Can Do: The Legacy of a Prince with a Cause

DQI Bureau
New Update


met for dinner on April 18 a year ago, at a hotel coffee shop near his office,

to "brainstorm" on issues that Nasscom could take up in the year

ahead. Dewang joked that with all his experience, he could start a lobbying

training course–or writing a book about it. Lobbying isn’t tough, he said.

"Talk to the government in the language it understands. Tell it what it

wants to listen to. Spell it out: why should it care? What will it gain? How

much forex can it earn?"


"Here’s another chance to practice," I said. In the next few

minutes, I outlined a "project" idea for Nasscom: take up the cause of

bandwidth, the big bottleneck ahead for IT and economy alike. "Yes, I read

your April edit", he said. "Got any data?" On a borrowed pad, we

sketched figures: thousands of US-hosted Indian sites buying bandwidth. Dollars

and jobs lost. E-mails that traveled via US servers. India as a future hosting

hub. This wasn’t all my idea: it came up at a Voice & Data discussion,

where panelists rued how little had been achieved on this issue over decades–and

said: if only there were a Nasscom in telecom…

He went back from that dinner, rather thoughtful.

The speed with which he moved was the essence of how Dewang Mehta worked. By

May, Operation Bandwidth was launched by Nasscom–with authoritative-sounding

demand figures that were put together overnight, but which have been quoted ever

since. Then came a government bandwidth committee followed by a stream of

announcements: private gateways, a directive to VSNL to relax its grip on the

FLAG fiber gateway, policies to push private fiber and backbone deployment...


One year later, another brainstorming session, the evening before he left for

Australia. We discussed another idea–this time, for Nasscom to take up the

cause of a national citizen database project Dataquest had outlined in a recent

cover story. Government departments had frittered billions, with little result.

If anyone could package, market and lobby for this, it was Dewang. He agreed–and

we would meet again on April 17.

That meeting never happened. He was found dead in a hotel room in Sydney, a

journey cut severely short.

The greatest tribute we can pay to Dewang Mehta is to make sure his mission,

and his IT dream, goes on without interruption. Easier said than done. Few can

bind those diverse skills with so much passion.

On the other hand, he showed us what is possible in India, despite all the

tehelka of rapidly changing governments. Today, whoever’s in power, IT will

carry on in India. That was his contribution, the foundation we have to work on.

Prasanto Kumar Roy