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Long considered as an IT (Information Technology) powerhouse, the Indian Government’s crackdown on Big Tech is something of a mystery. From passing new legislation that requires Social Media giants and WhatsApp to “reveal” details and origin information of Facebook Posts, Tweets, and WhatsApp messages, to tightening compliance, and what more, clamping down on Free Speech, the list is long of notable rules and regulations seeking to curb the powers of Big Tech firms.
While some of this is understandable as the ascendancy of Right-Wing governments worldwide has brought in its wake more authoritarianism and chilling attacks on dissidents, what is baffling is that some of these very Big Tech firms were enthusiastic supporters of the present government until recently. Indeed, Facebook was so “aligned” with the agenda of India’s nationalistic party which is in power that it took several whistleblowers to come out into the open and reveal the widespread practices that Facebook instituted to remain on the “right side” of the Indian government.
Moreover, Jeff Bezos of Amazon visited India multiple times to lobby for market access and other commercial elements for his firm and was considered to be in the “good books” of the Federal government. So, it is somewhat of a surprise to witness Amazon being the subject of often petty and vicious fights over territory. Does this mean that Amazon is being singled out so that it does not become a “thorn in the flesh” for one of Asia’s richest person and India’s Oligarch, Mukesh Ambani, who is foraying into eCommerce with his flagship Reliance Industries aiming big, much like what it does in any sector that it seeks to enter.
So, it is all commerce and profit which dictates the government’s crackdown on Big Tech? Or, is it that a nervous power elite has become conscious of Big Tech’s reach and power to “turn the tide” away from it? While both scenarios are entirely plausible and possible, one wonders as to why the Rightist and less Centrist party which beliefs in Free Market principles and whose rise to power was marked by “armies of cheerleaders” from the leading Business groups.
On the other hand, it is also entirely true that the ongoing Covid induced Pandemic has seen many nations “turn inward” and hence, the Xenophobic and Paranoid attitude of the present dispensation towards anything “foreign” explains this sudden U-Turn on its dealings with Big Tech. Moreover, with the Chinese Dragon “spitting fire” and “breathing down” India’s neck, concerns of national security have become paramount and hence, the Central government is going all out to curb what it and its Troll Armies see as “anti-national” activities.
Whatever be the reasons for the crackdown on Big Tech, it is a move that is counterproductive, especially when one considers the fact that India’s rise to prominence on the Global Stage has been partly fueled by its Tech powerhouses which made it a leading destination for IT and Backoffice outsourcing. So, if this present crackdown continues and extends to the broader Tech firms, it would be a case of killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs.
Having said that, there are other possible factors at work here and some of them are to do with the Swadeshi outlook of the ideological forces which drive the present government. What this term refers to is the need for Self Reliance and preference for goods and services produced locally as well as increasing importance to ancient wisdom and knowledge of the sacred texts. The announcement of the Atmanirbhar (Self Reliance) policy which espouses some of these aspects as the guiding norms is to be seen in this context.
Last, so where does this leave the business practices of Big Tech, which find themselves in the “cross hairs” of the present dispensation? Would they put Profit Before Principle or go All Out to defend themselves? By present indications, it is more than likely that a long winding Judicial Battle is emerging as these firms push back and take the legal route. It remains to be seen as to the eventual outcome of this battle between Big Tech and the Indian Government.
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