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This conversation has the ex-CII head giving his opinion about the new ministers in the cabinet. He says commerce minister Anand Sharma needs to briefed and educated. He says Kamal Nath for surface transport and highways was a surprise but he was all for Nath taking over the ministry. He feels highway construction is a priority area and Kamal Nath is a doer and he can also make “his 15 per cent”—that is, he can do “national service” and make money. Das also discusses how he has decided to give up his job at the CII.
Tarun Das: How was your Bombay visit?
Niira Radia: Good, good, good visit. I met Ratan also. I told him that you know what you are doing. He was very worried about Maran, of course. I did tell him that by the way, I’m sorry I don’t know whether I should have done that, you were meeting the Singapore PM on Monday. He (Tata) is having a problem with his funding there. He’s just caught up with that. He just can’t raise the money for it. For the equity part. Where are you, town or Gurgaon?
TD: I am in town. Just between meetings. I was with Montek (Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission) for an hour. Discussing some strategy issues. Then I’m going to meet the CII president at Jor Bagh and then I’m heading to Gurgaon. I have somebody coming there at 7 o’clock. I’m actually running late for that. When are you back? Sunday?
NR: I am back on Sunday. But you are leaving on Sunday, right?
TD: Sunday night I’m leaving. But am back on Tuesday morning.
NR: And your decision, you are still standing by it?
TD: Yeah, absolutely. I just told Montek. He wanted me to tell the PM also, so I said, yeah, I’ll do that. We were discussing...(trails off) one part of the meeting was whether there are any implications of this vis-a-vis government’s relationship with me. I said no. We actually work with you and look at you in your personal capacity. And always seen you like that. That’s the way we have treated it. Not as CII. That link will still be there. But I won’t have that designation. So he said what designation will you have? So I said I am chairman Haldia Petrochemicals—PM has nominated me chairman of the Japan-Indo CEOs’ forum as chairman Haldia Petrochemicals, so he said they are very comfortable with that. They want me to get more active on the industry side, economic side from behind. I enjoy policy work. I want to do that sort of stuff.
NR: If you need any help, you always got an able secretary.
TD: I always recommend you, you know that. Is Ratan coming (for a Monday conference)?
NR: No, going off to the US tonight. I think Mukesh might come. Ratan was very worried about what will happen to telecom. But he is happy now that Maran is not there. He is happy with Raja.
TD: He likes Raja.
NR: Yeah. He is happy with Raja. Bit shocking for Kamal Nath. He needed to be told that he’d gone a bit overboard. What do you make of Anand Sharma?
TD: This is a very strong message to him (Kamal Nath). I know him (Anand Sharma) reasonably well, not too well. We’ll have to brief him. Educate him. He is new to this whole industry area. He’s the trusted person and he has worked hard in this system. It is a surprise. But it’s good. It’s thinking out-of-the-box for new names. Even Kamal Nath for transport was a surprise but between you and me I had suggested it for him. Big time. Because highway construction has to be a priority. He is a doer. You can make your 15 per cent on this. You can do national service, and also make money. And do really something worthwhile. Because Baalu has screwed up for five years.
NR: Yeah, this is still an ATM for Kamal Nath.
TD: Absolutely. You have a good trip.
NR: I’ll pray for you. You have a good trip too. Also, just one thing—this India Brand Equity Foundation. My team made a presentation on Wednesday. And they said that (G.K.) Pillai (then commerce secretary) had already made up his mind on Dilip Cherian (of the PR agency Perfect Relations). I was surprised. Although Suhel had indicated that we are still in the reckoning but they were not even interested in seeing the presentation. They gave it to Cherian. I just wanted to let you know. Was wondering if Pillai had a good equation with Cherian. Not to worry...