I apologise to Kamal Nath for calling him corrupt, says the former CII head

While Niira Radia's lobbying on behalf of A. Raja for the Telecom portfolio in 2009 is now well known, the latest tapes to surface in the ever widening scandal known as ‘Radiagate' point towards the role of the former head of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Tarun Das, in getting Kamal Nath the office of Minister of Road Transport and Highways.

In one of his conversations with Ms. Radia in May 2009, when the process of Cabinet formation in the UPA-II was still on, Mr. Das boasts of how he had suggested “big time” for Mr. Nath to be given the key infrastructure portfolio. This despite him accusing the Congress politician of “mak[ing] money” by skimming “15 per cent” from projects under his charge.

When Ms. Radia asks about the induction of some Ministers in the UPA-II and says Mr. Nath's allocation of portfolio was a “bit shocking,” the former CII Chief Mentor reveals that he had batted for Mr. Nath to get the coveted Ministry. “Between you and me,” he tells Ms. Radia, “I had suggested it for him... I had suggested it big time.”

Accusing Mr. Nath's predecessor — Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's T.R. Baalu — of messing up highway development work during his five-year tenure in UPA-I, Mr. Das says: “Because highways construction and road construction is really a priority… he [Mr. Nath] will do a good job. “He is a doer,” he asserts.

Accusing the Minister of corruption, Mr. Das says Mr. Nath can still make his “15 per cent” on this. “You can do national service and also make money… and do really something worthwhile here,” Mr. Das says, to which Ms. Radia's responds: “This is still an ATM [automated teller machine] for Kamal Nath.” “Absolutely,” says Mr. Das.

Asked by The Hindu how he could speak of a Minister doing national service if he was “also making money” and why he pushed for Mr. Nath's candidature despite harbouring apprehensions about corruption under his watch, Mr. Das said his “15 per cent” remark was “irresponsible and unfortunate.”

I regret that, he said. “Loose talk. My public apologies to Mr. Nath.”

Denying that he had lobbied on behalf of Mr. Nath, he said he perceived the Minister as a “doer” who had the “ability to get things done.” “Hence, in exchanging ideas with people about a wish list of responsibilities, I did talk about ‘Surface Transport' for him.”

Referring to his use of the term “big time,” Mr. Das said he meant “forceful.” “I really felt strongly he was the right man for the job. I was really happy he was allotted Roads and Highways,” he added.

Claiming that he did not lobby for Mr. Nath, Mr. Das said: “Please remember the context. Everyone at that time was discussing, speculating and expressing views. Please see this conversation in that context. This was a wish. I hoped that those who decide these things would think of him for this job. Nothing more, nothing beyond,” he added.

During the same phone conversation, Ms. Radia also talks about Anand Sharma being made Minister of Trade and Commerce and asks whether Mr. Das knows him. “I know him reasonably well... not so well… we will have to brief him… educate him… he is new to this whole industry area... but he is a trusted person,” he adds.

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