Expressing concern over the influence of corporate lobbyists over national parties such as the BJP, the former Union Minister, Arun Shourie, said he was replaced as a lead speaker in a Budget debate over fears that he would oppose a proposal that might have benefited industrialist Mukesh Ambani.
Referring to recent publications of the taped conversations that corporate lobbyist Niira Radia had with politicians and journalists, Mr. Shourie said there was no doubt that in one of the tapes, it was clear that someone arranged for replacing him with the former BJP president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, as a lead speaker from the party during the Budget debate in 2009.
In an interview to Karan Thapar on the “Devil's Advocate” programme on CNN-IBN, Mr. Shourie said the objective of replacing him was clear from the tapes, as they might have apprehended that he would attack a Budget proposal that was going to help Mr. Mukesh Ambani.
“This was because I had spoken about that particular proposal in an adverse way in a party meeting. I mean how they got to know of this ... Anyhow, they got to know of this and this was their apprehension certainly. I may or may not have spoken about it on the floor of the House,” he said.
To a question whether senior leaders of the BJP were susceptible to and influenced by lobbyists, Mr. Shourie said, “Well, I would actually think that all parties are of the same nature in the sense that you see if you are becoming a national party, for instance, you would need resources, you will have to get it from these persons.”
“Second is that if you are businessmen, you would have to be prudent enough to see different parties are in power in different States, so you must have relation with all parties.”
Asked about the conversations on the tapes that he would take a hard line on the budgetary proposal because he was allegedly allied with Mr. Mukesh Ambani's estranged younger brother, Anil Ambani, he shot back saying, “This is the conspiracy theory by which this kind of liaison is being justified.”
Mr. Shourie, a veteran journalist, said the tapes were an eye-opener on how the media functioned.
“I think the main thing is the sunlight is the best disinfectant. So as we talk about others freely and openly, a well-documented expose so must be talked about [by] the media. That is the central remedy and I think the media is short-sighted by not talking, for instance, about the tape and what implications these have.”
“You see these formal rules of ethics are not going to work,” he said.
In Hyderabad, Mr. Naidu said he was asked to initiate the discussion on the Budget. “I initiated it and everybody appreciated it. And there is no question of favouring anybody at all.”
Special Correspondent writes:
The BJP was quick to react to what was really a charge made by Mr. Shourie that no doubt the BJP too was susceptible to influence from business tycoons like Mr. Mukesh Ambani and lobbying by persons like Ms. Radia. Even before the programme was telecast, BJP sources, speaking on behalf of the top leadership, denied that the BJP was at all involved with one Ambani or the other. “We stay away from such lobbying,” the source said, adding if The Hindu was to print a story on the basis of Mr. Shourie's conversation with Mr. Thapar, the BJP's non-involvement in all this lobbying must be noted.