New Delhi: Where does
brokering begin and lobbying end, who draws the line between
journalistic ethics and peddling corporate interests, and just how
does one separate the overlapping worlds of industry and politics
that directly impact on our day-to-day lives and governance?
These and other questions have seized the public discourse for the
last fortnight since India's very own WikiLeaks broke with two
magazines - Open and Outlook - publishing transcripts of
conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and high
profile journalists, industrialists, politicians and other
The transcripts involving conversations between Radia, who heads
Vaishnavi Communications and whose clients include industrialists
Mukesh Ambani as well as Ratan Tata, came into the public domain
just a few days after the resignation of DMK leader A. Raja as
communications and IT minister for his suspected involvement in
the allotment of 2G spectrum in 2008 that is estimated to have
cost up to $39 million.
The dramatis personae include NDTV editor Barkha Dutt, Hindustan
Times editorial director and TV host Vir Sanghvi, Tata Sons
Chairman Ratan Tata, DMK MP Kanimozhi and former prime minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee's foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.
The recordings, part of more than 5,800 intercepts by the income
tax department of Radia's conversations between May 11, 2009 and
July 11, 2009, give a peek into the goings on in the highest
echelons of power.
Is this how governments are formed, asked some bewildered readers
while others lapped up the details.
The tapes were submitted as evidence in a litigation on the 2G
spectrum row in the Supreme Court.
The conversations that have been published cover two essential
strands - jockeying for cabinet berths in the days after the
Manmohan Singh government came back to power and the dispute over
gas between the Ambani brothers.
The intercepts show how Radia made a bid to manoeuvre DMK MPs into
the cabinet through discussions with Barkha Dutt, Kanimozhi,
Sanghvi and Tata.
The conversations with Sanghvi, who has since stopped his popular
Counterpoint column in Hindustan Times, also revolve around Mukesh
"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," he is quoted a saying
And Raja is heard as telling Radia: ""Hmm …tell Sunil Mittal (Airtel
chief), you have to work along with Raja for another five years"
As one controversy dovetailed into another, the ramifications were
felt far and wide. Cyber wires burnt up with people expressing
their dismay and revulsion on Twitter and Facebook, people called
up people who knew people who might know what was happening to
find out whether any action could be taken against Barkha Dutt, an
inspirational figure for an entire generation of young women.
Media analyst Sevanti Ninan told IANS: "People see the media as
primarily players, observers and analysts in the local and
national affairs. What we need to focus on perhaps is how the
journalists see themselves. I feel that some journalists think
themselves to act as players or advisors to the powerful. Assuming
such contrasting roles hampers, in my opinion, their main task of
Tata has gone to the Supreme Court, contending that the
publication of the intercepts violated his right to privacy.
And, almost two weeks after the sensational disclosures, Barkha
Dutt answered four editors - Dileep Padgaonkar, Sanjaya Baru,
Swapan Dasgupta and Open editor Manu Joseph - on NDTV Tuesday
As they grilled her on her talks with Radia, who is also being
questioned by the Enforcement Directorate, Dutt said that all she
could be accused of was error of judgment and that there was no
malintent on her part. Radia was a source she was stringing along
for information on the jostling for cabinet posts, she said.
Whether she was convincing or not is a matter of dispute.