India has witnessed a long-standing culture of myth-making, with political propaganda machinery, nurtured over decades to whitewash important contributions of many and serve it as the achievement of few. Indian telecom industry which has been leading the world in terms of telecom penetration and services is also a victim of people claiming false credits. Coordinated efforts during the past governments were made to attribute India’s telecommunications boom to the vision and work of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his adviser Sam Pitroda.
The growth in the telecom sector in India has been a major driving force behind the economy, with cheap tariffs and deep network penetration. Telecom sector has been a critical force behind India’s Progress. Rajeev Mantri and Harsh Gupta in a report published in Livemint tackle this myth head on and have beautifully deconstructed false claims made by the Congress and media elites. Pitroda has been more than willing to take credit for India’s mobile revolution. The inside cover of The March of Mobile Money, a book written by him, declares him to be “the man behind India’s telecom revolution”.
“There are two facts about the telecom boom that are obvious but merit repetition—first, the growth was driven by the private sector, not state-owned companies or the government; and second, the boom has been brought about by the rapid uptake of mobile telephony, not landline telephones or public call office (PCO) booths.” The report further adds.
Sam Pitroda who has been in the spotlight recently for his nonsensical and insensitive comments on various issues is not new to the trade. A close confidant of Rahul Gandhi and also a member of the Congress manifesto committee has accompanied Rahul Gandhi to various election rallies to influence voter on the basis of his ‘contributions’ to the Indian telecom boom.
The report in Livemint further added, “The New Telecom Policy (NTP) announced by the government of India on 3 March 1999 recounted some facts about the status of the telecom sector in India at the time. It noted that India had “over 1 million” mobile phone subscribers. Ten years after Rajiv Gandhi’s government left office in 1989 and eight years after Pitroda returned to the US, following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, tele-density moved from 0.6% in 1989 to 2.8% in 1999. Does that constitute a “revolution” and does that make Rajiv Gandhi and Sam Pitroda the progenitors of the mobile revolution?”
Sam Pitroda, on the contrary, was involved in steps which had ultimately harmed the telecom prospects in India, as the head of Centre for Development of Telematics (CDoT) had argued “luxury car phones” were “obscene” in a nation where “people were starving”. His reservations led to Rajiv Gandhi pulling the plug on a World Bank project which proposed to deploy India’s first cellular network in Mumbai (then Bombay), according to the report.
The report also further goes ahead to give insight on the new telecom policy implemented in 1999 under the Atal Bihari government which gave a major boost to bring the Telecom sector where it stands today.
According to the annual report (2003-2004) by the Planning Commission which has been replaced by much efficient NITI Aayog, says on growth in Telecom industry during Atal ji tenure “the telecom services have registered a consistently high growth rate of more than 20 percent per annum. The robust private sector participation has resulted in unprecedented growth in the cellular and WLL services. During the year, cellular services have recorded an unprecedented growth of over 100 percent. As a result of this fast growth, Indian telecom network has emerged as the fifth largest network in the world.”
Integrity and conscience have always taken a back seat when it comes to the Congress, claiming credits for the efforts of others has always been the case. However, the myth-busting of baseless claims has just started with time and the dust will surely settle.