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Why did it take 2 years for investigators to unearth this?

December 17, 2010 16:10 IST
Several Watergate elements seem to be echoed in India today, says T V R Shenoy on the similarities of the 2G scam with the Watergate scandal which brought down the Nixon presidency.

Here are a couple of quotes from Watergate-era America that should -- but probably will not -- give the Congress high command cause for thought.

The first is by Sam Ervin, chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee. Confronted by constant evasion, Ervin cut through the mess with a single question: 'What did the President know, and when did he know it?'

The second is often attributed to Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor who hauled Nixon before the US supreme court to force the president to release evidence. 'The cover-up proved worse than the crime.'

Both the question and the statement are relevant to the scam-ridden India of today. Specifically, how much did the prime minister know about the 2G scam? Did either the government or the Congress party try to cover up what had happened, or to bluster its way out of embarrassment?

The Delhi-based newspaper The Pioneer started running a series of articles on A Raja and the 2G scam as far back as December 2008. Essentially, everything that the Central Bureau of Investigation is reporting today was in the public domain two years ago.

Then Union law minister H R Bhardwaj warned the prime minister on November 1, 2007 about A Raja's plan to allot spectrum without an auction. The DMK minister wrote to Dr Manmohan Singh on November 2, 2007 that Bhardwaj was 'out of context'.

The tone of the letters -- and there were many of them that followed -- is revealing. Dr Singh seemed content to offer advice. Civil servants proffer recommendations; shouldn't prime ministers issue directives?

On December 26, 2007 A Raja informed Dr Singh that he was proceeding without auctions, and that he had been 'further enlightened by the external affairs minister and Solicitor General G E Vahanvati'. This, if correct, drags in both Pranab Mukherjee and the current attorney general.

Having turned a deaf ear to the soft-spoken prime minister, A Raja went to orchestrate the sale of spectrum. Dr Subramanian Swamy then sent a series of letters to the prime minister on the subject, starting on November 29, 2008. The Pioneer began its crusade against the sell-off at about the same time.

I was amused to read an NDTV report of December 9, 2010 that began with the words: 'Until Wednesday morning, no one had heard of Sadhick Batcha, a close aide of the tainted former Telecom Minister A Raja. But with the CBI raids today, he was the first man to come under the scanner.'

Really? 'No one' knew who Sadhick Batcha was?

The Internet is a treasure house of information, and Google took 0.49 seconds to turn up this report from the The Pioneer of December 11, 2008:

'Green House Promoters Private Limited was formed barely four months after Raja became a Cabinet minister (in charge of environment and forests) for the first time in May 2004. The Chennai-based real estate company was floated with an initial capital of only Rs 1 lakh, with A M Sadhick Batcha -- a close associate of Raja -- as managing director and Sadhick's wife Reha Banu as a director. Sadhick hails from the minister's Perambalur constituency in Tamil Nadu. Documents filed with the Registrar of Companies show that Raja's close relatives -- such as his brother, nephew, niece and a few others --subsequently became directors in the company. With these high-profile inductions, the share capital of the firm surged to a respectable Rs 3 crore within 14 months of the operations being launched.'

The same report added that A Raja's wife M A Parameswari joined Green House's board of directors in February 2007.

On December 15, 2008 The Pioneer followed this with another story. A Raja 'had apparently 'forgotten' to submit the required details when Parameswari first became a director in another company, Equaas Estates Private Limited, a real estate firm like Green House, which was established in September 2004. And as in the Green House case, the managing director of this company too was Raja's confidant, Sadhick Batcha. Raja's nephew R P Paramesh Kumar became the joint managing director... According to documents available with The Pioneer, it is this company which recorded a huge 'domestic' turnover of Rs 755 crore in the very first year of its operations.'

I don't blame NDTV -- nor any other media outlet -- for not knowing all this, but why did it take two years for government investigators to unearth all this when a single newspaper did it so long ago?

Obviously, someone in Delhi knew something or else Sadhick Batcha would not have been one of the first to be raided. So, why did they keep quiet for so long?

Finally, on April 29, 2010 The Pioneer reported that 'Telecom Minister A Raja was on Wednesday at the receiving end following fresh revelations on the 2G spectrum scandal by The Pioneer about his nexus with a woman public relations lobbyist, who played a key role in the scam. The report was based on excerpts from authorised telephone intercepts of Nira Radia and showed that she was in touch with Raja.'

In other words, even the Radia Tapes make stale, seven month-old news.

The April 29 report carried this interesting titbit. Yashwant Sinha, speaking for the BJP, said, 'There are records showing phone tapping. We had demanded that the government form a JPC. What is the government's position?'

To which Pranab Mukherjee responded: 'On all these issues, we will have the opportunity of holding discussions with various political parties. Either the prime minister or I will come to the House... I am not running away.'

The stonewalling on the call for a JPC is as stale as the news of the Radia Tapes. There was ample time between the Budget Session and the (repeatedly adjourned) Winter Session to discuss everything. If the government were serious...

Speaking of the Radia Tapes, they seem to have been recorded at the instance of the Income Tax authorities. Is there any truth to the rumour that the self-same authorities have traced a money trail to a senior politician down in South India?

Will we get a 'Yes or No' response from the government, or must we await another story by The Pioneer?

Several Watergate elements seem to be echoed in India today. Both stories were picked up by newspapers fighting a lone battle at first, The Washington Post back then and The Pioneer today.

Tapes played a role both times in forming public opinion, the White House recordings in 1974 and the Radia Tapes today.

The US supreme court was instrumental in bringing the truth out into the open just as its Indian brethren are doing today.

May we hope for the sake of that fundamentally decent man, Dr Manmohan Singh, that he does not meet the same fate as Richard Nixon?

Tailpiece: I wish Ratan Tata had not entered into a battle of letters with Rajeev Chandrashekhar. Even if you overlook that the former is by far older, shouldn't the head of the House of Tata be above such scraps?

T V R Shenoy