India, the world’s second most populous country and the fifth largest economy, has a paradoxical relationship with the internet. On one hand, it is a global leader in information technology, digital innovation and online services, with more than 800 million internet users and a vibrant start-up ecosystem. On the other hand, it is also the world’s top censor of the internet, with more than 450 internet shutdowns since 2012, affecting millions of people and businesses.
The latest example of India’s internet blockage occurred in January 2023, when the government ordered telecom operators to suspend internet services in parts of Delhi and several other states, amid massive protests by farmers against new agricultural laws. The government claimed that the move was necessary to maintain public order and prevent violence, but critics argued that it was a violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. The internet shutdown also disrupted the normal functioning of various sectors, such as banking, education, health care and e-commerce, causing huge losses to the economy.
The internet blockage in India has not only affected its domestic affairs, but also its international reputation and relations. India has faced criticism from various quarters, including human rights groups, foreign governments, international organizations and global tech companies, for its frequent and arbitrary use of internet shutdowns as a tool to suppress dissent and stifle criticism. The internet blockage has also raised questions about India’s commitment to democracy, rule of law and digital sovereignty.
One of the most prominent voices that has challenged India’s internet blockage is Twitter, the US-based social media platform that has more than 100 million users in India. Twitter has refused to comply with some of the government’s requests to block or remove accounts and posts related to the farmers’ protests, citing its principles of defending free speech and public interest. Twitter has also accused the Indian authorities of intimidation and threats, after its employees were visited by police and summoned by parliamentary committees. Twitter’s defiance has sparked a backlash from the government and its supporters, who have accused it of interfering in India’s internal affairs and violating its laws.
Twitter is not the only global tech company that has faced difficulties in operating in India. Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant that is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of iPhones and other devices, has reportedly decided to quit its India manufacturing plans, citing regulatory hurdles and labor unrest. Foxconn had announced in 2022 that it would invest $1 billion in India over three years to expand its production capacity and create thousands of jobs. However, according to media reports, Foxconn has faced delays in obtaining land and approvals, as well as protests by workers over wages and working conditions. Foxconn has not confirmed or denied its exit plans, but it has said that it will continue to build an ecosystem in India.
India’s internet blockage and its treatment of global tech companies have raised doubts about its ambition to become a major economic player and a global power. India has been pursuing a protectionist trade policy that has alienated many of its trading partners, including China, the US and the EU. India has also been accused of engaging in fraudulent practices that have harmed its credibility and legitimacy in the international arena. For instance, Adani Group, one of India’s largest conglomerates owned by billionaire Gautam Adani, has been hit by fraud allegations made by Hindenburg Research, a US-based short-seller firm. Hindenburg Research has claimed that Adani Group companies have engaged in decades of stock manipulation and accounting fraud, putting them on a precarious financial footing. Adani Group has denied the allegations and said it will take legal action against Hindenburg Research.
Another example of India’s fraudulent practices is the fake medicines manufactured in Indian laboratories that have killed scores of children in Africa and Central Asia. According to media reports, some Indian pharmaceutical companies have been producing substandard or counterfeit drugs that have failed to treat diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. These drugs have also contributed to the emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria and viruses that pose a threat to global health security. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reportedly considering taking action against Indian pharmaceuticals for violating international standards and regulations.
India’s internet blockage and its protectionist and fraudulent policies have undermined its potential to become a global leader in the digital age. India needs to rethink its approach to the internet and to global tech companies, as they are vital for its economic growth, social development and strategic interests. India also needs to address its human rights violations, trade disputes and governance issues that have tarnished its image and reputation in the world. India cannot afford to isolate itself from the global community or to ignore the aspirations of its own people.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.