Lobbying, crime and truth

Amitabh ThakurTough I have previously made some critical comments on the role of Vir and Barkha in the Bira Radia tape episode but today, I read the defence/ statement of the three big journalists Vir, Barkha and Prabhu Chawla who are finding their names making headlines (for wrong reasons) in the infamous Nira Radia tapes controversy and a different way of thinking started emerging. As we all know, the issues erupted initially in May 2010 when for the first time the Internet got flushed with supposedly leaked Top-secret documents of a senior police official.

On Point No 4 of one of its page was  written- “On Mrs. RAdia’s & Kanirozhi’s behalf Barkha Dutt & Vir Sanghvi were negotiating for ministerial birth DMK member especially Raja with Congress members.” As per the documents I have seen on the Internet, the document was in communication between two senior officials through a letter dated 16/11/2009. But at that time, the matter did not really take off and it slowly petered off. Now, this matter once again came into focus rather seriously when the supposed transcript of the conversations between Nira, Barkha, Vir and a new player Prabhu Chawla got surfaced.

To quote only a few selective speeches-

Barkha- Nira tapes:

Theek hai, not a problem. That’s not a problem, I’ll talk to Azad—I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR

Okay. Let me talk to them again.

Vir-Nira:

I was suppose to meet Sonia today but I’ve been stuck here. So, now it’s becoming tomorrow. I’ve been meeting with Rahul but tell me?

I won’t get into Sonia in the short term, let me try and get through to Ahmed.

Okay. Let me try and get through to Ahmed.

Prabhu- Nira:

Dekho in this country, donon side ko fix karne ka capacity hain.

(though another version presents this statement like this- Is desh me dsab kuch fix ho sakta ahi aur Supreme Court ka judgemebt fix karna koi badi baat nahi hai.)

Chotta bhai mobile jyada hai. Paise kam karch karta hai, kanjoos hai sabse jyada. Now I know what he is doing on the Supreme Court front. Various things.

Now look at some of the relevant portions of the defence being promulgated by the three doyens of Indian journalism.
Prabhu Chawla (on his blog)- Much has been made about a conversation that Nira Radia had with me. This is just to put the record straight. The 13 minute conversation had nothing to do with the controversial 2G of A Raja. Nira called me as she said “to seek my expertise” on the Battle for Gas” between the two Ambani brothers.

Baekha Dutt (on NDTV blog)- By definition, the insinuation of “lobbying” implies either a quid-pro-quo of some kind or a compromise in how I have reported the story.

As a matter of record, I never passed on any message to any Congress leader. But because she was a useful news source, and the message seemed innocuous, I told her I would.

At no stage was I ever asked to pass on any message to intercede on behalf of a particular minister or portfolio. Not once, was I asked to “lobby” for a. Raja.

Vir Sanghvi-

One conversation relates to a call Radia made to me (she called several journos) when there was a crisis in government formation. Could I pass this on to Congress leaders?

I had no intention of passing along the information but I strung her along and said I would because the conversation gave me an insight: the DMK would not back out of the UPA despite the hard line it was taking in public.

No message was ever conveyed by me. And Congress leaders have now confirmed that.

To say that each of the three are telling a lie would not only be blasphemous but would also be imprudent, impertinent and intentionally biased. As far as the transcripts available so far are concerned, in none of them any reference to any kind of gratification of money has been referred to. But at the same time, to say that they don’t give any inkling of use/misuse of the superior positions being enjoyed by these people for various purposes would also be incorrect. I say this because of the way these three prominent journalists are speaking with Nira during the course of which many important issues of very high sensitivity crop up where these people are flaunting their proximity and influence with very big names.

At the same time, the possibility that these people only used such big names and never really actually spoke to them, to keep their “journalistic sources” in good humour could also be very much there. Yet, a few fundamental question do arise pit the the entire episode-

1. Why did these people not react to these tapes immediately after they came into circulation in May 2010, when at least Vir Sanghvi himself has accepted that he had come to listen to them at that point of time?

2. Why were some common names featuring both in the conversations of Vir and Barkha?

3. Why is it that PR people in all places are able to forge so close and intimate contact with all those people who are influentially placed and have the capacity to influence policy matters and important decisions?

4. When Barkha and Vir say that they did not use the information in their journalistic work, either in writing or in broadcast, it does not really exonerate them because the accusation being made is not of doing Nira and company some journalistic favour but actually misusing their position of influence for nefarious purpose.

5. Why did the above mentioned top-secret document go to the extent of saying- “On Mrs. RAdia’s & Kanirozhi’s behalf Barkha Dutt & Vir Sanghvi were negotiating for ministerial birth DMK member especially Raja with Congress members.”

As far as the conversations being any kind of crime is concerned, the present state of information does not make it so. A reading of the sections 8 and 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act talk respectively of taking gratification, in order, by corrupt or illegal means, to influence public servant and taking gratification for exercise of personal influence with public servant. In both these cases, the first pre-requisite is to take gratification. The second one is to use it to influence public servant. In the case of above-mentioned journalists, such legal situation does not arise at all, as per the information available presently. This leaves us only with the debate about the morality and code of conduct of journalists about which there can be different views.

Amitabh Thakur, IPS, Currently at IIM Lucknow

अमिताभ ठाकुर का लिखा यह आलेख भी पढ़ सकते हैं- Nira Radia Episode and the Foreign Press

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