It began as a battle for India’s roads. But very soon, the two app-based cab companies – Ola and Uber, are at each other’s throats in completely different surroundings – government offices, to put a case in point.
Not a surprise then, that earlier this week, Pranay Jivrajka, the chief operating officer of Ola, publicly appealed to the Government of India to put in place regulations to stop capital dumping and predatory pricing. It was a veiled potshot against rival Uber, whose policies, in his words, were “distorting the market.” This recent incident is just a manifestation of something that’s been building, behind the scenes at both the companies.
Earlier this year, Ola had slammed Uber for being a foreign company, which was trying to subvert Indian laws when the two slugged it out in the Karnataka high court. Uber’s general manager Bhavik Rathod had, in a long post, asked Ola to rise above the petty differences and work towards solving a larger problem. Rathod was trying to draw attention away from the surge pricing issue, which has been a hot button topic for a while.
Both companies have realised the importance of public policy; not just to operate in India, where the law is vague and grey, but also to explain the business model to stakeholders, the potential cost benefit, and the larger public good they see in “disrupting” transportation. It was also necessary, in the aftermath of the Gurgaon rape case in December 2014, which involved an Uber driver, both Ola and Uber have been scaling efforts to ramp up their public policy activities, in New Delhi and elsewhere.
Both companies understand that transportation is an issue that the government cares about. It affects the lives of millions of people – drivers, customers, state coffers… they cannot afford to not control the outcome. Towards that, the two companies are building a team, and a vertical.
“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes,” said Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and military strategist.
The domestic hero
Ola introduced its public policy vertical over three years ago with a team of seven; four in Bengaluru and three in Delhi. Over time, with departures, the team was whittled down to four. It is headed by Arvind Singhatiya, vice president of corporate affairs at Ola. Singhatiya, joined the company from Metro Cash and Carry India, where he was in a similar role, heading corporate affairs and government relations in the North.