Did Niira Radia play a crucial role in Ratan Tata changing his views on the 2002 riot-tainted Narendra Modi regime in Gujarat? In 2003, a year after the communal riots in Gujarat, Tata attended the Vibrant Gujarat summit at Surat, where he was reported to have been a less-than enthusiastic participant (in fact, one unconfirmed tidbit that did the rounds then was that Tata slipped just such a note to a colleague on the dais). Remember, the Modi regime was a sensitive topic for India Inc, which was wary of openly associating with or endorsing it.
But somewhere, somehow Tata changed his initial stance, going to the extent of saying (at another Gujarat summit in 2007), “It is stupid if you are not in Gujarat.” Of course, in 2008, he shifted Tata Motors’ Nano plant from troubled Singur to Sanand in Gujarat. It was a big boost for Gujarat chief minister Modi, who famously proclaimed, “I SMSed him to come to Gujarat. The one-rupee SMS did this wonder.” This ended up raising quite a few hackles. “If the Tatas are trying to promote themselves as doyens of business ethics, this Nano plant is bad news. I consider it unethical,” said Rajiv Desai, a PR veteran who was in charge of the Congress media campaign for the 2002 Gujarat state elections.
A recent blog post by Kingshuk Nag—the then resident editor of the Times of India’s Ahmedabad edition—refreshes our memories about those days. Nag writes that Radia had requested him on two occasions to “go soft” on Modi. His piece quotes Radia as saying, “You guys have made life hell for Narendra Modi. Why can’t you be more understanding of him and his policies?” When Nag asked Radia if Modi had become her client, her response, he writes, was that, “No, only as a Gujarati bahu, she ‘felt a responsibility towards the state’.”
It seems Radia had been introduced to Modi via an intermediary and was quick to build links with the Gujarat chief minister. These would have paid off when Tata Motors shifted its Nano plant to Gujarat. Five states were in contention—Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Orissa—but suddenly Gujarat pipped everyone to the post. When Outlook contacted Nag, currently the resident editor of the Hyderabad edition of the TOI, he said, “The alacrity with which he got the land, it is possible that Modi may have known. Being a smart guy, he must have got that land prepared.”