Tharoor recalled the infamous words of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s communications minister in the 1970s, C.M. Stephen. In response to questions decrying the rampant telephone breakdowns in the country, the minister declared in Parliament that telephones were a luxury, not a right. He added that ‘any Indian who was not satisfied with his telephone service could return his phone’ — since there was an eight-year waiting list of people seeking this supposedly inadequate product.
According to Tharoor, Mr Stephen’s statement captured perfectly everything that was wrong about the government’s attitude: ignorant, wrong-headed, unconstructive, self-righteous, complacent, unresponsive and insulting. “It was altogether typical of an approach to governance in the economic arena which assumed that the government knew what was good for the country, felt no obligation to prove it by actual performance and didn’t, in any case, care what anyone else thought.”
Shashi Tharoor is now a newly elected member of Parliament from Kerala, representing the same political party in the same state as the late Mr Stephen. Telecom has changed in India, but even more, mindsets within the Congress Party have changed! And that may be the greatest achievement of all!
Read the full blog entry, based on LIRNEasia research on teleuse at the bottom of the pyramid.