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Wildfires have existed on earth for hundreds of millions of years. Most naturally occurring wildfires are an integral part of forest ecosystems. They burn dead matter, kill invasive species, and thin canopies and undergrowth, allowing ecosystems to renew themselves.

But many wildfires are increasingly getting out of hand and turning destructive. And most that do are often traced back to human causes.

Something similar is happening within India’s business ecosystems. Small economic wildfires are popping up, spreading, and then dying out rapidly. Their targets are foreign corporations, imported products, and Chinese apps. There were three, recently.

  1. Mitron, an alleged Indian rival to Bytedance’s short-video app TikTok, clocked over five million installs in less than two months. It became the sixth most popular app on Google’s India Play Store.
  2. The Kendriya Police Kalyan Bhandar (KPKB), a government body that runs stores across India for paramilitary personnel, banned over 1,000 products because they were imported.
  3. “Remove China Apps” is an app that once installed, scans phones for apps developed in China and then offers to uninstall them. It surged to the number one spot on Google’s Indian Play Store in just six days, racking up nearly five million installs.

All three of these wildfires were promptly put out. Google removed both Mitron Mitron The Indian Express Mitron app deleted: Google says it violated policies but can resubmit the app after fixing issues Read more and Remove China Apps Remove China Apps The Economic Times Amid India-China face-off, Google delists 'Remove China' app citing 'privacy concerns' Read more  from its Play Store for technical violations of its policies. And KPKB’s order was withdrawn by the government.

When studying real-life wildfires, experts typically look for a “fire triangle” that creates the conditions ripe for destruction—fuel, oxygen, and heat. 

A similar economic triangle is rising in India. An economy poised on the edge of recession; a defensive government and powerful bureaucracy asking citizens to shun foreign products and be “Vocal for Local”; and over 500 million citizens connected through smartphones, social networks, and messaging apps.

All that’s required now are sparks. 

Apps on fire

Mitron and Remove China Apps racked up downloads not because they were any good. Instead, it was because they channelled Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s calls to make the country “self-reliant” by giving up foreign products. 

Sadly, the mobile app space isn’t one where there are a lot of options for Indians to be “vocal for local”.

AUTHOR

Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

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