56. STRUGGLES AGAINST NEO-LIBERAL POLICIES IN TELECOM
Continuous research and inventions during last two centuries resulted in great advancement in communications sector. Though a little late, India also made advancements, slowly under British rule and fast after independence.
Consequent to collapse of USSR and subsequent pressure from capitalist countries headed by US, the Nehruvian model of ‘Socialist Pattern of Society’ was discarded by Indian rulers. It led to the path of neo-liberal, globalisation, privatisation policy. Started even during the period of Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi. Telecom sector which was a goldmine for accruing profit was bifurcated from P & T Department and made a separate department.
By amending the Indian Telegraph Act 1986 under which the telecommunications services were monopoly of central government, private companies were granted licence for the newly introduced mobile services. At the same time, telecom department was denied the licence. When the issue was raised by unions, the reply from government was that, ‘if DOT is given permission to start mobile services, the private companies will be doomed’. So it was more important to the government to support private companies for them to earn profit than giving better and cheaper service to the public.
Not only licence was given to newly formed private telecom companies, but all support and out of turn concessions were granted to them. To justify licence to private companies, it was argued that it will fetch Rs. 125 crore for exchequer. By changing to Revenue Sharing System, what the government got was only Rs. 5 crore or so. Of course, crores of rupees were confiscated from the residence of Communications Minister Shri Sukhram and he was charged with corruption. It is well known that corruption is an essential part of capitalist system.
Next step was to privatise the services part of telecom department. But it is not easy to privatise the department or its services part directly. There will be strong opposition. So the tactics adopted was to first convert in to a PSU and then privatise. The National Telecom Policy 1999 (NTP – 1999) was formulated with this idea.
The central trade unions along with federations of central – state government employees have been in the forefront, opposing the neo-liberal policies being implemented by central government since 1990s. The first major strike against these anti-worker policies was organised on 29th November 1991. Though NFTE was reluctant to be a party, newly elected leadership in E.III Union gave call for strike and participated. In every general strike called by the CTUs since then, E.III Union / E.III(N) Union / BSNLEU fully participated.
E.III Union / E.III(N) Union by bringing together like-minded unions in telecom sector organised serious struggles, including strike, when the government pronounced the National Telecom Policy 1994, which granted telecom licences to private companies and on similar other occasions. E.III Union took initiative in forming a Co-ordinating Committee by name National Action Committee, which organised sustained struggles against neo-liberal policies being implemented in telecom sector. Unfortunately, both the recognised Federations in Telecom, NFTE and FNTO either opposed such struggles or kept silent without participating. It seemed that they do not want to oppose these anti-worker policies. As Convener of the NAC, got opportunity to meet leaders of the national trade unions, interact and invite them to the many conventions and programmes organised by NAC.
The National Convention held at Mavlankar hall, New Delhi on 25th August 1993 against globalisation and against the anti-worker policies of the government decided to organise one day strike on 9th September 1993. 25th August was decided to be observed as ‘United Struggle Day’ in preparation for the strike. Confederation of CG Employees and Workers directed me to attend the rally on that day at Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat.
Reached Ahmedabad in the morning by train. Went to Telephone exchange where hundreds of workers including large number of ladies were observing dharna, shouting slogans. Met them and discussed organisational matters. By about 03.00 P.M., the procession started. Thousands of workers, including that of Railways, Postal, Telecom, Income Tax, State government and others marched through the city and reached the place where rally was to be held.
As representative from centre, I was to inaugurate the public meeting. Started speaking in English. Many stood up and demanded “ Hindi mem bolo!” (Speak in Hindi). It cannot be said that I do not know Hindi. I have passed Pradhamik, Madhyamik, Rashtrabahsha and Visharad examinations conducted by Dakshin Bharath Hindi Prachar Sabha. I had taught Hindi in school when, Hindi teacher was on leave. But never made a speech and was not sure whether I can. Here, there was no escaping. Started speaking in Hindi stating that Hindi is spoken differently in different states and my Hindi is Kerala Hindi. Added that ‘Mera Hindi Dimag ka nahi, dil ka Hindi hai’ ( My Hindi is of the heart, not of the brain). There was big applause. Got sufficient courage and spoke with confidence. Comrades congratulated after conclusion. That was my first speech in Hindi. Immediately after speech, was taken to Vadodara by car, where also I addressed.
It is very much necessary to speak in Hindi in states where mother tongue is Hindi. They are not worried about grammar or if you use some English words. Meaning is to be understood, that is all. It is applicable to all other languages also. Language is a very strong bond between persons.
Though could speak in Hindi, I am not able to speak in Tamil, Kannada or Telugu, the south Indian languages. Could have learned them, if tried. It would have helped in speaking in their own language. However manages to speak in broken Tamil, when it becomes unavoidable, mostly using Malayalam words. (to be continued)