Radia headhunted the right policy-influencers
What is the key to Radia's success as a lobbyist? According to RK Anand, who has written a book on her, she had exceptional headhunting skills. She knew just who had to be recruited from retiring bureaucrats and corporate sector executives to be able to influence policy
By VK Shashikumar & Tejas Patel
Special to Firstpost from THL-Mediagrove
So, is she a spy or not? Commenting on the unsubstantiated allegations of Niira Radia's links with foreign intelligence agencies, criminal lawyer RK Anand, whose tell-all book on her, Close Encounters with Niira Radia, has just hit the stands, said: "Till 2001-02 when I was in regular touch with her, there was no possibility. I don't think so. It’s not correct. After that I have no idea but still I don't think these allegations are true."
Anand writes that the second phase of Niira’s meteoric career - and these periods often overlap one another in the course of the 15 years that this admittedly desultory narrative spans - is her branching out into the world of a high-flying public relations woman. Excerpts:
How Radia picked her key brains-trusters
Niira was also a great head-hunter. She knew who would do the job in which sector. She had already shown her skill in attracting help from UK Bose of Sahara, hiring Rao Dheeraj Singh, and manipulating (BJP Aviation Minister) Ananth Kumar. Later, as newspaper accounts in The Indian Express noted, she also hired SK Narula, former Chairman, Airports Authority of India (AAI), who retired in January 2004. He joined Vaishnavi Corporate Communications Pvt Ltd (VCCPL) a year later and was a Director with the company. VCCPL, the flagship public relations agency, started managing several leading corporate clients (apart from the Tata Group) such as Unitech Ltd, Confederation of Indian Industry, Hindustan Construction Company Ltd, and has also handled the GMR Group in the past.
The GMR Group is the majority owner, with a 54 percent stake in Delhi International Airport Pvt Ltd (DIAL), the company that, after an intensely competitive international bidding process, won the mandate to develop, operate and manage the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the capital.
Narula’s former organisation AAI holds a 26 percent stake in DIAL. "Admitting that he is one of the directors in the firm, Narula said: 'We don’t do any lobbying. We handle public relations for the Tata Group and are into media consulting' (The Indian Express). He said he did not work on the GMR project and, hence, there was no conflict of interest."
In 2007, Niira floated a new agency, Noesis Strategic Consulting Services Pvt Ltd, whose mandate was to manage policy affairs. The agency had two former senior bureaucrats—former Finance Secretary CM Vasudev and former Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Pradip Baijal—as its founding members. On its website, Noesis says its “team comprises personnel with expertise in public and regulatory policy-making for the economic and fiscal sectors, Indian and international financial sectors, investment and regulation of infrastructure and core sectors, privatisation and strategic communications."
Some of the high-profile clients managed by Noesis included Tata Teleservices, Tata Communications, Vedanta Group, and the Oman Government. Sources said the Government of Oman had hired Noesis to guide it on setting up a regulatory framework for its telecom sector. Baijal, who also served the government as its Disinvestment Secretary, also brought in D P S Seth, a high-profile former member of TRAI, to Vaishnavi in 2008. Sources told The Indian Express that Niira also had Ajay Dua, former Secretary of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP); AH Jung, former Civil Aviation Secretary, and V. Subramanian, former Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, working with her. Sources said the trio joined Vaishnavi in late 2009 and left after a short stay.
She was the brains. They were the brainstrusters who helped her achieve gains in the telecom, power and aviation sectors.
In 2007, the Tatas bagged a deal worth $140 million from the state-run telecom giant Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). As per the multi-year contract, TCS would provide technical assistance to BSNL with a comprehensive range of telecom services. Baijal was also TRAI Chairman when Tatas and Reliance Telecom were allowed to convert wireless to full mobility. Radia’s other clients Unitech Wireless and Swan Telecom (now under the microscope of official scrutiny in the 2G Scam) bagged (the) mega crore 2G spectrum license under A Raja."
So what does the future hold for Niira Radia in the light of the 2G scam investigations and her role in the scam? Anand says she still has a lot of clout. "Look at what happened in the 2G scam. She was right in the centre of everything, advising clients to break tax laws, getting A Raja appointed as the Telecom Minister, and still she is out of jail. When all the top honchos and bureaucrats are in jail, why has she not been arrested? That speaks a lot about her clout," Anand said."
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Income Tax (I-T) department to prepare the transcripts of the tapes of Niira Radia's telephone conversations that it had tapped in the wake of allegations of Radia amassing wealth and having foreign connections.