Should India Nationalize Vodafone-Idea?

Recently a Bloomberg opinion article by Andy Mukherjee proposed to nationalize private telecom player Vodafone-Idea in the wake of their financial struggle and a possible exit from India which will result into job and economic losses. Author says

The world’s cheapest data costs have done wonders for India by helping spread the benefits of the internet beyond a tiny, urban, affluent class. But there’s a problem: Successive governments have hounded telecom operators with outlandish financial demands. Now things have gone too far. Vodafone Idea Ltd., one of the three private-sector competitors left standing in what used to be a field of a dozen players, is very close to crumbling under the weight of its $30 billion debt. That will effectively turn the wireless market in the nation of 1.4 billion people into a duopoly.

Maybe not immediately, but the gains to consumers could be reversed because of the lack of competition. (An international survey shows Indian data plans to still be highly affordable, though they’re no longer as inexpensive as the world-beating 9 cents per gigabyte last year.) The pace of digitization of the economy could slow. Avoiding this scenario calls for some creative thinking.

Nationalization should rank high among the few viable options worthy of consideration, even though the state getting into the driver’s seat of private enterprise has in the past created zombies on perpetual taxpayer support, such as Air India Ltd. (emphasize mine) 

Is nationalization of private telecom company Vodafone-Idea the right solution of this problem? To give an answer to this question we first need to understand why so many telecom firms have exited India and why Vodafone-Idea is struggling too. Our author actually provides this answer in his article, but then as it happens with most mainstream experts, instead of giving the right solution he just says the government is here to rescue us. 

In his own article, my emphasis above, the author talks about how successive Indian governments have harassed telecom operators in India and forced them to exit the Indian market. This lack of ease of doing business in India is then responsible for the exit of many telecom operators. Our author calls everyone for creative thinking to solve this problem of lack of competition, but then without any creative thinking (or thinking itself) he offers the very same government that destroyed this sector as its savior! If government harassment of the telecom sector is the root cause of the lack of competition in the Indian telecom market then how is government nationalizing that sector outright the right solution to this problem? How will nationalization of Vodafone-Idea result in more competition? How will nationalization result in efficient functioning of the telecom market? Governments the world over are known to be the most inefficient institutions. Even our author knows this perennial fact, that when the state gets into the driving seat it creates zombie corporations which become a burden on tax payers. The reason why the Indian telecom market was opened for private players by the past governments is the very inefficiency of the public telecom operators like the BSNL or MTNL! How is going back to the same system of public operators now going to give us a different result? This is quintessential insanity.  

If competition is desirable then why not advocate removal of government interference from the telecom sector, and the economy? Why not demand the government stop harassing the telecom sector? Competition will develop naturally in the market once government stops interfering, and that competition will reduce tariff rates again and improve quality of services. Nationalization of the only remaining private player in no way can bring any kind of competition into the telecom market. Nationalization is antithetical to competition.  

Nationalization should not rank high among viable options at all. It shouldn’t even be considered as an option. The only viable option is allowing market forces to work in the economy, and that means stopping government interventions into the economy and society. This is the only viable option. Anything less than this will not work, guaranteed.

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10 thoughts on “Should India Nationalize Vodafone-Idea?

  1. Barun says:

    India clearly shouldn’t nationalise Vodafone-Idea.Nationalisation will raise questions about accountability and performance. What if the government doesn’t want to nationalise at all, but create the condition for only one or two telecom operators to survive, with one dominant one?! The telecom operators will be at the beck and call of the govt, yet the govt won’t be held accountable for the performance. What an Idea !

  2. Jay says:

    From what I’ve heard, Modi government scrapped the decision of the SC that states can’t prepare their own OBC list. (As you are aware, I believe, OBC is just another category for reservation). And as a result, more Muslims are chosen for the OBC category. Just in case anyone thinks that Modi supports Hinduism, they are dead wrong. In the end, he’s just another politician securing his vote bank.

    • Mises India says:

      Modi is a tool being used by RSS for their dream of a Hindu Rashtra. BJP is a RSS’s political wing and historically there are some disagreements between RSS leaders and BJP leaders, but in the end BJP will toe RSS line.

        • Mises India says:

          But then that is the part and parcel of the whole game. As Mises said, there are many socialists with their own plans, but when one socialist gets the chance to implement his brand of socialism other socialists will get in trouble! You can have the Hindu Rashtra, but in what way is possibly out of your hands if you are not in power. That is the nature of power, sadly.

          • Jay says:

            When is your next article coming out? Personally I would like an article about the NEP (National Education Policy).

  3. Jay says:

    Could you give your opinion on NEP (National Education Policy). Indian express was hailing it as a great reform of some sort.

    • Mises India says:

      Indian education was dead long time ago. This government has buried it deep underground. I am in the schooling system of India and I know it from the inside. There is nothing “new” in the new education policy (sic). Same tight government centralised control of everything. Dictatorial tendencies are everywhere after Modi’s ascension to power. Even a small university vice chancellor behaves like Hitler.

      Details I may write in my future articles.

  4. Aryo+K says:

    Modi knows his government’s perceived success depends on acting like the evil Indira Gandhi and the RSS jives with her policies because they are also nationalist authoritarian socialists just like her. A lot of the older Hindu generation has passed on that nostalgia and ‘the dream that was prematurely terminated’ to the next generation who is as politically and economically ignorant as ever. This is why we are going backwards and will continue to do so until the whole charade collapses. Even then the government will be able to convince the ignorant population that it was due to external causes and they will believe it just like corona. There is no point convincing bhakts who have abandoned their religion for theatrics. Leo Tolstoy pointed this out in ‘A Letter To A Hindu’ for the English occupation and the same stands true for this socialist occupation.

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