We wish India’s telecom saga would be a Bollywood movie, with a happy ending. But what we have witnessed since the May of 1994, when India began slowly easing the state grip on telecoms to usher in everything from private players to mobile phones to the Internet, is a long-winding soap opera. In line with the spirit of the saas-bahu nation, we can announce that Reliance Jio is the much loved and hated new bahu (daughter-in-law) in this opera, impressing everyone and upsetting the older order.
If you are looking not for entertaining conflicts but deep wisdom, it is this: India’s taxpayer has won in a war on corruption, but may well be losing an equivalent money again as a consumer, or likely, as a taxpayer.
Does it matter if someone picks your right pocket instead of left to take out the same amount of money?
The erstwhile Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had totted up a questionably fancy figure of Rs 176,000 crore as the loss to the exchequer from not properly auctioning 2G spectrum, resulting in a scandal that helped bring the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government down in the elections that followed.
Now, isn’t that figure suspiciously close to the Rs 150,000 crore that Khullar talks of in stressed loans?
The moral of the story, or call it poetic injustice, is this: when the taxpayer gains as an anti-corruption beneficiary, she loses either as an upscale consumer or bail-out angel in an economy creaking under bad loans.
Soap operas invariably mean tearful continuity, not happy endings, no?
Madhavan Narayanan is a senior journalist and editor who has worked for Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He tweets as @madversity.