September 20, 2020
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The House of Tatas actually benefits the most if the Radia tapes remain in the public domain. By moving the Supreme Court to have these tapes removed would make many people will feel that the Tatas have something to hide

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Bad Strategy
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Watching the Ratan Tata interview with Shekhar Gupta made one wonder: Are both of them were gullible enough not to understand the significance of the Radia tapes? Or were they playing to the galleries in the adult version of WWF? 

One suspects that it was a bit of both, with Ratan Tata being more on the gullible side and the interviewer on the WWF side.

First the obvious question: Why does the House of Tatas need a professional lobbyist and media manager instead of having a in house department? Obviously lobbyists are a necessity because there are lot of things that the Tata House cannot be seen to be doing that a professional lobbyist and media manager can do. And if you are caught with your pants down, you can always disown them — as is done invariably — on the grounds that the lobbyist exceeded his/her brief.. 

But there are a number of other questions that Mr Ratan Tata needs to answer:

Most importantly, does Mr Tata realize the significance of the fact that M/s Radia was not acting for the House of Tatas exclusively? She was acting on behalf of any and everybody including herself and surprisingly also the minister of telecom!

  • If you do not share the culture of either Reliance or Unitech, how can you share the same lobbyist? 
     
  • Can Tatas be held responsible because of their association with Ms Radia for the Unitech licence deal, the benami deal of Swan Telecom in which Radia and Raja could have a possible stake and any of the front companies who were given licences and with whom A. Raja and Niira Radia may have been involved?
     
  • Did Tatas make the deal of Unitech possible by financing them? 
     
  • The fact of the matter is that Radia needed the House of Tatas more than the Tatas needed her. That gave her respectability and credibility to carry on her own — and other —deals.

It is also a fact that in the process of obliging Anil Ambani with a GSM licence in exchange for transfer of Swan telecom, Raja had to also give the Tatas the GSM licence at the discounted price of 1600 hundred crores. 26% of the shares of holding company of the Tatas was sold to DOCOMO for 2.7 billion dollars giving the licence a value of 10 billion dollars. The bottom line: 26% of what was bought for 1600 crores by the TATAS was sold for over 13,000 crores. This was almost three times the valuation obtained by Swan Telecom or Unitech. On paper, the House of Tatas benefited the most from the Telecom scam! 

Should Ratan Tata, then, be eternally grateful to Ms Radia for making it possible? For any decent human being the answer would be a resounding “Yes ”. And Ratan Tata, like the Hon’ble Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is more than a decent man. So while the Hon’ble PM maintains his silence over Raja, Mr Ratan Tata goes out on a limb to defend Ms. Radia. 

Yet, the fact of the matter is that Ratan Tata was not the innocent victim — as he usually is — of corruption but was the innocent beneficiary of the corruption in the telecom scam. 

Was it possible to have one set of laws for Anil Ambani, in the “give one get one ” scam in which licence was given to R Com and Swan telecom transferred as a benami, and have another law for not giving a licence to Tata Teleservices? In fact Tata Tele applied for the licence (22/10/2007) after Reliance Communication got the licence (18/10/2007). Tatas had to be given the licence/spectrum because otherwise there would be charges of discrimination and they they would have gone to Court as they did for the allotment of the scarce spectrum!

Where does Ms Radia fit in? Nowhere! 

Ms Radia, it would appear, was involved in own scam with the minister. She was dealing for everybody, including herself. 

  • Is it not true that money was transferred to Unitech group by the Tatas at the behest of Ms Radia? 
     
  • How much money did she make in helping others make money? 
     
  • Who were the parties who made money because of her? 
     
  • How much money did each one of them make because of her? 
     
  • Did she have any stake in any of the licences? 

These are matters for investigation. 

The real fact of the matter seems to be that Ms Radia too had a personal stake in Raja retaining the telecom portfolio. And her personal stake was larger than that of the Tatas at the material time.

Unitech too got a licence and was, r eportedly, her client. Tata Realty gave a loan of Rs1700 crore to Unitech in early 2008 at the time the licence was actually given ( 10/1/2008 ). 

  • Was it to facilitate the licence or/and the bribe? 
     
  • Was it not done because of Radia? 
     
  • What if it is discovered that bribes were paid by Unitech? 
     
  • Could not the Tatas be accused of a three way deal, given that Tata Tele benefited the most? 
     
  • And the fact that the loan was never repaid but properties were transferred by Unitech?
    (Unitech could not return the loan and instead sold subsidiaries having land in Gurgaon to Tata Realty ) 

Many people ask whether it would be unreasonable to conclude that while the Tatas may not be giving bribes themselves, they seem to need lobbyists like Niira Radia who specialise in just that—in what is euphemistically called "facilitating" transactions.

All these facts are not revealed in the Radia tapes. These are in the public domain and the conclusions are purely logical. 

It is for these reasons that Mr Ratan Tata should realize that it is these tapes that can prove his innocence or guilt . So far, the tapes that are in public domain are not damaging to him. His approaching the Court would make many people feel that he has something to hide along the lines suggested above. Like the paradox of the Tatas having benefited the most from corruption, the House of Tatas actually benefit the most by the tapes remaining in the public domain. Let there be transparency if there is nothing to hide. Like the judges who voluntarily declared their assets. It is a sting operation or a leak which happens all the time. In fact it is the stuff that the lobbyist Ms Radia uses routinely: Leaking policy papers, influencing policy and even cabinet posts. If the House of Tatas did not object then, why now? What about the level playing field? 


Disclosure: 

A.K. Aggarwal, the author of Reliance, The Real Natwar believes that the House of Tatas is one of the few honest corporate house of the country and should not get involved with lobbyists, more so when they also lobby for other companies with dubious reputations. The author holds Ratan Tata in high regard and is a well wisher. The article has been written in good faith. 

P.S. The author feels that India is not becoming a banana republic now, but has been one for years for the aam aadmi


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