Stop Bharti-MTN talks,ban Airtel from Govt: Left leader Abani to PM

Abani Roy,the inveterate letter writer on corporate affairs,has done it again — this time turning his own and his party’s stand on its head.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Published:July 11, 2009 5:20 am

Abani Roy,the inveterate letter writer on corporate affairs,has done it again — this time turning his own and his party’s stand on its head.

The Rajya Sabha MP of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to stop the proposed merger of Bharti Airtel with South African telecom giant MTN. Not just that.

He has “urged” the PM to stop all “Government functionaries” from using Airtel mobile services.

His reason: MTN has a significant market share in countries that face US sanctions — Sudan,Iran,Syria and Ivory Coast. This,from a man who — echoing the Left stand — has always been critical of US sanctions,has slammed Washington’s policy toward Tehran and criticised New Delhi for its stand against Iran at the IAEA.

This time,however,Roy uses US sanctions to support his claim that the proposed deal will compromise India’s “national security”.

In his three-page letter addressed to the Prime Minister sent late last month,with copies to the Finance and Commerce Ministers,Roy claims the proposed Bharti and MTN “will be a serious threat to national integrity and security…(and),in no circumstance,such merger be allowed.” He adds: “Government should direct the Government functionaries to stop immediately the use of Airtel mobile and Bharti’s other telecom services.”

MTN-Bharati talks come after failed negotiations between Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications and MTN.

“Discussions (with Bharti) are still in progress,” MTN said in a statement to Johannesburg’s stock exchange earlier this week. On May 25,in a statement,it said the companies would hold exclusive talks until July 31. If it goes through,the MTN-Bharti deal will create the world’s third-largest mobile firm with over 200 million subscribers. MTN and its shareholders would take a 36 per cent stake in Bharti which would hold 49 percent of MTN.

When asked why he had sent the letter,Roy said: “I have the country’s security interests in mind. Mobile phones and Internet are being increasingly used by terrorists. So when an Indian telecom company enters into a deal with a foreign player,the Government should keep the security aspect in mind.”

So why didn’t he write the letter when Reliance Communications was in talks with MTN?

“I came to know of the deal only now. I am not saying don’t give the deal to Bharti,I am only highlighting the security aspect.”

In his letter,Roy claims that MTN’s presence in India will be a “threat to national security” as many of “the key national leaders,Ministers,MPs,Government officers,including those holding sensitive positions,use Airtel.”

Roy has a curious track record of sending letters to various Ministers on corporate matters. Once,he wanted the security approval given to Jet Airways chief Naresh Goyal revisited; he favoured Reliance Infocomm’s proposal to pay lower royalty to Qualcomm and even sought a probe into the assets of a former Union Finance Secretary.

Recently,he wrote a letter to the PM seeking the resignation of Mendu Rammohan Rao,a former independent director on the board of Satyam Computers,from various government committees. Rao was a member of government panels to select the chairman and members of SEBI,the chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

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