India Boldly Asserts Independence with New Technology
India is one of many nations looking for ways to assert their independence from past and present Western colonialism. This desire can result in projects that have an air of petulance that is successful locally, but not particularly productive.
Sometimes, an independence effort is made in a more positive spirit. One shining example is India’s plan to build a digital environment that is independent of “Silibandia”, or Silicon Valley and West-dominated media and broadband industries.
This new endeavor, called BharOS, is a fork of Android built with the sponsorship of India’s government, now a nation of 1.4 billion people. This also includes its topnotch developer community, led by alumni of the distinguished IIT.
What Google Doesn’t Want You To Know
Android is built on the completely open source Linux operating system originally developed by Linus Torvalds. Thanks to this technology and free software pioneers like Richard Stallman, anything built on their open source platforms is required to be similarly open source. This means that it is free for the public to copy, re-brand, and make their own operating system.
A number of attempts have been made to develop forks of Android that allow for more user privacy than what Google builds into Android systems. BharOS will presume that its user is part of the Aadhaar identity platform, but developer documentation suggest they are eagerly looking towards creating a Google-free version of BharOS for Western users.
Building a complete mobile operating system usually requires more resources than even a well-funded entrepreneurial team can typically muster but BharOS is a unique undertaking in a few ways.
The Future Is BharOS
The BharOS platform is ripe with potential. BharOS is well funded, concerned about the overreach of Silicon Valley and will attract the attention of app developers given its large user base in India.
However, the mobile operating system is just a start. Today, since most people conduct business and shop online in our location-independent digital world, a payment system is necessary.
In this regard, India has a unique edge. In 2016 India launched a payment system which, unlike “Silibandia”’s balkanized patchwork of competing systems, is integrated and unified. The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) is powered by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) under the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). UPI built a real-time payment system that allows users to pay directly from their bank accounts without a credit or debit card, running contrary to many “Silibandia” payment systems that require a middle entity.
UPI is also a fairly low cost producer. This allows savings for merchants and users while the system keeps its profitability. With this strategy, UPI could steadily eat into the market share of competing systems as users desire more control over their finances than other competitors can offer.
Like the Chinese retail economy, India was dominated by cash while the rest of the world absorbed the overhead of moving to plastic substitutes. This enabled China and India to eventually move seamlessly into integrated digital payment systems, while Western payment systems were slowed by the complexity of their old plastic-driven economy.
This seamless integration from cash to digital payment systems is responsible for a significant surge in digital payments across India. In March 2023, UPI reached a record breaking 8.65 billion transactions. The elimination of friction by reducing the number of “moving parts” in the payments system has generated 2021 cost savings of 12.6 billion dollars.
UPI is not resting on its laurels. UPI 2.0, launched on 16 August 2018, enabled users to 1) link their overdraft accounts to a UPI handle; 2) pre-authorise transactions by issuing a mandate for specific merchants; 3) view and store the invoice for the transactions; and 4) set up AutoPay for recurring payments.
The Indian expatriate diaspora, along with an increasing number of Indian tourists abroad, are major factors in the use of UPI in other countries. For those who welcome the tools to build a publicly governed world information and commerce infrastructure, the rapid internationalization of UPI will be a welcome development.
While China attempts, in spite of their looming financial crisis, to encourage the renminbi replacing the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency—could the rupee be in the running as the successor to the dollar in that role? With BharOS and UPI and other developments energizing the development of India’s infrastructure, that seems more plausible than ever.
[Lane Gibson edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.