A public discussion on the above topic, organised by the Delhi Samiti of Lok Raj Sangathan took place in the Hindi Bhavan in New Delhi on 28th January 2011. Among those participating in the meeting were journalists, academics, students from the three Central Universities, as well as political activists from different organizations.
The meeting was chaired by LRS President, Shri S Raghavan and Ms. Sucharita. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Senior correspondent, Shri Paranjoy and Prof Bharat Seth, LRS were among the participants who led the discussion.
Prof Seth said that the Radia tapes show the real nature of Indian democracy because she was an insider of the system with access to the top industrialists, bureaucrats, politicians, editors and media anchors. At the outset he said that truth revealed by the exposure should not be seen as a nexus between these players but actually they are one team who coordinate to achieve their goal. He gave examples of how monopoly industrialist Tata benefited from the spectrum allocation. Tata sold one fourth of the allotted spectrum to Docomo for seven times the amount he paid for the total spectrum! This clearly showed that allocation was done at a less than 4% of its value in the market. After Tata and another rival industrialist began a public slanging match as to who was corrupt and who was "clean", the result of which was further exposure of the nature of this system, politically astute defenders of the system, like Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stepped in and advised them to stop the tu-tu mein-mein. After this, sure enough, the media attention shifted to rivalry and allegation of wrong-doings by ruling and opposition parties and to various other inflammatory issues like Telangana to suppress further exposure and discussion. However, the significance of the exposure can be seen from the fact that Prime Minister had to carry out a reshuffle of every Minister whose name appeared in the Radia tapes even though his reshuffle otherwise looked absolutely pointless.
Prof Seth, then went on to talk of the nature of Indian democracy, the dominance of money and political parties on the political process, the concentration of power to take decisions in the cabinet, lack of accountability of elected members to the electors, marginalisation of people from the political process with no power in the their hands to recall their ‘representatives’, etc. He emphasized that it was the system and not just some greedy individuals that was responsible for the state of affairs. He opined the need for deep-going changes if democracy were to empower and serve the people. He concluded by saying that one of the urgent tasks of organisations and individuals, who wanted to serve the people, was to bring the truth revealed by the exposure in the public consciousness. Another task was to help organise the people in their places of work and residences to enable them to play their rightful role in the political process.
Shri Paranjoy pointed out to the root of corruption in the system. He said that in spite of rules limiting the expenditure by candidates, big capitalists with access to a lot of black money, fund election campaigns in a big way. Their influence reaches much further as Radia tapes show, including in the formation of the Cabinet itself. In India, agencies like Radia’s are not known as lobbyists but euphemisms like ‘image managers’, ‘media managers’ and ‘public relations consultants’, etc are used. Naturally there is a quid pro quo, and the government returns favours to those who helped them elect their candidates. He said that just change of one sentence in the policy can lead to 1000s of crore profit for the monopoly companies. Elaborating further, he gave examples of Radia’s conversation with Tarun Das and N K Singh, to illustrate what kinds of mutually beneficial deals are made. He also talked of media and how money plays a role in what gets published. He expressed alarm at the way the national resources were being drained for profits. He felt that the exposure is a good thing and that we have to take if forward.
Shri Prashant Bhushan began his intervention by talking about how fixers like Radia are used by the corporate houses to push their agenda. As an example, he talked about Finance Minister, Mukherjee trying to pass a law that will benefit Mukesh Ambani by lakhs of crore Rupees. He talked about how media served the agenda of the corporate houses giving the example of a leading journalist writing his columns exactly as dictated by Radia in the tapes. He referred to the comments of a leading journalist Chawla in his discussion with Radia, on how decisions of High courts and the Supreme Court were being fixed by definite corporate houses, and that this information was widely known. He recounted two cases that he had had personal experience with, which show that the big corporate houses control all aspects of life. In the first one, he described how Zee company’s loan of Rs. 300 crores from IDBI was first blocked by Mukesh Ambani, because Zee was about to show a documentary film that exposed Mukesh Ambanis Reliance petrochemicals involvement in massive adulteration of petrol, by selling paint thinner to non-existent companies and diverting it to petrol pumps all across the country. Mukesh Ambani told the Zee owner that he would not sanction the loan, unless the film was withdrawn. Soon as Subhash Chandra agreed to the same, Mukesh Ambani phoned the IDBI chairman to sanction the loan.. In the second case, he talked about a loophole left by the government for companies registered in Mauritius to repatriate profits earned in Indian stock markets without paying any tax. However this could be used only if the owners of the company were in Mauritius. When an Income Tax department officer pursued one such company and found that it had nothing in Mauritius, and owners were in Europe, and profits were being made in India, he slapped taxes on that company. Within three days, then Finance Minister in the NDA government, Yashwant Sinha, got a circular sent to the Income Tax department, changing the rules, and declaring that such companies should not be asked to pay taxes in India. When this matter was taken to the Delhi High court and when the court declared it a fraudulent practice, the government got the ruling overturned in the Supreme Court. Thus the fraud continues to this day.
Shri Bhushan also talked about the plunder of India resources through privatisation of monopoly sectors such as mining and airports. To illustrate the point he pointed out that the government only gets Rs.27 when one tonne of iron ore is exported to China whereas the monopoly capitalists make a profit of Rs. 4500. He felt that Radia tapes reveal that India has already become a banana republic, where a small clique determines the policy of the state. He urged everyone to come forward to stop the rot. He concluded by stressing on the need for people’s united action to bring accountability of all government officials, politicians and judges.
In his intervention Shri Jaspal Singh Siddhu, a senior journalist, said that exposure has proved that media is in the hands of the corporate. He said the business model of print and electronic media is such that it cannot survive without the help of the state and corporate houses. He also said that the major political parties, including the parliamentary left parties are all working for the ruling class.
Shri Priyadarshi, a journalist, said that Radia tapes had conclusively shown that the present system could not be reformed just as car could not be converted into a helicopter by tinkering.
Discussing a question about removing corruption from media, raised by a student participant, it was said that media profits come from advertisements and this ties them to corporate interests. Only by taking media out of profit motive can media corruption be removed.
Shri Arjun, leader of the Peoples Democratic Front of India, said that the basis of corruption is capitalism itself since it is based on profits which is nothing but appropriation of social surplus. He pointed out that right from the Tata-Birla plan in 1947, to Ford Foundation funded green revolution, to liberalisation to allow entry of finance capital in various sectors, policy has been driven by profit motive. He also felt that it was not possible to reform this system but a new power had to be created.
Shri Satya Paul, veteran social activist, pointed out in his intervention that the Government has not found it fit to create a committee to investigate all the cases brought to light by the Radia tape exposures but took no time to appoint a committee at the behest of Ratan Tata to investigate how the tapes got leaked. He felt that people have to get involved if a change has to come. He pointed to the urgent need for people to have greater say in the electoral process by say, rejecting all candidates. He felt that in this system, the winning candidates may be getting merely 10% of votes, which clearly implies no mandate for the winner.
Shri Prakash Rao, Secretary, Lok Raj Sangathan, said that the more you listen to the Radia tapes the more your mind gets opened about the real face of this democracy, which also hints at the direction for the way ahead. Listening to sections of the tapes, we hear leading journalists and Radia discussing the financial troubles of Anil Ambani, and there are enough hints that the Samajwadi Party was roped into the nuclear deal as quid pro quo among other things for releasing the pressure on Anil Ambani, who was very close to the Samajwadi party at that time. There was a threat to deploy the Shiv Sena against one of the Ambani brothers in Mumbai. The close connection of the DMK and Congress as well as the NCP leaders with various industrialists has already been discussed by earlier speakers. There can be no illusion that these political parties, as well as the BJP and other NDA parties, are closely tied with the corporate houses and do their bidding. One of the Radia tapes mentions CPM leader Prakash Karat in connection with Reliance’s desire to take over the Haldia refinery in West Bengal. This example hints at one strategy for privatisation, i.e., first the public sector unit is identified by corporate houses, then the government control of PSU is used to make it sick and then its privatisation is justified.
He pointed out to other exposures, which also reveal the real face of Indian democracy. For example, BJP leader Sushma Sawraj had remarked after a series of bomb blasts in public places a couple of years ago, and bombs were found on a tree in Surat in Gujarat, that these were organised by the State. Later, under pressure from her party, she had to retract her statement. Similar suspicion is also there about the attack on Indian parliament in 2001, which was used to pass draconian laws like POTA. At that time, a leading light of the Congress Party, Mani Shankar Aiyar, openly alleged that the state was behind the parliament attack. Later, there was silence, and innocent people were convicted.
Shri Prakash Rao said that the real fight was between the people of India and the rulers. A lot of countries claim to be democracies including Tunisa, Egypt and India, but in each case, it is a small number of elite who dictate. We can see massive uprisings taking place in Tunisia and Egypt and such a thing is necessary in our country as well. Indian people will assert their right to be masters of the country, sooner rather than later. They will not tolerate the rule of the big industrial houses, if they come to know the full reality of how our country – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary — are all under the thumb of the biggest monopolies. The time has come to replace the existing political system and process with a political system and process in which power vests with the masses, not with the monopolies. He disagreed with the view that "everyone is corrupt" or "everyone is a thief". Such views are propagated by the elite to make the people give up their demand for an alternative system. He agreed with previous speakers that it was good that these exposures had taken place. He said that we should understand the system on the basis of science and work to build the new.
Shri Paresh talked about how vested interests are able to totally impose their plan whether or not it is in the interest of the people. He elaborated his point by taking the example of universalization of iodized salt, which has gotten rid of small manufacturers and driven up the cost of salt; when the Goiter disease, which it is supposed to prevent, only afflicts people living in the hills.
Shri Pravin said that the system is not god-given but has been made by mankind. So people can certainly change it. He talked about the strength that comes from unity and said that one of the crucial requirements was building organisations of the people. He felt we have to keep pushing for our demands for people’s candidates in place of party candidates and steps for putting the elected representatives under people’s control.
In their concluding remarks, the Chairpersons focused on the tasks emerging from the discussion. They questioned why people should tolerate this system and called on everyone to mobilize others to develop our alternative to this system. It was announced that LRS will hold a discussion every month to facilitate discussion on important topics.