Niira Radia is Madam Power


Outlook India

The elections, Western style, is the only criteria to be considered for any country to be qualified as a “democracy.” India, of course, has ritually held elections since its independence from Britain in 1947 and has called itself the “largest democracy.” But beyond that, the system is as rotten as it can be. The Transparency International’s 2010 report on corruption ranked India at 87th place out of 178 countries. The people in India don’t need any reports to tell them how corrupt the entire system is because they experience it everyday. On the other hand, corruption in nation’s upper echelon has been confirmed by the recent “Radiagate” scandal–India’s WikiLeaks.

While the United States is busy saving its face in the wake of the WikiLeaks’s release of the cables of US diplomats’ conversations around the world, some Indian politicians (in power and in opposition), industrialists, journalists, ministers, lobbyists, and others are trying to extricate themselves from the mess they’ve been plunged into due to the release of the telephone tapes of conversations between them and Niira Radia–probably the greatest lobbyist India has ever seen. It is alleged that she herself has accumulated a decent amount of money too; Rs.300 crore, i.e., over US$66 million.

Although nothing in today’s world should come as shocking or unbelievable, the scope of the corruption and Radia’s hold and influence over some in the the establishment is pretty impressive. Also impressive is the list of people on the above Mother Board. The two bothers, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, and Sunil Mittal are #4, 36, and 87 respectively on Forbes’ World’s billionaires. Ratan Tata, another business person on the Mother Board, is a billionaire too but because many of his companies are managed by charitable trusts he is not on the Forbes’ list. Kamal Nath, the Minister of Road Transport and Highways, is called 15% by one of the lobbyists–which may prompt the Pakistani President Asif Zardari, who is known as Mr. 10%, to raise his percentage. (Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas brother Raul was also known as Mr. 10% during his brother’s reign).

A. Raja, on the Mother Board, is the former Communications and Information Technology Minister, who sold the 2G Spectrum phone licenses at prices one may find at a garage sale. This has cost the Indian government $35 billion in revenue losses. And what is the reaction of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? The Outlook magazine’s Assistant Editor Saikat Dutta points out that he is not worried about “the subversion of the entire political process, in fact, of his cabinet itself, by corporates, as revealed by the Radia tapes,” but “instead, Manmohan sought to focus on assuaging corporates and other stakeholders on the question of invasion of privacy.”

The kings (or queens), merchants, and priests have usually been an important trinity of the ruling class in the past. Nowadays the trio is known as the governments, corporations, and religious right. But today’s ruling class is incomplete without the fourth pillar, the news media. (The celebrity power cannot be ignored too.)

The reporters from the corporate media who hobnobs with the elites can’t be expected to present a clear picture of what the government is doing–basically, their goal is to keep the public confused. But with the “Radiagate” scandal, people are getting a clear picture of the media too. In one of the tapes, the conversation between Radia and journalist and talk show host Vir Sanghvi (former editor of the Hindustan Times) prompts the latter to ask: “What kind of story do you want?” In other words, you tell me whatever you want, I’ll write, and the people will believe–and thus the rotten system will continue.

Few scapegoats will suffer some sort of punishment but the system will stay intact. What is going to happen now is that the ruling classes the world over will become more careful. After some time the people will forget and things would be as usual.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

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