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WHO'S THE 221ST?

Paytm claims it’s not Chinese. A rival’s full-page newspaper ad is hinting otherwise

REUTERS/Amit Dave
Amid the chaos.
  • Niharika Sharma
By Niharika Sharma

Aviation and social media reporter

The Indian fintech war has just escalated.

MobiKwik, a leading digital payment firm in India, today (Nov. 25) took a dig at rival Paytm through a frontpage ad in a popular English language newspaper, Hindustan Times. With the Indian government cracking down on Chinese apps amid rising border dispute, MobiKwik’s ad hinted at Paytm’s Chinese connection: its investor Ant Financial.

Including the recent round on Nov. 25, the Narendra Modi government has so far banned 220 Chinese apps. “Are you paying your bills with the 221st?,” the MobiKwik ad said.

Paytm has frequently faced criticism for being a “Chinese company” as its parent firm One97 Communications has raised funds from Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of the Alibaba Group that runs Alipay—China’s largest mobile payment service. Alibaba Group holds over 25% stake in One97 Communications.

Ironically, Paytm had also once made headlines for its newspaper ads, which were rather “patriotic.”

In 2016, after the Indian government announced its decision to demonetise two high currency notes, Paytm ran frontpage ads in several newspapers thanking Modi for “taking the boldest decision in the financial history of independent India.” The ads received severe backlash as Paytm was the biggest beneficiary of demonetisation and several politicians questioned Modi’s connection with the company.

However, it was in 2016 itself when Paytm’s connection with Chinese investors started making a buzz. Paytm’s founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma has time and again tried to dismiss such murmur aggressively. “We are as Indian as Maruti is…we are ‘India story’ in every sense whatsoever,” Sharma had said in 2016.

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