Monday, Nov 28, 2022

"It Is Better to have A. Raja In The Telecom Ministry. He Will Behave Himself. Trust Me, He Will Behave Himself"

Outlook magazine has unearthed 800 new tapped conversations involving the lobbyist Niira Radia in the 2G spectrum scam.

Outlook magazine has unearthed 800 new tapped conversations involving the lobbyist Niira Radia in the 2G spectrum scam.

The conversations, all part of an officially sanctioned tap, are on top of the 140 conversations placed in the public domain by Outlook three weeks ago.

The intercepts offer fresh political insight into the working of the Kenyan-born British lobbyist who counts the Tatas and Ambanis among her clients.

While Outlook reporters are still decoding the tapes, it is clear that they shine a grisly mirror on the interplay between government and big business, with the media at the end of the frame, at the time Manmohan Singh was forming his cabinet in May 2009—and in the 2G scam itself.

What is also clear is that the retention of the DMK’s A. Raja in the telecom portfolio in the UPA-2 cabinet was central to the telecom ripoff, now presumptively estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) at a mind-boggling Rs 173,000 crore.

In one revealing conversation with Tarun Das, the former head of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Niira Radia says DMK chief Karunanidhi was insistent that the telecom ministry, held by Raja in the first term of UPA, should go to Raja again, although the stench of the 2G scam had already begun to emanate by then.

“Karunanidhi wants Raja because he is a Dalit. The prime minister is only insistent that former shipping minister T.R. Baalu [charged of corruption in UPA-1] should not be in the cabinet,” says Radia.

The Congress, Radia hints, was agreeable to this, but Raja’s predecessor Dayanidhi Maran, an aspirant himself, was spreading a canard that he was in touch with Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, who, Maran claimed, felt he was the more suitable candidate.

“Karunanidhi is a totally confused man,” says Radia in the conversation.

She also indicates to Das that the octogenarian Tamil Nadu chief minister was trapped between a daughter who threatens to commit suicide and a wife who wants “to do this”.

Radia then requests Das to convey to the Congress that they should only talk to DMK Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi, who has a line to her father, Karunanidhi, and that the Congress must not talk to Dayanidhi Maran.

“The PM also spoke via her [Kanimozhi],” says Niira Radia.

Tarun Das interjects at this point and says Raja is very unpopular.

To which Radia responds: “That’s only with Sunil Mittal [of Airtel]… it is better to have Raja in telecom. He will behave himself. Trust me, he will behave himself....I have promised, Raja has promised that he will speak to Mittal and deal with the matter. Leave that to me.”

In another chat with an unidentified, female Tamil Nadu politician, Niira Radia reveals that she was clued into the internal politics of the Karunanidhi family that is now central to the 2G scam. She says it was a mistake on the part of Kanimozhi to let go of the Minister of State berth and that she should look after herself first and then think of others.

“Tell her [Kanimozhi], she should be friends with Azhagiri [Karunanidhi’s elder son],” Radia says.

The new conversations are contained in the over 5,800 conversations that are now in the safe custody of the Supreme Court.

The interception of phones belonging to Radia was done by the income-tax department and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while investigating a “criminal conspiracy between certain public servants and some private persons in the grant of UAS licenses in 2007-08.”

The Outlook Exclusive comes in the midst of a Parliament paralysed by opposition demands for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe, an investigation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and the appointment of a former Supreme Court judge to probe the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The leak also comes in the wake of a blazing exchange of open letters between Ratan Tata and former telecom entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and on the very day the Congress-led UPA government assured the Supreme Court of India that it would take every measure to check the leak of further tapes and transcripts involving Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata.

Watch out for more transcripts and analyses as they get updated