Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai: Email, Digicam & ‘Cloud’ Computing Claims

As the ancient saying goes, Modiji always knows where the camera is.

5 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya

“Hum toh faqeer aadmi hain, jhola le kar chal padenge.” – Narendra Modi, 2016.

While this hyperbolic statement by PM Modi has become a catchphrase, what few know is that this jhola (bag) contained a ‘digicam’ way back in 1987.

The prime minister, in an interview to News Nation on Saturday, 11 May, claimed that in 1987, at a public rally in Viramgam tehsil, about 60 kilometres from Ahmedabad, he might have been the first person in India to use a digital camera. He claimed he used it to click a colour photograph of his mentor Lal Krishna Advani and sent it to New Delhi through email.

Before you go ‘Oh My Gau’ and claim that the first digital camera was sold in 1990 and emails in India picked up only in 1995, let me ask you this – if we are cool with a Starbucks cup in Game of Thrones’ Winterfell, why not internet-aided attachment mailing in India 32 years ago?

While faqeers (ascetics) are elevated individuals who have no attachments in life, Modiji is a new-age faqeer who uploaded India’s first email attachment.

In the same interview, PM Modi also claimed that he had given the decisive go-ahead for the Balakot air strikes assuming that the cloud cover would prevent Pakistani radars from detecting Indian fighter jets.

If this is not ‘cloud’ computing, what is?

Our prime minister is not someone who will allow the significance of an important day be lost on him. Hence, he carefully chose 11 May for these declarations because it was also National Technology Day.

Detractors will tell you that 11 May was chosen to celebrate science and technology because it was on this day that India conducted its nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1998. WhatsApp University researchers, however, have conclusively found that it is actually the day when Mr India found the bracelet that could make an ordinary Indian invisible to politicians.

Both Mr India and PM Modi’s digicam + email came in 1987. Coincidence?

Email in India

The big question is: was email operational in India in 1987-88? If so, could one upload an image attachment to emails?

While the first prototype of what we know as the internet today started as ARPANET – a network among universities in the United States to communicate among themselves – the first iteration of the internet was a similar experiment in India called the ERNET.

In 1986, the ERNET, a connected network among the IITs in Delhi, Kharagpur, Bombay, Madras and Kanpur, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the National Centre for Software Technology (NCST) and the Department of Electronics (DoE) was conceived as a way for researchers and faculty of these institutions to communicate among themselves.

The first public internet service came only on 14 August 1995, when Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) started its operations.

However, back in 1987-88, when PM Modi claimed to have used email to ‘transmit’ a colour photograph of LK Advani, the ERNET was still in its infancy and, in fact, was using the Unix-to-Unix-Copy Protocol (UUCP) and not the universally accepted TCP/IP protocol – a set of rules that governs how computers connect and communicate with each other over the internet.

In fact, so rudimentary was the entire ERNET project in 1987, that IIT Kanpur – a pioneer in computer science research in India and member of the ERNET network – did not have a leased line connection, wrote Srinivasan Ramani, internet pioneer in India, in the book Netchakra.

“Dial-up did not work well as the telecom system in Kanpur needed upgrading. So, colleagues at IIT Kanpur and we at NCST tried a desperate solution. Write out email on floppies and send them by courier!”
Srinivasan Ramani in the book Netchakra

Sending Photo Attachments

It is a fact universally acknowledged that the first photograph to be sent as an attachment was in 1992. Researcher Nathaniel Borenstein sent the first functional email attachment ever to his colleagues – an image of his barbershop quartet called The Telephone Chords.

While others had tried sending attachments earlier, it almost never worked due to compatibility problems, according to an interview with Borenstein by The Guardian. The photograph is now considered the first functional instance of an attachment
Nathaniel Borenstein (far right in yellow cardigan) sent the first functional email attachment in 1992.
Nathaniel Borenstein (far right in yellow cardigan) sent the first functional email attachment in 1992.

Internet in Gujarats Viramgam in 1987?

Moreover, PM Modi claimed to have transmitted the image from Viramgam in Gujarat. The question is, how did he find internet access in a small town an hour away from Ahmedabad when email facility was available only in eight elite institutes all over India?

What About Attachment Size and Net Speed?

Anyone who has ever used the internet has faced issues with sending heavy files over email. If there is a bigger issue than that, it is internet speeds in India. Modiji, who claims to have ushered in Digital India, managed to upload a colour image, which we are guessing would at least be 2-3 MB in size, and mail it at a time when even in 1992, internet speeds were 64 kbps.

Digital Cameras in India

The final piece in the incredible claim made by full-time prime minister and part-time tech enthusiast, Modiji, was that he possessed a digicam in 1987-88.

The first digital camera to actually go on sale was the 1990 Dycam Model 1, according to technology publisher CNET. In fact, the JPEG and MPEG image standards were adopted only in 1988.

The Dycam Model 1 – the first comercially available digital camera.
The Dycam Model 1 – the first comercially available digital camera.

Marketed as Logitech Fotoman, the camera stored images digitally and connected to a PC for download.

Moreover, the first commercially available camera was a greyscale camera – one that captured images in shades of grey. Modi, however, claims that the photograph he took of Advani was in colour.

However, as the ancient saying goes – Modiji always knows where the camera is. Here too, he knew where the digital camera was before anyone else did.
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