Indian Telecom sell-off
Since mid-September India's telecommunication system has been in disarray. Telephone links between the major cities have been severed. The STD system has totally collapsed. In major cities like Delhi and Mumbai even local calls cannot be made. Internet users are also facing difficulties. Initially the government explained that the difficulties in reaching Calcutta and Bhubaneshwar from Delhi were due to technical snags in the national cable network in that sector. But when the disease spread to other areas and the STD system collapsed all over the country the government claimed that striking Telecom workers and engineers were sabotaging the network. However, the fact of the matter is that there is no strike in the Telecom sector. Engineering staff of the Telecommunication Department have resorted to "work to rule" agitation to oppose the corporatisation of the Department. Their agitation is perfectly legitimate and their opposition to corporatisation and privatisation of this "core sector" of the national economy is well known. They are not fighting for higher wages or improved working conditions; it is a battle to defend the nation's interest. Privatisation or corporatisation of India's communication industry will have far reaching consequences for the country's security. This point has been repeatedly emphasised by the Indian Communists since the right-wing Hindu-nationalist BJP-led NDA government made its intentions known to hand over this key sector to private capital, both Indian and foreign. The Vajpayee Government brushed all voices of protest aside. In its mad drive to usher in the second generation of so-called economic reforms, it is compromising the nation's interest by gradually handing over this vital sector to private capital. In its previous tenure, the BJP Government announced a new telecom policy that cost the public exchequer tens of billions of rupees. The private telecom operators' terms of contract were changed to write off that amount from what they were due to pay the government. It was alleged that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), in which Vajpayee's foster son-in-law is a key player, made this change after under-hand dealings with the private operators. In its second innings as well, the Vajpayee Government has specifically targeted the telecommunications sector on the advice of the Americans who are eager to take over this crucial sector. Apart from making moves to privatise the telecommunications sector, the Vajpayee Government has signed an agreement for data transmission with a dubious US research institute that is known to be a conduit for the CIA. On the eve of his departure for the USA, Vajpayee presided over a cabinet meeting that decided to end the monopoly of the public sector telecommunications company Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). After the cabinet meeting the Communication Minister Ram Vilas Paswan shamelessly told the media that the decision had been taken to send "clear signals to foreign [read US] investors" about the Indian Government's commitment on faster implementation of the second generation of economic reforms. Later, newspapers revealed that the US Mission in India played an important role in forcing the Cabinet to make this decision known before the departure of the Prime Minister for the USA. It was to be an important item on the compliance list which the Prime Minister carried with him to please the "masters" at the Capitol Hill and White House. The Americans are all set to make a big entry in the Indian communications sector — and to ultimately take it over totally.
* * *New Age, newspaper of Communist Party of India (CPI)