By Bala Sai:
Mark Zuckerberg is in India. This time, his visit is loaded. He is a man with a plan – a deal that he knows he will clinch. Already worth $30 billion, he knows this visit will potentially pave way for billions more. It will all start with a meeting, a shake of hands. Over the course of his two-day trip, he will meet up with a man whose journey has a similar path as his own, whose brand has already succeeded in achieving what his brand aspires to achieve, a man who has lived a fairytale similar to his own – Mr. Narendra Modi.
Modi is all about development. Depending on which side you are on, you can either call it his shining armour, or you can call it his dark, bulky cloak. Whichever side you choose, you will have to acknowledge his marketing genius. He used his colourful development promises against the back-drop of a skillfully propped-up Gujarat model to capture the hopes and aspirations of a nation. He masterfully created his own brand, and once handed a powerful mandate, boisterously set about writing the future, while silently erasing the past. Modi wants you to look at the bright side. He offers you his smile, his warmth, his confidence, his glorious visions and propped-up models. Modi distracts you with colourful blinking lights. So does Facebook.
In March 2014, Facebook India reached a new landmark, putting a whopping 100 million Indian users on its map. If you are reading this article, in all likelihood, you have a Facebook account. The social networking giant saw a spectacular rise in India, with its customer base multiplying by ten times in four years, making India its second most happening market after the US. With markets in the US and Canada saturating, and Facebook gradually losing its sheen among youngsters there, it has realized the necessity to tap the potential of the unexplored nooks of emerging markets.
India is an obvious choice. A few important statistics must have caught their eyes.
1.Two-thirds of the Indian population is below the age of 35.
2.Nine-tenths of its population doesn’t have a Facebook account.
3. There is no worthy domestic competitor in India.
In other words, the market is ripe and for the taking. The interest in India is only a logical extension. Enter Mark Zuckerberg, masquerading as the patron saint of the internet, delivering lofty speeches about empowerment, connecting villages, and development, wrinkling with worry over India’s social and cultural issues.
Speaking at the inauguration of his dream project ‘internet.org’ in India, the Facebook CEO iterated his desire that internet connectivity be made a human right, while stressing that in India, there are 25% lesser women than men using internet. He pointed out infrastructural and economic obstacles to enforcing this right to connectivity and laid special emphasis on the fact that 69% of India’s internet illiterates are not even aware of the benefits of being connected. If you could, just for a moment, put the fancy kaleidoscope aside, you can see clearly that internet.org is really about advertising and expanding Facebook’s market.
Facebook has teamed up with FMCG giant Unilever to study and develop mechanisms to wring a market out of India’s massive rural English-illiterate population.
Internet.org is not untested. Already, as Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed proudly and multiple times, it has succeeded in taking the internet to three million people in Zambia through an app that offered free but limited internet access through mobile phones. In other words, Zambia is Mr. Zuckerberg’s Gujarat model. And he is bringing it with him to conquer India.
To be fair, it is a safe bet. It is hard to see a similar effort in India failing. In addition, it fits Modi’s schemes of digitalizing India like a glove. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Zuckerberg has marched here with the ‘digital inclusion’ chant on his lips. But to capture the vast Indian market, he will have to meet his match first.
Mr. Modi has his own principles and beliefs. Fancy kaleidoscopes won’t work on him, he sees right through them. Being the shrewd taskmaster that he is, he will be prepared with his own demands when he meets Mr. Zuckerberg. Modi has lots to achieve through social media. He would definitely milk Mr. Zuckerberg’s halo to spread his policies and social initiatives, including his trademark ‘Swach Bharat Abhiyan.’ He will press for Facebook’s help with issues like education and empowerment of the girl child, crusade against female foeticide and the ambitious Ganga clean-up plan. Modi will not pass up this opportunity to promote his own brand.
Also, the issue of local servers and content-monitoring need to be addressed. Modi will have his piece of mind to offer about screening of controversial content and bringing the site under partial state regulation as well.
In all probability, if Mark Zuckerberg wants the key to India, Modi will make sure he earns it.