Review: The Third Way by Rahul Matthan - Hindustan Times

Review: The Third Way by Rahul Matthan

ByBinayak Dasgupta
Dec 16, 2023 05:54 AM IST

Rahul Matthan contends that India’s approach to governing technology and using technologies in its governance can be a blueprint for nation states straddling Laissez-faire capitalism and socialism

The history of modern of technology begins in the West. Modern computers, computer networks and the most influential of companies, principles and laws governing these domains were spawned mostly on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, if not almost entirely in northern America. Over time, the West largely came to adopt one of two approaches on how it governed technology and use technologies in its governance. On one hand is the American model where private companies have almost entirely charted the ways, in tune with the broader principle of free market capitalism. On the other is the regulation-heavy European approach, where markets and governance are held within strict guardrails to protect liberty and equality, among others. Both approaches are the outcome of and designed for different economic and legal principles.

Convenience at your fingertips: Using digital wallets to pay for everything. (Burhaan Kinu / Hindustan Times)
Convenience at your fingertips: Using digital wallets to pay for everything. (Burhaan Kinu / Hindustan Times)

272pp, ₹599; Juggernaut
272pp, ₹599; Juggernaut

Today, the rest of the world (except China) has adopted some amalgamation of these approaches. But there is another way, argues technology lawyer Rahul Matthan in his new book titled The Third Way – India’s Revolutionary Approach to Data Governance.

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Early on, the book captures why data is at the heart of governance, citing examples of how harnessing it helped further good as well as evil: Hitler used it for the Holocaust and eastern and western rivals used it for war and surveillance during World War II. At the same time, data helped deliver justice and public goods – beginning as early as the 1970s. Today, algorithmic systems trained on reams of data drive social interactions and media consumption.

Matthan’s third way refers to the development and adoption of the so-called the India Stack – a combination of platforms and protocols that make up the country’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI). The identity repository Aadhaar and the payments mechanism UPI are the best-known constituents of DPI. The first blocks, Matthan notes, were laid down 15 years ago. Today, DPI represents a unique approach to solving societal problems by using digital ecosystems built atop open, interoperable architecture for public good, he writes.

Matthan’s characterisation of DPI is correct – the framework in India today is one of the quickest ways anywhere in the world for so many people to be reached, whether for a product, service or subsidy, with such ease and at so little cost. For example, the identity layer allows people from the most ignored of socio-economic backgrounds to access subsidies, and for banks to reach customers in faraway, rural locations. Many hospitals can hop onto the same network to verify a patient’s insurance, for instance, and access records like vaccination certificates.

Author Rahul Matthan (Courtesy the publisher)
Author Rahul Matthan (Courtesy the publisher)

The author also goes into details of how some principles of DPI were designed – “Indian DPIs are not mere digitisations of traditional workflows”. These details stem from Matthan’s own role as an insider, who has influenced some of the policies, regulations and laws linked to India’s digital governance. It is this insider’s perspective that shines new light on the host of technological offerings that the Indian government has pitched to the world.

India’s approach, Matthan contends, is not one that is a repackaging of various western principles, but one that can be a blueprint for nation-states straddling Laissez-faire capitalism and socialism.

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