In a dramatic press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal accused the Congress and the BJP of being “in the pocket” of industrialist Mukesh Ambani, and said the government had gone to great lengths to favour Ambani’s oil and gas ventures.
The taped conversations between some powerful public figures and former public-relations professional Niira Radia, who represented Mukesh Ambani’s business interests, which were first released by Open in 2010, include conversations that offer a fascinating insight into how Radia tried to influence the news media and politics.
Here, read or listen to relevant excerpts from the Radia tapes. The first is Radia’s conversation with Ranjan Bhattacharya, part of which was played at the press conference by Kejriwal. The second involves Radia and Vir Sanghvi, who is discussing his column about a crucial matter concerning Reliance Natural Resources Ltd.
“He says, sir, thheek hai, main bola ki, ‘Mukesh, once in a while show some bloody emotion,” —RANJAN BHATTACHARYA
DATE 22 May 2009 TIME 17:00:40
RANJAN: Oh okay, so let me understand what you are saying, the family guys are okay to get MoS, more or less.
RADIA: Both the…
RANJAN: Provided, provided this Maran boy does not get cabinet, right?
RADIA: Correct, correct.
RANJAN: And they are best, there are people outside the family and outside the Congress who are pushing for Maran, right?
RADIA: And Sunil Mittal’s name is one of them.
RANJAN: Listen I, I mean talking to Sunil is no point because obviously he has got this thing. Between you and me, I have a great line to Ghulam Nabi, for whatever he counts.
RADIA: I have been sending him a message since morning, I told Mukesh also to speak to him and tell him to speak to Kani [Kanimozhi], because Kani will take him directly to her father. They really spoiled it for themselves because they could have got away with two cabinet berths.
RANJAN: Ab unke teen dene padenge [Now they will have to give three].
RADIA: Ab teen dene padenge [Now they will have to give three]. Yeh Baalu ko bhi drop karwa sakte thhe kyunki unhe keh sakte thhe theek hai [They could even have got Baalu dropped], now they have to go through the whole process of three. They will have to be… again this whole argument that will happen, ke teen mein kaun include ho [that who will be included among the three]. Raja include hoga, Alagiri include hoga, Maran ko include karenge, toh baki tumhare Tamil leaders jo iss baari elections jeet ke aayenge woh kahenge hamara kya hoga [Raju will be included, Alagiri will be included, if Maran is included, then other Tamil leaders who have been elected will ask what about us].
RANJAN: I mean exactly aur yeh toh beech mein bhag gaya thha [and he had run away in the middle].
RADIA: Maran was the big challenge, and not because I do not like the guy, but genuinely that was a big problem. Maran kept on saying that both Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel have said to him that he, they want him to be in the Cabinet and that he is the only who is an acceptable face.
RANJAN: I do not think. How can a Congress guy, I mean if somebody had told me PM has said it or Sonia said it... How can a Ghulam Nabi or Ahmed Patel insist on [it]? It is like saying aapke ghar mein main tai karun [in your house, I will decide].
RADIA: Unhone insist nahin kiya hai, unhone kaha hai humko Congress ko kya acceptable hai woh hai [They did not insist, they said what is acceptable to the Congress is acceptable] Dayanidhi Maran, so Karunanidhi got awfully confused. The second thing that came up with Congress… said well but Karunanidhi took Maran with him to the UPA meeting, that is because Kani had disappeared, visited somewhere else, and he does not consider woh toh Chennai mein kissi ko bhi apne saath le jaata hai [in Chennai he takes anyone along with him].
RANJAN: Exactly, aisa kya hai, usse koi angrezi, ungrezi samajhne waala bhi chahiye [it is no big deal, he needs someone to understand English].
RADIA: Toh usko isliye le ke gaya thha kyunki Baalu nahin thha [He took him because Baalu was not available]. Kani was not available. Well, he had not, and no one person has been appointed to negotiate, Maran is not the point person to negotiate.
RANJAN: Achcha aisa hai, yeh toh abhi jaa raha hai apni swearing-in pe, meri abhi kisi se baat hui toh Ghulam, GNA, is being sworn in, naa [It is like this, he is going for his swearing-in, I just spoke to someone, Ghulam, GNA is being sworn in, no].
RADIA: What is he getting?
RANJAN: Bhai, they are not admitting it, mil toh raha hai aur usko liya bhi iss liye jaa raha hai [he is getting something, and is being taken for this reason], he is getting Parliamentary Affairs basically. Being a senior guy, he will be basically Parliamentary Affairs Minister… only has job for three months, nau mahine kya karega [what will he do for nine months?]. So he is lobbying for something, but abhi tak inhone tai toh nahin kiya [they have not decided yet].
RADIA: Tell them to give him aviation, Praful ko bahar rakho [keep Praful out].
RANJAN: Nahin, Praful ne toh raat ko itna drama kiya; apparently, they toh at midnight jaa ke Praful ko aviation bola hai, par Praful ki aaj swearing-in nahin hai [No, Praful created so much drama that at midnight they agreed on aviation for him but he is not being sworn in today].
RADIA: Yeah, I know that.
RANJAN: Inki sabki Tuesday ki hai.
RADIA: MoS hai.
RANJAN: MoS hai, independent.
RANJAN: Aur mujhko Ramesh Sharma called up bahut achcha hai hamare Anand Sharma ho rahein hain, my information is Anand Sharma nahin hain [and Romesh Sharma called me up to say it is good our Anand Sharma is being sworn in but my information is he is not].
RADIA: Anand Sharma hai isme [is in it].
RANJAN: Nahin hai, yeh sab media ne… [No, no this is all the media].
RADIA: Mujhe Mukesh ne bola [I was told by Mukesh].
RANJAN: Chalo dekhte hain, mereko nahin lagta hai [We’ll see, it doesn’t seem so to me].
RADIA: Elevated to Cabinet.
RANJAN: Nahin, Cabinet, par abhi aaj uska abhi media chala raha hai at least teen ghante pehle tak na usko chithhi aai thhi, naa Mukul Wasnik ko chithhi aai thhi [No, Cabinet, now the media is running it, but till three hours ago neither he nor Mukul Wasnik had got a letter].
RADIA: Achcha [okay].
RANJAN: But I don’t know.
RADIA: … [inaudible].
RANJAN: So is Mukesh happy?
RADIA: Very happy.
RANJAN: (Laughs) You know what he told me.
RANJAN: He tells me, he says, you know, he is in his usual style, kya kyo, I told him ‘Mera chhodo, kya kyo, aapko kya hai [Forget me and all this, this and that, what about you]?
RANJAN: He says ‘Sir thheek hai’, main bola ki [okay, and I said], ‘Mukesh, once in a while show some bloody emotion,’ I said, ‘Aapka toh sab kaam ho gaya [all your work has been done].’
RANJAN: Motu nahin aaya, yeh nahin hua, toh kehta [Fatso did not make it, it didn’t happen, so he replied] ‘Haan yaar, you know Ranjan, you are right, ab toh Congress apni dukaan hai’ [Yes, you are right, now the Congress is our shop].
“What kind of story do you want? Because this will go as Counterpoint, so it will be like most-most read...” —VIR SANGHVI
DATE 20 June 2009 TIME 12:09:59
VIR: Okay, now I can talk.
RADIA: I just got out of this treadmill. On this battle. I need to, I’m trying to get Mukesh to come out and talk.
RADIA: But the thing is this, we have to, if he talks, we have to carry it as is, in the sense that you know he, I think, they’re very conscious of every line and everything that goes out.
RADIA: Because it’s a battle. It’s a battle at the end of the day for him, you know. And also, whether we bring it into print.
RADIA: That’s the other issue. I think the…
VIR: But see Anil can’t afford to give interviews because he will be asked about Amar Singh, so many things, so that the advantage Mukesh has is that he can talk and there is nothing for him to be embarrassed about. So many skeletons in Anil’s closet that he doesn’t want to clarify. If he comes on, he says, ‘Amar Singh is my close friend,’ he is fucked. If he comes on, he says, ‘I have no relations with Amar Singh,’ Amar Singh will kill him. I mean there are so many awkward things, so Anil has decided to avoid the media. Mukesh doesn’t have that problem. Mukesh can talk straight, can say things. You can rehearse. You can work out a script in advance. You can go exactly according to the script. Anil can’t do any of those things, no?
RADIA: Right. But we can do that, no?
VIR: But Mukesh has to be on board. He has to sort of realise. It has to be fully scripted.
RADIA: No, that’s what I mean. I think that’s what he’s asking me.
VIR: Yes, it has to be fully scripted.
RADIA: He is saying is that, ‘Look Niira’, that ‘I don’t want anything extempore.’
VIR: No, it has to be fully scripted. I have to come in and do a run through with him before.
RADIA: Yeah, yeah.
VIR: We have to rehearse it before the cameras come in.
RADIA: Yeah, yeah.
VIR: Then it is worth doing.
RADIA: Correct, correct.
VIR: Otherwise, there is a lot at stake.
RADIA: Yeah. That’s right, that’s the one point. The other thing was that when Rohit on this particular article of [inaudible] because Anil is going all out and we are going to start talking. It is not as if we are not going to start talking. But I think the challenge that I’m facing is that I think we need to set the tone.
RADIA: How what has happened as far as the order is concerned is completely against national interest.
RADIA: You know and even if we were to assume that they get gas or they get coal, or they get iron ore or whatever one gets. If you look at how Tatas has always gone into those areas and done something for the people even before they have been able to extract anything out of it.
RADIA: Here, the culture of, you know, if it’s set at a power plant in Shahpur, which Rohit will brief you, or is setting up a power plant in Dadri… One would ask a question, have you actually done anything for those people even though you are taking their land from them? I can say today you know with my hand on my heart whether it is Kalinga Nagar that we are fighting the Maoists or Singur where we fought Mamta, we continue doing work whether our plant came up or not. You know sometimes…
VIR: What kind of story do you want? Because this will go as Counterpoint, so it will be like most-most read, but it can’t seem too slanted, yet it is an ideal opportunity to get all the points across.
RADIA: But basically, the point is what has happened as far as the High Court is concerned is a very painful thing for the country because what is done is against national interest.
RADIA: I think that’s the underlying message.
VIR: Okay. That message we will do. That allocation of resources which are scarce national resources of a poor country cannot be done in this arbitrary fashion to benefit a few rich people.
RADIA: That’s right.
VIR: Yeah. That message we will get across, but what other points do we need to make?
RADIA: I think we need to say that you know it’s a lesson for the corporate world that, you know, they need to think through whenever they want to look at this, whether they really seriously do give back to society.
VIR: So I will link it to the election verdict. The fact that there has been so much Narega, that Sonia has commit•ted to including everybody, that it should be inclusive growth. It shouldn’t just benefit the few fat cats. It shouldn’t be cronyism. It shouldn’t be arbitrary. That’s how the message for this five years of Manmohan Singh should be—that you have to put an end to this kind of allocations of scarce resources on the basis of corruption and arbitrariness at the cost of the country, otherwise the country will not forgive you.
RADIA: Yeah, but Vir, you have to keep in mind that he has been given the gas field by the Government to operate. He spent ten billion dollars on it.
RADIA: Anil Ambani is getting the benefit without spending a cent on it…
VIR: I’ll make those points, no?
VIR: So I’ll make those points. The people, because the system is so corrupt and open to manipulation, by manipulating the system, by not paying anybody you can get hands on resources. Therefore the only way Manmohan Singh hopes to survive is to get a handle on the resources and have some kind of way of allocating them that is transparent, fair and perhaps done by him.
RADIA: But there you will be attacking Mukesh only, no.
VIR: Why, why, why, explain that.
RADIA: You see, because a resource has been allocated to Mukesh in this case.
VIR: So, what point do you want me to make?
RADIA: The point I’m making is that here, the point is limited to the fact that you cannot have a High Court deciding on this. You cannot have a tribunal deciding on this.
VIR: What about ministers?
RADIA: Even ministers.
VIR: Spectrum and co is ministers, no?
RADIA: Yeah, even ministers. You want to really look at, maybe there’s an EGoM [Empowered Group of Ministers] that got set and is looking at the pricing issue, and natural resources should be decided not by any of this arbitrary mechanism. It has to be one for the country. And there should be some sort of a formula that Manmohan Singh has to...
VIR: Yeah, that is the message, you know. There should be a formula by which resources will be allocated in a transparent, non-arbitrary sort of way. That has to be a message, no?
RADIA: Yeah. And also, you know, going to court.
VIR: That the people want resources, they have to be back to society. They have to pay the Government. They have corporate social responsibility. They have to care about the people who are going to be displaced, the people who are going to lose things. You can’t just go ahead and rape the system.
RADIA: Yeah. But you want to say that you know, more importantly that here a family MoU has taken precedence over national interest, and what the judge has done… I mean you’ll have to attack the judge here because the judge has, what he’s done, he’s given preference to an MoU. He has held on to the MoU and said, ‘Okay, this had to be implemented.’ But he has forgotten what’s good, that’s why it raises a bigger constitutional issue.
VIR: Which is?
RADIA: Which is natural resources is really a constitutional issue. It has to do with the country and the nation.
VIR: It’s not between two brothers and their fight.
RADIA: It’s not and therefore the judge’s interpretation of an MoU…
RADIA: It cannot be the basis of the way how we can proceed on these sorts of issues. I mean, you have to attack the fact that the judge has only gone into the MoU. His entire judgment is on the basis of the MoU.
RADIA: And therefore a judgment between two family members cannot be how you decide the future.
VIR: Okay. Let this Rohit come, let me explain to him, and I’ll talk to you and tell you what line I’m taking.
VIR: No, no tomorrow