For weeks, Niira Radia’s name has been uttered in conjunction with disgraced telecom minister A. Raja’s in the wake of the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
But new transcripts obtained by Outlook show that his was just one number among many ministers, bureaucrats and powerbrokers on her speed dial.
The intercepts show the corporate lobbyist deftly weaving her way through power’s corridors, and discussing the intricacies of realpolitik with the kind of candour rarely seen in the public discourse.
- From the controversial JDU Rajya Sabha member N.K. Singh, Radia gets a minister-by-minister primer on the pluses and minuses on the ‘Shivji ki baaraat’ (a reference, as he explains, to a kind of Noah's Ark with many creatures, from scorpions and serpents to elephants and tame deer) that is the UPA-2 team.
“Spectacular jump for Anand Sharma [commerce], spectacular decline for Kamal Nath [highways],” says Singh sagely, adding that Praful Patel would be “unhappy” at not being elevated as full civil aviation minister.
“But he [Patel] has destroyed the sector,” pipes in Radia. “He’s worked as a minister for Naresh Goyal [Jet Airways] and now Vijay Mallya [Kingfisher]. He cannot brush off this charge.
- “I think that perhaps Mukesh [Ambani] has swung it for him,” says Singh in a back-to-back conversation with Radia, on Murli Deora landing the plum petroleum portfolio for a second successive term in UPA-2.
- In a different conversation, her aide, Manoj Warrier, too fills her in on a chat with P.M.S. Prasad of Reliance Industries who told him that the news about the Ambani brothers arriving at an out-of-court settlement in the gas dispute had been leaked by Deora to “deflect attention” from the real matter, the dividing up of resources including gas.
- In a conversation with an unidentified person, Radia pushes the case of an industries secretary in the West Bengal government, an IAS officer of the 1977 batch, who is applying for transfer to the centre.
“A very good guy,” Radia says and that she has talked to the minister about it. “He says we can talk about it.” She then fixes up a meeting with the unknown person.
- To Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya, she complains that Unitech [the real estate firm which bought 2G spectrum under A. Raja’s regime for a song] is avoiding her, even bouncing Tata cheques.
When Bhattacharya mentions that the Unitech bosses probably think that the new commerce minister Anand Sharma is “proprietary”, Radia adds her own input.
“Haan, he [the Unitech boss] told me that abhi to Anand Sharma aa gaye hain. Dekhiye kitna confidence hai Sonia Gandhi un mein. (See how much confidence the Congress president has in Anand Sharma).”
The new conversations also reveal some of the secrecy, paranoia and big-game hunting that comes with the territory in the business of lobbying.
For example, in a brief chat with a person named Raja, she is told to call from a Tata phone. In an expletive-filled conversation with a highflier who wants a meeting with Ratan Tata, she is told by the unidentified caller: “The meeting can be in London, New York, Bombay or South Africa.”
In the end, Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya’s conversation with Niira Radia captures the concentric circles in which lobbyists, fixers and operators move and operate.
Says Bhattacharya: “I met Sunil (Mittal of Airtel) in that idiot, kyaa hai naam uskaa (what’s his name?), Suhel Seth’s house. He said he couldn’t handle it on his own, and he needed somebody and I mentioned you.”
Outlook Team: Ajith Pillai, Saikat Datta, Sunit Arora