Friday, November 29, 2019

Pradip Ninan Thomas's "Empire and Post-Empire Telecommunications in India"

Pradip Ninan Thomas is at the School of Communications and Arts, University of Queensland. He has written extensively on the media in India, the political economy of communications, communications and social change and the media and religion. He was the Vice President of the International Association for Media & Communication Research (2012-2016).

Thomas applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Empire and Post-Empire Telecommunications in India: A History, and reported the following:
Page 99 does highlight some key issues discussed in this volume. The expansion of the imperial chain of wired and wireless stations – the all Red Line was a project that was a stated ambition and that was dear to the heart of His Majesty’s Government (HMG). Relying on lines that routed through foreign territory was a bit of a gamble as both the forces of Nature and unfriendly foreign powers frequently destroyed these lines thus delaying the flow of imperial communications from London to India and vice versa. However, the issue of who was to pay for the establishment of these lines was a point of contention between HMG and the Government of India (GOI). Marconi’s monopoly over wireless had always been a sticking point for the HMG and the GOI had its own reasons for keeping Marconi at a distance.

This volume is a historical account of the establishment of the Victorian Internet – the telegraph, cable and wireless that was key to imperial communications. From the very beginning of this enterprise, private capital played an important role. John Pender was the first telecommunications czar who monopolised every aspect of the cable industry and for the most part his projects, while making money for his shareholders, also acted as conduits for imperial communications. For the most part, such synergies were mutually beneficial although the desire to nationalise imperial telecommunications was a policy objective of the HMG. The desire to have complete control over communications flows between London and the colonies and within the British Empire became a paramount concern after the take-over of the governance of India by HMG from the East India Company. It is telling that the Indian Telegraph Act of 1887 remains in force even today in post-independent India. This volume also explores the continuities between Empire and post-Empire telecommunications and makes a case for history to be acknowledged in any interpretation of the present. Even the landing stations for oceanic cables in India today, are for the most part, colonial in origin.

Based primarily on telecommunications archives located in the British Library, it tells a story of the growth and development of a key Victorian infrastructure – telecommunications in India. It also includes a substantive chapter on the challenges faced by the post-independent government of India to democratise access to what until then was an elite project.
Learn more about Empire and Post-Empire Telecommunications in India at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue