are dependent on the path , showing by western people.
In stead applying our own brain for finding solution we are blindly depending on the best practices shown by any western nation.
Its high time to wake up and implement our own idea on our own way.

Every single aspect where our people follow their own thought ,for the solution of any complex problem ,they made a victory.ISRO is the best example.
So,why dont we keep the same in bigger and broader aspect ,irrespective of field.
Standing on the day of our 70th independence ,I am sure that we can do and we will do everything in a better and smarter way.