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Beyond Bollywood & Yoga: DPGs, India’s new soft power, about to be on show

Last month, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) issued a press note ( It identified the priorities of the next G20 forum, the powerful global high table that frames the collective responses to challenges impacting the world economy, once India inherits the presidency on December 1.

G20 is composed of both developed and developing countries, which between them account for 85% of the global GDP, 75% of international trade and two-thirds of the global population. Given the dysfunctional state of most multilateral bodies, G20 is now the go-to institution in the world.

Among other objectives, the walk-up identified a very interesting priority, 'Digital public infrastructure and tech-enabled development in areas ranging from health, agriculture and education to commerce, skill-mapping, culture and tourism.' Clearly, the emphasis here is on India's new calling card - digital public goods (DPGs) - that is rapidly gaining eyeballs and expanding its global footprint.

This was not an isolated reference by the foreign office. Earlier, addressing a gathering hosted by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), former foreign secretary and serving G20 coordinator Harsh Shringla made a strong pitch for the need to showcase India's success with DPGs. He began by highlighting the innovations, 'Our startup sector, a world beating digital public goods and industrial policy, focused on technological innovation and growth show that we are capable of creating tech models that balance the need for global integration and priorities at a national level.'

And then he signalled India's plan during its upcoming presidency, 'At the G20, this model must be internationalised... The world needs new and innovative approaches to tackle today's complex challenges. Digital technologies present us with the tools to deal with some contemporary challenges.' Implicitly, Shringla and the MEA are acknowledging that India's soft power arsenal has a new inclusion: DPGs.

Traditionally, India's soft power has been defined around yoga, cuisine, Bollywood and, more recently, contemporary Indian art. Little over the last decade, with the launch of Aadhaar, India has begun to acquire international attention for its prowess in creating public digital infrastructure to deliver public good.

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It has successfully created digital building blocks using Aadhaar as the foundation to create a public digital rail - on which anyone, government or private sector, can build applications to scales as staggering as one billion.

These protocols have been used to create the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), which powered the fintech revolution in India and democratised payments - from a mere 1,000 in 2016, the average transactions a month have grown to a little under 7 billion.

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