Facebook has invested heavily in the Indian market the past year. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, is trying to turn the Facebook-owned WhatsApp Messenger into a digital payments processor, a deal which could be worth billions of dollars.
A piece in Time Magazine on Friday revealed a Facebook top director was associated with Narendra Modi campaign.
This makes us wonder, why is Facebook bending a knee for the Modi-led BJP government?
In March 2020, Shivnath Thukral, was promoted to WhatsApp India's Public Policy Director, where one of his key responsibilities, according to New Delhi tech policy experts, is to manage the company's relationships with the Modi government.
Why? Because Facebook wants to avail digital payments on WhatsApp Messenger, which is India's most used messaging application. And, with the rise of 'digital India', this could be a huge money making opportunity for Zuckerberg.
In April 2020, Facebook announced it would pay $5.7 billion for a 10% stake in India's biggest telecoms company, Reliance Jio, which owned by India's richest man Mukesh Ambani.
Talking about the business opportunity, Zuckerberg said, "With so many people in India engaging through WhatsApp, we just think this is going to be a huge opportunity for us to provide a better commerce experience for people, to help small businesses and the economy there, and to build a really big business ourselves over time,” adding his plans to link WhatsApp Pay with Jio's vast network across India.
“That’s why I think it really makes sense for us to invest deeply in India,” he concluded.
However, it is not as easy as it sounds, as the idea would only turn into a reality once the national payments regulator approves.
Facebook's move to expand in India was previously stopped in 2016 as a national regulator denied the tech giant of its plan to provide free internet access for only some sites due to violation of net neutrality rules.
This is where Thukral will come into the role. As already a member of Modi campaign, and now ties with India's wealthiest man, will make it much easier for Zuckerberg and Co to gain approval for WhatsApp Pay.
The industry analysts also believe the same.
“It would be easier now for Facebook to get that approval, with Ambani on its side,” says Neil Shah, vice president of Counterpoint Research, an industry analysis firm.
Being on the good side of the government in India is very important for foreign companies.
“No foreign company in India wants to be in the government’s bad books,” says James Crabtree, author of The Billionaire Raj. “Facebook would very much like to have good relations with the government of India and is likely to think twice about doing things that will antagonize them.”