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Thursday, December 23, 2010

SANJAY RAWAT RADIAGATE Unblanking The Tapes The first set of tapes was a selective leak. What lies under?

SANJAY RAWAT
RADIAGATE
Unblanking The Tapes
The first set of tapes was a selective leak. What lies under?

--
SANJAY RAWAT
RADIAGATE
Unblanking The Tapes
The first set of tapes was a selective leak. What lies under?

Lobbying, manipulation, subversion and media management in India has a new name. Niira Radia. Its exposure has left some whining about "the India story", while others are lamenting the "invasion of privacy". The 800 new Radia tapes accessed by Outlook and released partly on its website earlier this week are an exploration of India's underbelly. The upshot—despite the protestations of infringed privacy—is that public policy, formation of the Union cabinet, distribution of the country's natural resources all became subject to the cynical game she played using her vast "contacts" list, which included ministers, industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats, fixers and journalists.

After Outlook brought the first tranche of the Radia tapes into the public domain, it followed up with an investigation into the stories contained within them—and beyond. This has thrown up startling facts, and 800 new tapes. It's now established that there are many more dramatis personae in the 5,800 conversations tapped by the the director-general of income tax (investigations) in 2008-09. But some of these names—it is believed that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Congress MP Annu Tandon and CPI(M) leader Biman Bose are among those  who spoke to Radia, among others—were not in the tapes leaked to the media. Clearly, the leaks were selective (see: The Quarry Is Watching).

Meanwhile, on December 16, the Supreme Court directed that the spectrum allocation probe also include the NDA years—starting from 2001—and extend into the UPA regime and its role, till 2008. The day before, the CBI conducted raids on 34 places linked to Radia and her associates in Delhi, along with simultaneous raids in Chennai on A. Raja's relatives and friends.

The initial investigation launched by the income-tax department into Radia's activities was in fact not focused on the 2G spectrum allocation; it was meant as an overall probe into  her influence-mongering in telecom, gas, power, civil aviation and mining—aggregating into something much bigger than what the CAG calls a Rs 1.73 lakh-crore scam. If an attempt were made to assess the worth of the deals Radia was dabbling in, the figure would  be mind-boggling—perhaps matching the combined annual defence, railway and social sector budgets.

Was the investigation a sham in the first place?

The income-tax investigation of Radia started when P. Chidambaram, then finance minister, received a complaint dated November 16, 2007. It alleged that Radia had raised a Rs 300 crore empire in less than nine years and that she "was an agent of foreign intelligence agencies". By August 2008, the income-tax department had enough material on her to begin raids. On August 19, 2008, a decision was taken to tap 14 of her personal and official phones, including those of her colleagues. The tapping, authorised by then Union home secretary Madhukar Gupta, continued for 120 days, till December 2008.

The income-tax department's next round of surveillance began on May 8, 2009. "For some strange reason, surveillance had been stopped during the election period," a senior intelligence official familiar with the inquiry told Outlook. After resuming, it ran for another 60 days, and ended on July 9, 2009. The leaked tapes all belong to this 60-day period.

 
 
Through Niira Radia, big business subverted government processes to its advantage. The full story is yet to out.
 
 
Worried about the national security implications of the tapes and the investigations, senior officials shot off a letter to Rajiv Mathur, director, Intelligence Bureau, on November 16, 2009. They pointed out that "an analysis of the intercepts suggested that some of the conversations were quite sensitive". If this was the case, why did the government wait till December 15, 2010, to conduct the first raids on Radia? And what did the CBI hope to unearth almost two years after the income-tax department had begun investigations and interceptions? These are uncomfortable questions no one in the government seems to have answers for.

The most disturbing question, perhaps, is: What is the government doing about the massive manipulation of processes that has come to light after Outlook put up the tapes in the public domain? Consider some segments of the taped conversations: Sunil Arora, an IAS officer, tells Radia that a Delhi High Court judge was paid Rs 9 crore; a bureaucrat-turned-MP tells her Union minister Kamal Nath had gone through a "spectacular decline"; Tarun Das, a former industry lobbyist, calls Kamal Nath "Mr 15 per cent". So why is the government's anti-corruption machinery ignoring the contents of the tape ?

Power-brokers Inc had a field day

The new set of tapes obtained by Outlook shows ministers, bureaucrats and power-brokers on Radia's speed-dial. Here are some revealing conversations:

  • Tarun Das, former head of CII, tells Radia he had put in a word to ensure that Kamal Nath got a berth in UPA-2 as surface transport minister. Das says Nath can still make his "15 per cent" while doing "national service" building highways.
  • JD(U) Rajya Sabha member N.K. Singh, a former bureaucrat, describes the UPA-2 cabinet as "Shivji ki baraat", a reference to the creatures that danced attendance at Lord Shiva's wedding.
  • Referring to Murli Deora's second innings, N.K. Singh says, "...perhaps Mukesh (Ambani) has swung it for him".
  • Radia also reveals in conversation that Unitech, one key beneficiary of the spectrum allocation, had been defaulting on payments to the Tatas. A Rs 60-crore cheque had bounced, she tells Ranjan Bhattacharya, foster son-in-law of former PM Atal Behari Vaypayee. Bhattacharya says Unitech thought Union commerce minister Anand Sharma was "proprietary". Sources told Outlook the Tatas are yet to be repaid Rs 400 crore out of the Rs 1,600 crore given to Unitech.

Phone Taps: Public-private subversion?

Last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally broke his silence about the tapes. But he didn't express any concern about the subversion of the entire political process, in fact, of his cabinet itself, by corporates, as revealed by the Radia tapes.

 
 
Instead of corruption, the PM chose to assuage people on privacy.
 
 
Instead, Manmohan sought to focus on assuaging corporates and other stakeholders on the question of invasion of privacy. Strange, considering the revelations the tapes make. Even stranger, considering his own government is in a way soon going to institutionalise the invasion of privacy through the uid and natgrid projects. Interestingly, while all official phone taps  are cleared by the Union home secretary, the monitoring is done by a committee headed by the cabinet secretary. The other two members are the telecom and law secretaries. So, both the ex-telecom secretaries now in the dock, Sidharth Behuria and P.J. Thomas, could have accessed the tapes.

The Media

Long-standing reputations in the media have come crashing down. Two names stand out in the current lot of tapes. A reference to NDTV's Barkha Dutt is revealing: speaking to R.K. Chandolia, an aide of Raja, Radia says Barkha got a statement issued by Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari to clear the air on certain remarks made by DMK leader T.R. Baalu to the media. Vir Sanghvi, associated with the Hindustan Times, discusses his column with Radia before publication: "I've  dressed it up as a piece about how public will not stand for resources being cornered, how we're creating a new list of oligarchs. It's dressed up as a plea to Manmohan Singh, so it won't look like an inter-Ambani battle except to people in the know."

"Very nice, lovely. Thank you, Vir," responds Radia.

Following the December 16 raids, the CBI seems to have awakened from a long hibernation. But the truth buried in the Radia tapes, now in the Supreme Court's custody, needs to be made public. They must be investigated and the guilty must be punished. India is now witnessing the ugly subversion of fair processes across several sectors. It's of monstrous proportions, of a scale never seen before.

RADIAGATE
Radia could even have known she was being probed
SAIKAT DATTA
RADIAGATE-II
Curiouser and murkier...the world according to Niira Radia
RADIAGATE-II
Sunil Arora Former Chairman of Air India, June 20, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
R.K. Chandolia Former private secretary to A. Raja, June 30, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Manoj Modi, May 29, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Unknown, June 16, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
R.K. Chandolia, June 26, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
R.K. Chandolia, June 2, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Tarun Das, May 29, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
R.K. Chandolia, May 22, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Vir Sanghvi, June 20, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Cecilia, June 20, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Ranjan Bhattacharya, May 29, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Ranjan Bhattacharya, May 31, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
N.K. Singh, May 29, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Manoj Warrier, Niira Radia's colleague
RADIAGATE-II
Vishal Mehta, June 20, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
N.K. Singh, May 29, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Tarun Das, May 22, 2009
COVER STORY RADIAGATE-II
Yatish, June 1, 2009
RADIAGATE-II
Jehangir Pocha, May 29, 2009
CONG-DMK TIES
Is the Cong-DMK story over, and is the BJP ready for a scrap?
SABA NAQVI, PRARTHNA GAHILOTE
DEC 23, 2010 12:11 PM
30

Ms. Barkha Dutt does not have shame and still relies on Digvijayashingh and Kapil Sibal for TRP rating.

PREM KRISHNAN
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE
DEC 23, 2010 01:22 AM
29

 One more thing, the mumbai attack could have been launched from the Taj (Tata group). The weapons would have been hidden there. People would do anything for money.

RAJ VANSH
PUNE, INDIA
DEC 23, 2010 01:21 AM
28

 Just wondering, if the mumbai attacks were a ploy used as a tactic to remove P.Chidambaram as finance minister. If Nira is a CIA agent, the attack might have been a way to move Chidambaram out, and have the focus shifted out of Radia.

RAJ VANSH
PUNE, INDIA
DEC 22, 2010 09:20 PM
27

 One can hardly write a line while throwing up! Nauseating!

S. SOUNDARARAJAN
PORTSMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM
DEC 22, 2010 07:30 PM
26

After seeing so much of corrupt practices and inaction in the system of governance for such a long time one wonders what makes a man of clean image continue sticking with his job? If what we have so far read in Outlook (including this issue and a couple of recent ones) is a tip of the iceberg of corruption and intentional systemic manipulation by insiders as well as outsiders which Mr. Singh has been sitting upon, then the common man's belief and confidence in his government must surely have been seriously eroded. Time appropriate for not only resignation of the government but also mid-term polls.

Today only two men are bearing the brunt of common man's ridicule; A Raja for swindling and the Prime Minister for not showing spine to take corruption head on. In fact PM Singh and his most trusted Home minister could be fairly accused of peddling a cover up operation.

Things would take a grave turn if tomorrow we come to learn that it was not Raja alone but also the Congress party coffers that shared the 2G loot. Mr. Singh would again be the fall guy. And there are enough pointers towards that with the likes of Mr. P Chidambaram already seeing a reflection of Late Rajiv Gandhi in his son.
 

R K SUDAN
JAMMU, INDIA


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Some of the key conversations in the second lot of tapes unearthed by Outlook
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1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
OUTLOOKGROUP MAGAZINES
Cover Story
RADIAGATE
The first set of tapes was a selective leak. What lies under?
The Quarry Is Watching
RADIAGATE-II
That Familiar Ringtone...
Curiouser and murkier...the world according to Niira Radia
'This Litigant Told Me He Paid Vijender Jain 9 Cr'
'Raja Had Nothing To Do With The Madras HC Case'
'Look Into It, This Will Be A Very High-Profile, High-Tensile Case'
'Main Abhi Baat Kar Deta Hoon, Telenor Ke Upar Kya Issue Hai'
'Toh Aap Ek Kaam Karo Na, You Just Talk...Call Him, Minister...'
'Sahab (Raja) Ne Bola Ki You Meet People During One Specified Time'
'Kamal Nath Is A Doer. He Can Make His 15 Per Cent, And Do National Service'
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'It Won't Look Like An Ambani Battle, Except To Those In The Know'
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'I Think He (Praful Patel) Has Worked As A Minister For Naresh Goyal'
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