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No way PM Modi could’ve used email in 1988, says man who brought internet to India

B.K. Syngal, former chairman of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, confirmed that commercial internet came to India only in 1995.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in an interview last week that he had used a digital camera and email in the late 1980s, but B.K. Syngal, the man widely credited with bringing the internet to India, says there’s no way this could be true.

“I first used a digital camera, probably in 1987 or 1988 and very few had emails at that time. In Viramgam tehsil, there was a rally of Advani ji, so I had taken a photograph of him using that digital camera… at that time, digital cameras were this big (movement of hands),” PM Modi had said in an interview to News Nation on 11 May.

“I had taken the photo and transmitted it to Delhi and the next day the coloured photo got published so Advani ji was surprised, ‘how come the coloured photo got published the very next day in Delhi’!”

Syngal, however, completely dismissed Modi’s claims. According to him, India only had ERNET before 1995, and that too was limited to select research and educational institutions.

“There is no way PM Modi could have used the internet in the 1980s, that too to transfer pictures,” Syngal told ThePrint.

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The internet in India

Syngal recalled that during his time in London, circa 1986, internet prices were steep and inaccessible for most of the population.

He then returned to India in 1991, and took over as chairman and managing director of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL). There was a clamour in the telecommunications industry that India needed to increase its digital core activity. In 1993, the government began pressuring Syngal and his team to look at providing internet across the country.

In 1995, VSNL set up stations at five locations — Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Pune. “There was a huge hue and cry that we didn’t set up in Bangalore, but we couldn’t at that stage,” he said.

Internet was launched in India on 15 August 1995. It cost Rs 25,000 a month for text and pictures for corporate clients, and Rs 15,000 a month for individuals. Plain text was another option available at Rs 5,000 a month for individuals. However, what VSNL hadn’t predicted was the sheer number of users who would want a piece of the pie.

Complaints galore

“India was the third Asian country to have commercial internet at that point, after Japan and Hong Kong. But we had no clue the demand would be so high. Before we knew it, we were drowning in complaints,” Syngal said.

The complaints were primarily of two kinds — easy access to pornography and dial-up connection-related issues. “I remember, once someone complained to me — yeh kya ashleelta laye ho hamare desh mein (What obscenity have you brought to this country)?” he said.

“There were so many issues with the modem, like if someone called you, the connection would drop. Moreover, we had one junction for, say, 30 people. If one monopolised that junction, others couldn’t get access.”

Nearly a month after the launch, Syngal held a press conference in Mumbai and owned up to “goofing up”. He believed that adequate resources were not invested to meet the high demand.

Six weeks after the press conference, the issues were rectified and the complaints subsided. The high demand also prompted VSNL to slash its prices by 50 per cent.

“The internet offered 36 kbps speed back then. I still remember one of the first images I received on our connection were my grandson’s pictures. This was November 1997,” Syngal said.

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  1. Oh Come on, indeed Narendra Modi is the original inventor of Internet technology. Be happy !!!

  2. The internet was very much alive in 1988.
    If there was fax machine, there was internet. You just had to connect your fax machine to a phone line. It was slow, unreliable but available.

    I first used a digital camera, probably in 1987 or 1988. PROBABLY but highly unlikely that Modi used either……but he met his intent. People listened and discussed and argued and it was a better discussion than “I never killed a dog” discussion on Muslim rioting. Great politics!

  3. With due or undue respects to this guy Syngal– Does he think he is smarter than Modi Ji or Others? I don’t think so!
    He needs to be reminded that “HANS RAJ “Wireless) had invented WIRELESS COMMUNICATION much earlier than anyone else..
    but, he(HANS RAJ) was defamed and put on the backburners, denied his invention-RIGHT by the miserable cunning BRITS who stole lots of INDIAN & world INVENTORS” ideas like and wealth to build an aura of being ALL-MIGHTY in the enhancing the world.
    ANY WAY Congress with it’s Italian Mafia WAITRESS MAMA Vinci (Gandi) or whatever you may call that crooked women— these all are parasites W to India and its wealth.
    Jai HIND

  4. I have checked the video of Mr. Modi’s interview. He never claimed that he used e-mail to transfer the picture. He said he transmitted it to Delhi. Those days it was possible to send digital photos over telephone lines using a technology similar to what the Fax machines use. E-mail was not required at all. Newspapers used special machines for that purpose. Unnecessary controversy has been created. Anyway, internet was not required for sending files between PCs those days. Two PCs with attached modems connected to the telephone lines and running a freely available software called KERMIT could exchange files easily.
    It is indeed sad to see people “trolling” a successful leader like Mr. Modi. After all even in 1988 he was a senior BJP leader in Gujarath, someone whom any well wisher would have readily obliged in the simple job of transmitting a photo.

  5. Transmitted was the comment. Which could have been transmitted by fax, not necessarily by e-mail

  6. We were all using pigeons only to send photographs between different editions of newspapers and Sony Mavica is a myth. Syngal invented internet and VSNL was so efficient that’s why it had to be privatised.

    Let’s say, internet happened in India despite Syngal’s best attempts to place as many blocks in the way to progress.

  7. People with half knowledge but big opinions.

    There was no commercial email, but there was ERNET. Also, it was possible to connect two computer using dial up modems. Some commercial firms also had access to ISDN services. So, it definitely was possible to send files and data over the phone network, assuming digital telephony at both ends. Delhi certainly had digital exchanges, the case for Varodara can be verified, I’m not sure. But Baroda isn’t too far from Ahmedabad, which likely would have had a digital exchange by mid 80s.

    This sort of snarky articles should set the alarm bells ringing about media objectivity.

    The same applies to Mr. Modi’s comments about radars. It is a well known fact that lightning and thunder interfere with radar reception. A strong ionisation in a cloud layer also degrades radar, as some of the transmitted energy is scattered and reflected back. Doesn’t satellite TV reception degrade in bad weather?

  8. Mr. Modi is adding spice to monotonous life. We should admire his sense of humour. But the point is he using such humour tactically to earn votes. That is not, as far as my knowledge goes, is not ethical for any leader of substance.

  9. May be Mr. B K Syngal is right in saying that commercial internet came into existence in India during 1995 or so. The PM, being tech savvy could have used ERnet in 1988 to transmit the photo to MR. Advani. He never said that he used commercial internet for transmitting the photograph. More than anything else, the PM (as said in the interview) is not a man of science but a man endowed with plenty of ” raw wisdom” . Apparently, he is using this unique wisdom to guide himself and others (techies, strategists, policy planners , economists, legal luminaries and scientists ) in their endeavours..

  10. Shekhar Gupta is the biggest blot on Indian journalism and ppl working under him are the biggest fools.

  11. I believe even Late Mr Shami Kapoor was using internet during that time before VSNL started its service in 1995.

  12. WTF… i was having 2x 64k in 1991 and I configured the first video conferencing using picturetel , this man is a hoax. He does not know jack shit about technology , at VSNL he was busy collecting bribes

  13. The writer of this article is so stupid VSNL was far too slow in innovation, Indians were connecting free calls and internet with micom boxes using commercial lines in 1989 already. Brainless people like syngal use to come for bribes to us , we use to throw dog bone at them. this is congress development …no sir it was people like me who brought innovation and IT boom in India not congress or Rajiv Gandhi

  14. I was doing video conferencing in 1991 via 128 k in India the first man in India to do so,. I was marketing X25 email post office in 1991 but scraped after hotmail was released the writer of this article has no brains he does not know technology

  15. stupid people who are brainless don’t know that email was already available via arpanet in our school days 1984 we use to dial to arpanet and access email . people with no brains are going to be backward always. people who have brains go to places which dumb people cannot fathom

  16. There’s an outer limit to spreading false, pseudo, humbug and fake claims now referred to as ‘Modilie’.

    Well, the tongue runs fastest when the brain is in neutral. And the Chowkidaar proves it again and again.

    • Cmon it was a decade off in his recall . He meant 90 and said 80’s inadaverdently and folks are making a scene out of it. What a waste of minds ! Both the writers and the readers !

  17. B.K. Singla Account of Internet story is totally wrong and ridden with worn data. It was very much possible to send a file using email in 1988.

    I do not need a proof for the below account as I was involved in commissioning of one Internet Service and VSNL was our rival.

    Commercial Internet Came in India in 1993-94 in Bangalore by STPI using a Captive infrastructure for IT Industry. And before VSNL my team in Noidastarted Commercial Internet again in 1995. But We used internet since 1993 and it existed before that in India through ERNET. ERNET’s main purpose was to provide internet to Educational Institutions but I know I used it Commercially for limited industry services in 29193. ERNET was born in 1986 and about 87 or 88 the Internet was up. The Internet of this time never ran WWW as it did not even exist. It ran Gphoer, Archie etc

    • A question that comes to my mind is – how did your firm and Mr Modi get access to a non-commercial service, which was meant for government institutions? An answer may help resolve the mystery. Mr Modi has not been averse to telling half truths and blatant lies, as we all know. How was he able to afford an expensive camera and an equally expensive service, assuming we believe he was a ‘fakir’ those days? Some of his stories are really hard to swallow, as they are not consistent with each other – biggest – a poor man with fancy tastes – how does it go together?

    • It is more possible chai-walk was selling chai rather than be one of the first to access a technology that computer scientists we about to use. And send email to Advani?

    • Mr Syngal didn’t say a very different story. But the question here is if Mr Modi could have used internet to send Advani’s picture in 1988. Why he is telling lies like this?

      • Dont expect any truth or question Narendra Modi’s sincerity. All his life he has been lying,

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