THE NEXUS BETWEEN BIG BUSINESS and politics is neither new nor unique to India. But what the recent disclosure of recordings of phone conversations involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia exposes is the range of this relationship’s perniciousness and how it has corrupted the nation’s body politic. On one level, the leaked recordings are all about the massive undervaluation and misallocation of the precious electromagnetic spectrum used by mobile telecommunications companies; on another, they are about ministerial appointments being influenced by corporate interests.
The revelations, together with the spectrum scandal, paralysed the winter session of Parliament for three weeks as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government refused point-blank to accede to the Opposition’s demands to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the scandal. The government put up a brave face when the Supreme Court decided to monitor the investigations, led by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), but its representatives privately admitted that the episode had tarnished the image of not just the government but of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well. The latter’s had never before been in such doubt.
The focus of the scandal shifted to the prime minister when former Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Andimuthu Raja put in his papers, however reluctantly. Since Raja’s transgressions are in little doubt, the issue now is why the prime minister had chosen to ‘overlook’ them even as that redoubtable minister went about selling nearly 40 billion dollars worth of spectrum down the river.