Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Radiagate

Radialeaks is a conspiracy to malign very powerful, select individuals in the corporate sector and in the government. The worst sufferers are Ratan Tata and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; A Raja is a convenient scapegoat. Keep this in mind, the people behind these selective leaks are equally important and powerful.

In an unprecedented move the finance ministry under P Chidambaram taps Niira Radia’s phones after a complaint against her is received that she is a spy, or ‘an agent of foreign intelligence agencies’ and therefore is involved in anti national activities. That is a very serious charge. The Income Tax department should not have been investigating a serious matter like this, instead some highly specialised and equipped agency like IB, ED, CBI or RAW should be dealing with it. But this serious charge comes across as a lame excuse. The finance ministry has a lot of explaining to do. Assuming she is a foreign intelligence agent, which intelligence agency are we talking about? Which specific anti-national activity did she indulge in? Also if she is involved in anti national activities, so are her partners who she works closely with and are the top corporate guys, greedy bureaucrats and politicians looking to make easy money.

The fact of the matter is that Finance ministry under Chidambaram target her and it is alleged that home ministry under him could be behind the selective leak.

On the business front, the leaked tape hit at Ratan Tata. The message is clear. Niira Radia, a Tata’s PR consultant, was trying to influence policy decisions in the favour of her clients. Though the tapes are not just confined to telecom sector. It talks in detail about civil aviation and the institutionalised bungling in this sector of the tune of thousands of crores. It talks about Mukesh Ambani’s (also her client) gas project. And host of other issues. It shows how vulnerable is government to corporate influences, much of which is not legitimate. And the level playing field is a farce, as these behind the closed door lobbying decide the fate of many of the money-loaded projects.

What is clear now is that former telecom minister A Raja issued licenses for some extraneous considerations and not entirely on merit, but nothing more then this is established as yet, not even the exchange of money taking place. But these revelations have put the new licenses in the dock. This will benefit the old players, or the incumbents, like Idea, Vodafone, Airtel. What Raja did, by default, by issuing some 120 new licenses, is that he liberalised the telecom sector. This ensured that the call rates crashed; mobile phones became more and more affordable to the poor and the network extended to rural India. The oligopoly of the incumbents was broken and they were for the first time facing the levelling forces of competition. This is a unique scam in the sense that it has benefited the common man. And these leaked tapes could scuttle the competitive environment in telecom sector by potentially cancelling all new licenses so that the incumbents will start making super normal profits again. Is that the idea behind these leaks? (an idea can change a whole sector).

This whole conspiracy, not just a controversy, has put a question mark on the effectiveness and leadership of Prime Minister Manmhan Singh. Ironically, he has many times being referred as the cleanest prime minister. And weakest too. We have a parliamentary form of democracy where the cabinet is collectively (not individually) responsible to the parliament and through it to the people at large. So, it is untenable to have a clean prime minister in a cabinet where the ministers are waist deep in the muck of corruption. A Raja resigning might not help. We know that prime minister was well aware of what Raja was up to. He failed to stop Raja. So the prime minister is under pressure too for allowing Raja commit 2G scam, the opposition stalling the whole winter session of the parliament on this issue creats more problem for the prime minister.

But I see a trap here. The trap is to pressurise the prime minister to resign. And if Congress grapevine is to be believed, since 40 years old Rahul baba is still not ready, somebody else might get to be the ceremonial prime minister. Chidambaram is one of the top contenders, so is the finance minister, Congress's chief trouble-shooter, Pranab Mukerjee and defence minister AK Anthony. Both the home ministry and the finance ministry have expressed their helplessness to stop the leak, but this does not bother them much. However, both the ministries have clarified that they have not leaked the tapes. Somebody has, one of them could be lying? There seems to be a larger conspiracy to force an emotional prime minister to tender resignation in light of corruption charges so that some other non-Gandhi will get to man the top job.

The truth might never come out. In the meantime, CBI will continue raiding the homes and offices of dispensable politicians and bureaucrats to fish out evidences after giving them good 13 months of time to get rid of them.

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