Offer insights into the working of government and throw up a wonderful cast of sidekicks
If the first tranche of the Niira Radia tapes showed the shocking penetration of the key pillars of the State by a powerful corporate lobbyist, the second instalment released by Outlook magazine takes the story further, offering delightful insights into the working of government and revealing a wonderful cast of sidekicks and supporting actors who cut across party lines to plug their interests.
In the Delhi durbar of 2009, the fixers and freeloaders almost outshine the VIPs and VVIPs who walk the corridors of power. Here no reputation is safe and no decision sacrosanct, as the chief lobbyist and her willing lieutenants dissect personalities, offer opinions and analyses and make a merry cocktail of gossip, speculation, politics and policy.
Ministry formation may be a prerogative of the Prime Minister in theory but in practice it seems to be the business of everybody but the PM. Ms. Radia assures a party insider of doing the needful for A. Raja. She concurs with another that prayers must be offered so that Kanimozhi gets the portfolio she wants. “Tell your mother not to stop [the prayers]…still there are chances.” When it appears as if Ms. Kanimozhi has opted out of the race, Ms. Radia laments that astrology can only do so much. “Astrology shows the path, it is for you to take the path.” The lobbyist then sees a ray of hope in M.K Azhagiri [given charge of chemicals and fertilisers]. “Trust me he is not going to be able to stay in Delhi,” she says, suggesting friendship with Mr. Azhagiri as the way forward for his deprived sister.
Cabinet formation over, it is time to get a fix on the who's who in Manmohan Singh's Council of Ministers. Here the punditry of bureaucrat-turned Janata Dal (United) MP N.K. Singh comes in handy. Mr. Singh holds forth with Ms. Radia adding her own expert comments. Anand Sharma is a favourite with 10, Janpath, and has got a “spectacular jump” (to Commerce Ministry) by hanging around the Prime Minister's Office. This is in contrast to the “spectacular decline” of Kamal Nath who has been “literally left on the road” with Surface Transport, perhaps because he overdid a “lot of the stuff which you and I know.” Mr. Nath's, Mr. Singh says, is a case of “enough is enough.”
Mr. Singh's opinion of Union Petroleum Minister Murli Deora is that he has beaten his “proverbial incompetence” to get a second term because “Mukesh [Ambani] perhaps has swung it.” Montek Singh Ahulwalia had his eyes set on the Finance Ministry but he had no chance as he was “pitted against Pranab Mukherjee.” He had tried earlier too but “cut no ice.” Mr. Ahulwalia's best bet, Mr. Singh says, is to bide his time and wait for a Rajya Sabha nomination. Praful Patel (retained as Minister of State in Civil Aviation) is unhappy because “any and every old guy has been given a leg up.” When Ms. Radia claims that Mr. Patel has run the national carrier to the ground, Mr. Singh concurs and says he ought to have been shuffled out of the ministry.
On the political front, Mr. Singh hints at the possibility of a future Congress-JD(U) alliance. Slowly warming to the topic, he says the Congress has a problem on its hand with the “mercurial behaviour of Mamata (Banerjee).” She is against disinvestment and privatisation, “ideas earlier attributed to the left.” This is why the Congress is keeping its door open in Bihar, this is why Lalu Prasad and Raghuvansh Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) are not in the Cabinet. “So that option remains open. We have to make up our mind and strategy.”
Among the many bit players in Ms. Radia's conversations, Ranjan Bhattacharya, the foster son-in-law of Atal Bihari Vajpayee stands out for being able to easily shift into lesser roles. Once almost at the top in the pecking order at 7, Race Course Road, he transmogrifies in the Radia conversations into a small-time actor on the gossip-business circuit. Yet obviously because of inexperience he hastily dismisses Suhel Seth, founder of the advocacy group Equus, and a television regular known to have an opinion on every subject: “I met Sunil [Mittal of Airtel] in that *&%$, kyaa hai naam uskaa [what is his name?], Suhel Seth's house.”