Radia Tapes: Open Sesame?

We have seen how the 2G scam unfolded. Important people were packed off to jail. The really prominent names were not. No Tata, no Ambani. The role of the lobbyist thawed. Nira Radia became a ghostly figure making court appearances.

Now, the tapes that were at the centre of the controversy have been given a clean chit. I say tapes deliberately:

The Centre has argued before the Supreme Court that the Nira Radia tapes that were leaked to the media were tampered with. The tapes contained conversations between lobbyist Nira Radia and various industry leaders. The government has also stated that the tapes were not leaked by government agencies. The government said there were eight to ten agencies, including service providers, involved in the tapping of telephonic conversation of former corporate lobbyist Nira Radia.

Is this a victory for anyone? Was it not the government that was culpable, to begin with? So, how is the government version acceptable? What are government agencies doing? Why was the inquiry handled by the Ministry of Finance who appointed officers to investigate into the case?

The report says the starting and the end point of the conversation do not match with the original tapes, Justice Singhvi said referring to the report. He said the report also says that officers, who had conducted the probe, do not know who has leaked it."It is quite possible that someone else has done it," the bench said.

This is the SC making such vague statements. Of course, it is possible. We have seen the Shanti Bhushan case; Amar Singh is now a veteran in these false tape cases. Is it not crucial to ask who leaked the tapes and why?

Why should we accept the government statement when we doubt it on almost every other occasion? It is a seriously flawed argument, for the government got trapped in the scams. Why would it leak the tapes, anyway? To clear the main decks?

The other possibility is business rivalry and ego.

I had written the following a while ago:

We are witnessing this farce as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while not yet giving a clean chit to Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani, has been talking about their honesty and how candid they have been. Niira Radia has been called “evasive”.

Ratan Tata, when asked about his letter to the Tamil Nadu chief minister praising Raja’s work in the telecom ministry, with some gumption said, “We had a chemistry problem with (his predecessor Dayanidhi) Maran.” Yet, he claimed, “I didn’t manipulate the system for 2G licence allocation.” Did not Mr Tata file a petition regarding breach of privacy about the leaked tapes? The political machinery does not wish to completely alienate the corporate lobby, so it accused Radia of being anti-national and an agent of foreign intelligence agencies.

Both sides are getting trapped in quick sand and they need to prop each other up without being seen to ostensibly do so. Why did they not produce records of the Rs. 300 crore that Radia had accumulated? Of course, there is every possibility of impropriety, but for whom and for what?

If foreign agencies were involved, how did they pay her so that the authorities would know the amount? Have the finance and other departments tapped those calls from foreign agencies? What foreign agencies have interests in seeing to it that the Ambanis and Tatas get the prime deals? Which foreign agency would be interested in what portfolio Raja got? It might be important to examine how these players then can be indicted for such foreign connections as well as anti-national activities, including the governments, past and present, for accommodating them.

This is a morass. Now, we come to the media. There was a huge noise by those who were acting as whistle-blowers as well as the ones defamed. The strange aspect is that both groups have continued with their work and moved on. Vir Sanghvi had, in fact, sent the tapes to a couple of laboratories abroad that showed there was something amiss. Will the government use this as evidence? What about the magazines that carried transcripts – will the courts file a case against them?

How much of it is fake? If the “starting and end point” do not match, then what happens to the middle? Besides, who will be seen as culprits in these tampered tapes – will there be a hierarchy of favoured ones and those who can be put to pasture? The politicians, the businessmen and executives, the media persons – if some of their conversations have been tampered with, then does it follow that everything is? Does it, therefore, falsify the whole case and we discover there has been no scam at all?

And to think that a whole people’s movement started by riding on this wave. It is the people who will have to live with such half-truths.

Do read The Media as Middleman for a background and more

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