Maran's tenure saw Indian telecom's growth blossom 

Dayanidhi Maran’s proximity to DMK chief M. Karunanidhi secured IT and Communications Minister Dayanadhi Maran a berth in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. And this proximity again cost him the job he landed in his very first term as an MP.

For Maran, 40, the grand-nephew of Karunanidhi, politics was not the first choice as a career even though his erudite father Murasoli Maran was commerce minister in the previous regime of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a parliamentarian since 1967.

A lover of golf, tennis and snooker who was always seen in smart business attires, Maran was more at home helping his elder brother Kalanidhi Maran run the family media empire that has in its fold Sun TV, the largest TV network in south India in four languages.

But once Maran Sr. died in November 2003, Karunanidhi again wanted someone from the “family” to represent DMK in parliament, and after the party joined the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, the plum IT and communications portfolio landed on his lap. Maran, an economics graduate from the prestigious Loyala College in Chennai, won the Chennai Central seat by grabbing 62 percent of the votes polled.

“His role in bringing major and positive changes in telecommunications sector have been of great significance to the IT software and services industry,” said Kiran Karnik of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom).

Maran’s exit from the cabinet was triggered by an opinion poll in his family-run Tamil daily Dinakaran, which said 70 percent of the people in the state favoured Karunanidhi’s younger son M.K. Stalin as his likely political heir and only 2 percent had voted for Stalin’s elder brother Azhagiri.

Karunanidhi, who had painstakingly sought to settle the succession issue, viewed the opinion poll as an act of indiscipline and mischief that sought to cause a rift between his two ambitious sons. He was authorized by the party to seek his immediate recall from the cabinet.

“I have consciously never ever betrayed Karunanidhi,” said Maran later. “I’m a member of DMK since birth. Whatever my leader’s wish, I’ll do. I am only sad an accusation has been put on me that I indulged in anti-party activities.”

But his popularity in national politics and his somewhat publicity seeking image where he would be regularly seen posing for photographs with chief executives of major global firms like Microsoft, Intel or Cisco, did not go well with his detractors. He was also the DMK leader who would share the dais with the prime minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi during important events.

Even in terms of handling the IT and communications portfolio in the three years Maran was in office, India achieved many milestones, say industry leaders, but quickly add that the credit to him goes only to the extent that he maintained the momentum that was set by his processors.

“His single biggest achievement has been the revolution in Indian telecom. He deserves full credit for that. He was also able to attract foreign investment into electronics manufacturing,” Vinnie Mehta, executive director of the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology, told IANS.

During his tenure, India relaxed the foreign direct investment cap in telecom services industry from 49 percent to 74 percent, and the country’s telecom subscriber base grew to 206 million as on March 31, 2007, from 76.5 million two years earlier.

This apart, the reduction in what is called the access deficit charges paid by mobile operators to the fixed-line incumbents for sharing their network and the liberalization of both the domestic and international long distance telephony markets saw tariffs plummet successively, much to the cheer of subscribers.

Maran also managed to get commitments from global IT and communications firms to invest close to $20 billion in India, even as exports of software and IT-enabled services more than doubled to $47.8 billion between 2004 and 2007.

His efforts earned him the “Young Global Leaders” award from Davos, Switzerland-based World Economic Forum (WEF) and leadership award from the GSM Association (GSMA), a global trade association representing more than 700 mobile operators.

Maran’s tenure was also largely non-controversial. The only time he came under a cloud was then the Tatas dragged Sun TV to court and said the latter’s bouquet of channels was being denied for broadcast from its direct-to-home platform.

While this spat continues, the media became silent on Maran when he threatened to drag some newspapers and magazines to court on charges of defamation.

On his future plans, Maran has chosen to remain silent for the moment. According to his close associates, his moves will start unfolding only after what action the DMK takes when he responds to a show-cause notice on why he should not be removed from primary membership of the party.