As she controlled access to two iconic tycoons, the media had no option but to interact with her: India Today
Daughter of a Punjabi couple settled in Kenya, Niira Radia came to India in 1994 and in the 16 years since then, she has set up base in a South Delhi locality and dabbled as an aviation consultant with ambitions of setting up her own airline.
All these years, she became a powerful politician's dear friend, disciple of a powerful religious guru and, most triumphantly, a publicist for India's two biggest tycoons. “Radia invested in the right people and made the extra effort when needed,'' says India Today in its January 3, 2011 issue, which carries Niira Radia on the weekly newsmagazine's cover, describing her as “Newsmaker 2010'' – Niira Radia – the Destroyer.
“During 1999-2000, she came close to the then Union Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar through her spiritual guru, Vishwesha Teertha Swami, pontiff of Sri Pejawar Mutt at Udipi in Karnataka,'' the cover story says. It quoted Rao Dheeraj Singh, a former employee and close friend with whom she later fell out, as saying that she became “too involved with Mr. Ananth Kumar and all the deals and contracts of this minister were going through her.''
“2001 was her breakthrough year. She met Ratan Tata while working on the Tata Airlines-Singapore Airlines joint venture. He was impressed with her knowledge of aviation. At that point, Indian Hotels had also signed an MoU with the Department of Culture for the preservation and upgradation of the Taj Mahal. Tata wanted to promote the brand association of the hotels and the monument…Nudged by Tata, she started Vaishnavi Corporate Communications which initially handled the public relations of 14 Tata companies. She did not think small. By 2009, she was handling public relations for over 90 companies of the Tata Group with over 300 employees across 13 cities. Its 2009 revenues were Rs. 57 crore,'' the story says.
Gradually, the company started adding non-Tata accounts and so parallel agencies were formed to handle their business. In 2007, she started Noesis Strategic Consulting Services to handle strategic and business advisory assignments – bagging a contract to restructure the telecom licensing framework for the Sultanate of Oman – and Vitcome Consulting, it says.
According to India Today, in 2008 Mukesh Ambani's trusted advisor Manoj Modi roped in Radia to handle the exclusive business of Reliance Industries and so was born NeUCom Consulting. She now controlled access to two of the most iconic business tycoons in the country. “The media had no option but to interact with her. Only her,'' the article says.
She developed an amazing network of powerful bureaucrats, all at the top of their game in areas key to the Tatas, from telecom to aviation to FDI. Her biggest catch was former Disinvestment Secretary, Pradip Baijal.
The Radia connect has ensured that the 2G scam will never be viewed as something perpetrated solely by an erring minister from a maverick regional party. It has also exposed how Radia penetrated the system to the advantage of her clients.
Her aides insist that it is business as usual at Vaishnavi and her three other companies. They claim to have added three clients in the past three months, apart from retaining their two major accounts.
In a separate but related write-up, the magazine carries a conversation with Rao Dheeraj Singh, who was her business partner. He later spent almost two years in prison, accused by Radia of kidnapping her son Karan. Speaking exclusively to India Today in his first media interaction after the leaking of the Niira Radia tapes, he disclosed her business dealings between 1995 and 2002, a period in which Singh was closely associated with Radia's Crown Mart International (India) Pvt. Ltd.
Singh first met Radia in 1994 when he was working as a traffic supervisor with Sahara Airlines. She was a consultant with Sahara. She hired him for Crown Mart. They moved to Bombay in1995, where Radia briefly dabbled in films and a hotel business.
In what is public knowledge, Radia's influence began to grow when the BJP-led NDA came to power in 1998 and Ananth Kumar was appointed Civil Aviation Minister. Claims Singh: “It was actually in the BJP regime that everything started going right for us. After the KLM UK deal, a lot of companies started approaching her. We sold some helicopters to Sahara. The Airbus Consortium started supporting her. Karnataka and Maharashtra governments were sold Eurocopters. There was a BJP Government in Maharashtra. Radia had a good relationship with Ananth Kumar. He managed the whole thing for us.” Singh claims recalling a meeting a senior leader (name withheld) during the Eurocopter deal. “I remember when this Eurocopter deal with the Maharashtra Government was being negotiated, Niira and I went to Nagpur together to meet the leader, who facilitated it,” alleges Singh.
Singh makes damaging allegations about Radia even going to the extent of saying, “Niira used to get a lot of information and then send it to her clients in France and all over the place. At one point, she wanted to get into defence deals as well.”
More deals meant more commissions. “Niira, Karuna [her sister] and I travelled to Zurich to open bank accounts. I can give you my passport as evidence. I can come to Delhi and give you the name of the Zurich bank where the accounts were opened,” claims Singh (Radia is a PIO). He adds, “The money earned from the deals struck between 1998 and 2001 was getting accrued in Zurich and Channel islands. I don't know the amount but it was substantial.”
Singh alleges that Radia's close ties with the BJP government extended beyond Kumar. “The BJP Government allotted a huge piece of land to Niira's trust in Vasant Kunj in 2002. L.K. Advani came to lay the foundation stone of the trust.”