New Delhi: She can
talk casually about a designer gown she hasn't found an occasion
to wear with industrialist Ratan Tata and chat up with the same
ease with some of the most powerful people in politics, business
and media to allegedly fix the telecom ministry for A. Raja.
Kenya-born and London-educated Nira Radia was perhaps destined to
fly high, but little did she know that she would be trapped by
tell-tale tapes one day and become the face of a multi-billion
Not many knew about her till Open magazine three weeks ago blew
the cover off 5,800 reported taped conversations from Radia's
phone over a six-month period in 2009 that stunned the nation with
intimate disclosures about the incestuous world of the powerful
The tapes show the chameleon lobbyist talking with top
industrialists and star journalists, hard-selling DMK politician
A. Raja's bid for the second stint at telecom ministry. Even as
more skeletons tumble out of the closet and insinuations are being
made about her being an agent of a foreign intelligence agency,
there is very little known about her background and her meteoric
rise to fame.
Radia, said to be in her fifties, moved to London from Kenya in
the 1970s and schooled at the elite school Haberdashers' Aske's in
northern London. She graduated from the University of Warwick and
got married to UK businessman Janak Radia, a Gujarati. The
marriage did not click and the divorced Radia moved to India in
mid-nineties. She started off as Sahara liaison officer and soon
became India representative of Singapore Airlines, KLM, UK Air.
It is during this time she forged her powerful contacts in the
civil aviation ministry, the government and the media. By this
time, Radia's sprawling Chhattarpur farmhouse was generating much
buzz among New Delhi's bold and beautiful.
Some of her prized contacts included Ananth Kumar, civil aviation
minister during NDA's tenure in 1998-99, and Ranjan Bhattacharya,
foster son-in-law of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She
tried to float an airline, Crown Air, in 2000, but the plan did
not take off.
In 2001, she set up Vaishnavi Communications, followed by Noesis,
Victom and Neucom Consulting.
Radia's big-ticket break came when she bagged all 90 Tata group
accounts in 2001. She is rumoured to have such an influence over
Ratan Tata that the top industrialist does not tolerate anyone
speaking ill of her to his face. Another crowing moment was when
Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited joined her clients'
list in 2008.
What made her tick?
"She was leveraging the power of her clients who are some of the
most powerful businessmen in the country," Prashant Bhushan, a
senior lawyer who filed a public interest litigation seeking the
prosecution of Raja on the basis of the taped conversations of
Radia, told IANS.
In 2009, her ambitions soared further as she moved from corporate
lobbying to fixing the lucrative telecom ministry, resulting in a
scam that depleted the national exchequer by billions of rupees.
Her overarching ambition perhaps became her nemesis when a
suspicious IT department taped her conversations at the time of
cabinet formation last year in UPA-II. Those tapes have now become
part of the national conversation, showing a small elite
subverting the system with impunity.
Fresh tapes of Radia's conversations released by Outlook magazine
reveal her telling Tarun Das, then chief mentor of the
Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), that DMK chief M.
Karunanidhi was insistent party member Raja retain his portfolio,
despite questions over the manner in which airwaves were allotted
to telecom firms.