Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal
Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal

The Cloud Wars: How Pronoun Politics Made Ola Ditch Microsoft Azure for Krutrim

Ola's split from Microsoft Azure stemmed from a LinkedIn post dispute over gender pronouns by CEO Bhavish Aggarwal. This sparked Aggarwal's push for Krutrim cloud adoption, championing Indian tech sovereignty, and sparking discussions on gender pronouns.

“They will bully us into agreeing with them or cancel us out. And if they can do this to me, I’m sure the average user stands no chance.”   

These were the words used by Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal against Microsoft as he announced that the ride-hailing platform would end its ties with Microsoft Azure, a cloud computing platform. Aggarwal said that the ride-hailing platform would shift the entire workload to its own artificial intelligence (AI) firm, Krutrim.   

While it is a challenge to shift the entire operating system, Aggarwal said that his team is charged up about doing this. Further, to woo more users, Aggarwal said that any other developer who wants to move out of Azure will be offered a full year of free cloud usage. However, this offer is applicable only with a condition: "As long as you don’t go back to Azure after that!"   

So, why the rift between Microsoft and Ola?   

It all started with a LinkedIn (LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft) post. On May 6, Aggarwal used X to express his views on gender pronouns. He had engaged with LinkedIn's AI bot to inquire about himself and shared a screenshot of the response, where the bot used "they" and "their" to refer to him instead of ‘he/him’.   

In his message, he stated that "pronoun illness" hasn't gained traction in India and encouraged people not to blindly follow Western trends. However, LinkedIn later removed his post, citing violation of community guidelines.   

On May 9, Aggarwal criticised LinkedIn for deleting his post about pronoun illness, arguing that their AI tool was imposing a specific political viewpoint on Indian users, which he deemed unsafe and manipulative. That’s when he hinted that we (India) need to build our own tech and AI in India. “Else, we’ll just be pawns in others political objectives (sic),” he said.   

Before announcing the separation between the two companies, Aggarwal laid the groundwork for the same with repeated posts on X, where he showed his disappointment towards LinkedIn.   

On May 11, Aggarwal announced that since LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft and Ola is a big customer of Azure, Ola has decided to move its entire workload out of Azure to its own Krutrim cloud within the next week.   

Breaking LinkedIn’s monopoly over time   

Another major announcement from Ola was the commitment of the company to work with the Indian developer community to build a DPI social media framework.   

In 2023, India became the second-largest market for LinkedIn, with a 56 per cent growth in its member base over the last three years. As of 2023, the company had crossed 100 million users in the country.   

Referring to it as the monopoly of LinkedIn, Aggarwal said they will eventually focus on removing the supremacy of LinkedIn. “DPIs like UPI, ONDC, Aadhaar, etc. are a uniquely Indian idea and are even more needed in the world of social media,” said Aggarwal.   

While highlighting that he is not against western tech companies, Aggarwal insisted on the need to build India’s own tech platforms that will give citizens the space  to think freely.   

The only “community guidelines” should be the Indian law: Aggarwal 

Pronouns can now be added to profiles on several social media sites, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. The number of edits that users can make to their pronouns is unlimited, and they can make adjustments at any moment.  Aggarwal believes that the only community guidelines that should be followed are those of Indian law.  

 “No corporate person should be able to decide what will be banned. Data should be owned by the creators instead of being owned by the corporations who make money using our data and then lecture us on ‘community guidelines’!” said Aggarwal.   

India lacks specific legislation regarding pronouns. The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill of 2022 stands out as the first Indian law to incorporate female pronouns like 'she/her’ when referring to individuals. The Indian judiciary has been also actively promoting gender sensitivity. Recently, the Supreme Court introduced a handbook aimed at combating gender stereotypes. This handbook recommends using alternative language such as “assigned female/male at birth” instead of “born a girl/boy,” “intersex” instead of “hermaphrodite,” “transgender” instead of “transsexual,” and “cross-dresser” instead of “transvestite,” among other suggestions.   

Additionally, the Supreme Court has provided guidelines to high courts regarding habeas corpus and protection petitions, emphasizing that “sexual orientation and gender identity are within an individual's core zone of privacy and self-identification.”   

A sneak peek into Krutrim   

Krutrim, which translates to "artificial" in Sanskrit, is concentrating on developing the full stack of AI computing. The AI unicorn, founded by Bhavish Aggarwal, recently introduced graphics processing units as a service. 

Recently, the company launched its AI cloud service, Krutrim Cloud, to assist developers and businesses in gaining access to cutting-edge GPU resources to expedite projects and boost productivity.   

Read: Ola's AI Platform To Compete With Global Companies In Building Energy-Efficient Data Centres: Founder

Access to "state-of-the-art" GPU hardware—which offers better performance for demanding computational applications like AI training, 3D rendering, and scientific simulations—will be made available by Krutrim as part of this service.   

The company recently made news when it became the fastest unicorn in India after raising around $50 million at a valuation of $1 billion. This was the first AI start-up in the country to achieve this target. While talking about the co-relationship between AI and Indian culture, Aggarwal said, “Current AI models just can’t capture India’s culture, knowledge, and aspirations, given our multicultural and multilingual context. We introduce Krutrim, a company with the sole vision of creating India’s own AI for 1.4 billion Indians.” It remains to be seen if Krutim can be the next alternative and replace Microsoft Azure in a world where localization and globalization work simultaneously. 

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