A lot can change in just a few weeks. Only in November we were agitated to learn that Ratan Tata (reputedly one of India’s cleanest businessmen) would have been in the aviation business had he agreed to pay Rs15 crore as bribes (he has since clarified that nobody really asked him for the bribe, a fellow industrialist suggested it would work).
Then the Niira Radia conversations burst into the public domain exposing how the extraordinary lobbyist for the Tata group and Mukesh Ambani swung the telecom portfolio for A Raja and used it to ensure a good deal for the Tatas. Obviously, Ms Radia is an expensive lobbyist with a big budget. She was also influential enough to get the Tatas to lend several hundred crores to her other client—Unitech and a conversation indicates handing over the use of a flat to the DMK leader’s wife. Now juxtapose these revelations with a December 2007 letter which Ratan Tata wrote to DMK leader M Karunanidhi (exposed by Manoj Gairola in Indian Express) praising Mr Raja as ‘rational, fair and action-oriented’. Suddenly, the lily-white Tata image begins to look a little sullied. In that letter, Mr Tata says, “On the issue of spectrum, his (Mr Raja’s) stated policies, for the most part, have been legally sound, rational and well-reasoned.”
Further currying favour with the DMK leader and blaming ‘orchestrated misinformation and vested interests’ for the telecom controversy, Mr Tata says, “I have the highest regard and respect for you as a person of great equity and great vision. I would like to see you derive great kudos for the visionary growth of the sector, which I believe can be delivered under your leadership by Raja.” Ironically, it is the Niira Radia tapes (look up www.outlookindia.com) which have exposed the brazen manipulation in the award of licences under Mr Raja. In one of her conversations, she also admits that her clients (the Tatas) have been big beneficiaries. Now, Ratan Tata may have gone to the Supreme Court claiming breach of privacy. He has also blasted Rajya Sabha MP and former telecom player, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who in an open letter to Ratan Tata has said that his group is a big beneficiary of policy flip-flops, hoarding of spectrum and its out-of-turn allocation policy for granting spectrum, allowing them to reap massive monetary benefits. Now that we have all heard Ms Radia’s hectic lobbying for the Tatas, how does it square with Ratan Tata’s public statement: “Never once in our association with her have we tried to subvert policy, move policy… Never once have we used her to make payments or to seek favours…” At the least, it is clear that Tatas’ dealings on telecom are not quite kosher.— Sucheta Dalal