Sometime in the middle of November, Outlook and Open magazines released sensational audio recordings that sent tremors through the media and corporate world. These recordings of conversations between Niira Radia, a top corporate lobbyist, with top industrialists, journalists and others, were part of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan on the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
Ms Radia’s phones were tapped by the income-tax (I-T) department’s intelligence unit in 2008 and 2009. The existence of these tapes was known for a while; bits and pieces have appeared in the media and blogs since April 2010. However, the audio recordings now available are sensational because they expose the powerful network of media-business-bureaucrats and lobbyists who are able to purchase or influence decisions regarding powerful ministerial berths, ‘manage’ public perception and dictate national policy over allocation of natural resources or large projects.
Many of us in the media have a ringside view of how the wheels of government are greased by this cabal of fixers; but these tapes are a revelation for the aam admi, especially those who believe in the images built by television.
Consequently, although the mainstream media blacked out the tapes, heavy Internet traffic crashed the Open magazine website in a few hours. For those who are still in the dark, Niira Radia is among the most powerful corporate lobbyists; Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata are among her two biggest customers. She also set up a think-tank packed with a bunch of top bureaucrats, who apparently give her access, intellectual firepower and a roadmap to the inner working of government. Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, Ratan Tata, Manoj Modi, Mukesh Ambani and a string of journalists from The Economic Times and CNBC are among those whose personal conversations expose how Ms Radia uses them all to achieve her goals. Not only journalists, Ms Radia tells Mr Tata that she has got analysts of UBS, Kotak and Macquarie to do reports on power and telecom against Anil Ambani’s companies. Ms Radia’s conversations explain why Ratan Tata was persuaded to issue a rare press statement saying, “The Tata group has had a long and fruitful association with Vaishnavi Corporate Communications...” A Wikipedia post explains the fruits of this association—how the Tatas have benefited through Pradip Baijal’s stints as secretary (disinvestment ministry) and as the telecom regulator. Mr Baijal is now part of a think-tank set up by Ms Radia along with other powerful retired bureaucrats such as former finance secretary CM Vasudev.
Yet, Ratan Tata’s statement claimed that all of Ms Radia’s interactions with government have been in keeping with the Tata values and never involved payouts or seeking undue favours. It’s funny how her conversations about Uddhav Thackeray suggest otherwise. No wonder, there are no statements of support from Mr Tata this time around. — Sucheta Dalal