How Niira Radia cosied up to BJP's Ananth Kumar

Special to Firstpost from THL-Mediagrove

So how did Niira Radia, despite no political links, make it big?
"When she came to India she was nobody. She had no links to politics. But one thing stood out in her; she is highly intelligent and would make any Indian Prime Minister sit up and listen to her and take her seriously," criminal lawwer RK Anand says in an exclusive interview to Firstpost.

Her first major political link was former Aviation Minister and BJP leader Ananth Kumar.

Says Anand, whose book “Close Encounters with Niira Radia” has just been released: "When she met Ananth Kumar, both of them needed each other. Kumar was a first time minister handling Civil Aviation and she had little political links but had excellent knowledge of the aviation sector. So both benefited each other. Both of them were very close and frequented each other's houses very often."

Courtesy:CNN-IBN

"At that time I had no idea that she would spread her wings into the political arena to satisfy her craving for business and power. So it came as a shock to me when I discovered, one day, when visiting her farmhouse, dancing closely with NDA minister Ananth Kumar to Western ballroom music," Anand writes in his book.
Excerpts from the book \

Niira gets closer to Ananth Kumar

Niira always thought big. She was not satisfied with piddling assignments. Her ultimate ambition was to start her own airline. To achieve this target she needed the help of the new Aviation Minister, Ananth Kumar, a member of Parliament from Karnataka. (Ananth Kumar became Aviation Minister in March 1998. In April 1999, the BJP government was defeated in a no-confidence motion but swept back into power a few months later and Kumar remained Aviation Minister until October, 1999. During this year he had additional charge of the tourism ministry.)

No longer a stranger to the ways of Delhi and the art of cozying up to the high and mighty through a liberal use of contacts, name dropping, and invitations and parties, Niira had wasted no time in getting on the inside track with Kumar from his early days as minister. The BJP’s return as well as Ananth Kumar’s regaining his former portfolio allowed her to continue to fly loftily in the aviation skies.

She also had an added advantage. She knew more about the aviation industry than half of Ananth Kumar’s own top bureaucrats. Kumar, himself a neophyte, a rookie minister in the NDA government, found in Niira a good teacher about the intricacies, pitfalls and vicissitudes of the powerful aviation sector. Needless to say, he was also smitten by the femme fatale who was now so sure of her magic with men.

She did not hide her closeness to him. Friends often saw them together at Sudesh Farm, Asola, in Delhi, where Niira was still living with Rao Dheeraj Singh – a former Sahara executive.

Niira had her sights set. At whatever the cost, she wanted to sell helicopters to the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Ananth Kumar’s home state is Karnataka. With his help she managed to clinch the deal for the two state governments. The hefty commissions she received went into Niira’s London and Channel Island accounts, recalls her partner Singh. From Kumar she learned that the process would be fast-tracked for both the flagship domestic and international carriers."

How Niira swung the Airbus deal

Never to be left behind in any race—especially one in which she was already so far ahead—Niira jumped into a deal with Airbus. The quid pro quo: She would earn hefty commissions if she managed to influence the Indian government to change its policies and switch from Boeing to Airbus for its new fleet requirements.

Singh and Niira airdashed to Paris to ink provisional contracts between the foreign airline manufacturer and Niira’s London-based companies Crownmart International Group Ltd and Nesgold Ltd. According to Singh he and Niira also, during this period, made frequent trips to Zurich to open accounts in which large amounts of the expected commission proceeds—expected to arrive as soon as the deal was clinched—could be deposited.

Niira worked with zest, speed and alacrity. In order to smoothen out her personal corporate affairs she ensured that her London-based elder sister, Karuna, accompanied her and Singh on their business trips. The family must be kept in the loop.

Meanwhile, at home, Niira lobbied at a frenetic pace to ensure that the acquisition process received speedy approval from the Indian Union Cabinet. This was one of the conditions on the basis of which Airbus would send the commission amounts into Niira’s foreign coffers.

Niira was not known for throwing caution to the winds, and keeping a secret as well as balancing two people at each end of a horizontal pole while she did a tightrope walk high in the air was her forte. But during this Airbus interlude she seemed to have let her guard down a little. So persistent was her interference in the affairs of Indian Airlines, that the Managing Director, PC Sen, objected to her meddling. Niira’s benefactor, Kumar, responded by removing Sen from that post.

During the time that the aircraft acquisition policy was being changed Niira was a frequent visitor to Kumar’s official residence at 10, Prithviraj Road. According to intelligence reports, Niira and Kumar frequently travelled abroad. Kumar was actually a country bumpkin—a hayseed as the Americans put it—who learnt sophistication and speech and social graces from Niira. If the roles in Pygmalion had been reversed, Kumar would have been Eliza Dolittle and Niira Henry Higgins.

The upshot of this courtship was that as Aviation Minister Kumar changed the acquisition policy to favour Airbus on the specious ground that Indian Airlines and Air India no longer needed large capacity long-range airplanes but rather only short capacity long-range ones—which the Boeing company was not manufacturing.

This was the administrative deus ex machina through which (only) Airbus Industries were left in the race. For Niira this was a smashing success. She could tell the world that she was now representing Airbus Industries. She had actually forced an independent national government of a raucous democracy, run by a multi-party system and a bureaucratic steel frame, to change a policy to suit her personal requirement.

The deal, roughly worth Rs 22,000 crore, at a 10 percent commission would work out to a windfall of Rs 220 crore for Niira.


Updated Date: Oct 19, 2011 17:04 PM

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