There is something ironic when you wake up to two headlines that point in opposite directions on the same place. Bangalore has become Bengaluru --and it is fine to go back to one's original appellation -- but going back in time when it comes to embracing the new economy is not what one expected of India's technology capital.
The news that Uber and Olacabs, leading ride-sharing operators of the digital economy, are going ahead with their car-pooling operations in defiance of the Karnataka government's diktats may seem like a case of lawlessness, but in effect, their act smacks of Gandhian civil disobedience in the face of an ostrich-like administration that refuses to spot an opportunity in a game changer because it loves to cling on to rules that belong in the past. Uber and Ola are understandably in no mood to comply with rules by Friday.
Karnataka's transport department says the firms have "contract carriage permits" that do not allow them to pick up and drop passengers during the course of a trip. Apparently the permits only allow point-to-point pick-ups and drops. Common sense makes us ask: why the hell is that so? There may have been reasons in the past, when everything was supposed to follow a "By Order" culture, but we are now 25 years into an economic reforms process that implicitly acknowledges the limits of good the state can do.
The reasons for why ride-sharing and car-pooling makes sense are eminent.
1) Bangalore's roads are choked, and fewer cars means better traffic flow.
2) Car pools are cheaper for passengers, consume less fuel, and it makes sense to curb pollution and check carbon emissions in the age of climate change.
3) Ola and Uber offer job prospects to thousands of cab drivers, and are a not-so-in-your-face employment boosters.
Now, consider the irony of Karnataka tom-tomming the arrival of Apple's assembly plant on the outskirts of Bangalore. One could say that wooing assembly lines to create jobs is "oh-so-1980s" when China and Taiwan led a leap into being manufacturing hubs in the then-sunrise area of electronic manufacturing.
Apple surprised us this week with better-than-expected sales of iPhones, but questions do loom on its future. Officials in New Delhi consider Apple to be a "marquee" investor -- which it is, it must be admitted. But it is pertinent to ask the significance of bending backwards for Apple when US President Donald Trump is working extra hard to bring jobs back to America and when robots are being increasingly used in assembly lines by Apple's leading partner Foxconn. There is more evidence Uber and its rivals are adding jobs rather than stealing them.
Wooing Apple while curtailing Uber or Ola is like saying bell-bottoms are cool when ripped jeans are the in-thing. Surely the powers-that-be in New Delhi and Bangalore-turned-Bengaluru should know that Uber is as marquee as it gets in the new millennium. The sharing economy is hot, while human assembly lines are not.
(The author is a senior journalist. He tweets as @madversity)
Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 14:28 PM