With the Indian government contemplating the regulation and legalization of Bitcoins, Bollywood celebrities are endorsing the digital currency which is now accepted by an ever-growing number of online portals and stores.
Bitcoin Legal Status in India
Although Bitcoin is not illegal in India, its jurisdiction falls under a gray area. An interdisciplinary committee comprising officials from the country’s finance ministry, IT ministry, NITI Aayog, and Reserve Bank was tasked with examining the framework on virtual currencies with a view to regulating and legalizing its use within 6 months.
Over 4000 comments and suggestions were received on the MyGov forum which was used to assess public opinion on digital currencies. Bitcoin trade analyst Chris Burniske reported that India is the fourth highest Bitcoin trading market, with over 1 million users accounting for 16,764.76 Bitcoins trades by volume.
The legalization of Bitcoin will expand its scope of usage in India and ameliorate the public fears regarding its reliability and safety. It will also provide a way for the government to monitor potential financial, security and legal risks since the use of Bitcoins has been associated with money laundering and funding terrorism in the country.
— Chris Burniske (@cburniske) June 15, 2017
Bollywood celebrities are always quick to capitalize wherever an opportunity for publicity arises. Just last month, Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui were in the limelight for being the brand ambassadors of Webwork Trade Links, a company under probe by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation for allegedly duping investors for over $772 Million by running a Ponzi scheme that involved the use of Bitcoin.
Amit Bhardwaj, founder of GBMiners, AmazeMiners, CoinBank and former co-founder of HighKart.com is a self-proclaimed Bitcoin guru and has written three books on cryptocurrency. His latest book titled Cryptocurrency For Beginners has been promoted on Twitter by various Bollywood celebrities such as Shilpa Shetty, R. Madhavan, Prachi Desai, Bipasha Basu, Vir Das, Neha Dhupia and Nargis Fakhri to name a few.
This clearly looks like a coordinated campaign by the author to boost sales after he also bought a front-page advertisement in one of the biggest newspapers in the country, The Hindu. It is worth noting that although Bhardwaj has been accused of running a cryptocurrency scam and Ponzi scheme, Bollywood celebrities have wasted no time in jumping on the Bitcoin bandwagon through him. Bitcoin’s strong performance in 2017 has even caught the fascination of the technologically handicapped Indian film industry.
— Nargis (@NargisFakhri) July 15, 2017
Online Portals And Stores Accepting Bitcoin Payments
Unocoin and Zebpay, two of India’s biggest Bitcoin exchanges, started out by providing users with the option to use the digital currency as a method of payment for mobile and DTH bills, as well as for online shopping. Over time, the list of merchants has grown to include several online portals that cover a wide spectrum of domains such as book stores, bus/flight ticket and holiday booking, mobile recharge, web hosting, software management, online clothes and home décor, and training and recruitment.
This week saw Cyankart.com become India’s first fashion and lifestyle store to accept Bitcoin payments on their website. Abhay Bajaj, one of the Founding Partners of Cyankart was quoted saying:
This is a big move for us. We believe the cryptocurrency movement is just starting to pick up the pace in India and it won’t be much time before we’ll start seeing people using Bitcoin as regularly as they use mobile wallets at the moment.
The Road Ahead
In the absence of central regulation, Indian Bitcoin startups have formed the Digital Assets and Blockchain Foundation of India (DABFI) that will act as a self-regulatory body that brings in uniform rules. The founders of both Unocoin and Zebpay believe that India can become one of the global leaders for the Bitcoin market as demonstrated by the steep growth experienced by Indian Bitcoin startups in trade volume and user base, which is set to increase further.
Although Bitcoin has been the preferred choice of payment for hackers who recently launched a barrage of ransomware attacks that has been plaguing the IT sector, proper regulatory oversight by the government can go a long way in building public trust in the cryptocurrency and assuaging fears that stem from a lack of awareness regarding the technology and its benefits. For the world’s second most populated country with over 1.34 billion people, a Bitcoin user base of 1 million represents a mere drop in the bucket.
Taking Bitcoin mainstream would require promotion from the country’s most influential people who are in the public eye, namely cricketers and actors. Acceptance of the digital currency from the more popular retailers and stores would also go a long way towards widespread adoption, while at the same time truly fulfilling current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a cashless India.
Do you think Bollywood endorsements can take Bitcoin mainstream in India? What line of products/services should start accepting payments in Bitcoin? Let us know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of the Bitcoinist archives