http://ibnlive.in.com/news/devils-advocate-arun-shourie-on-radia-tapes/136034-3.html Hello and welcome to a special Devil's Advocate interview with one of the icons of Indian journalism on the Nira Radia tapes. My guest today is the former editor of Indian Express Arun Shourie. Karan Thapar: Arun Shourie let us start with the Nira Radia tape where you yourself are the subject of discussion. The voice speaking to Nira Radia reveals that he has arranged for you to be replaced by Venkaiah Naidu as the lead speaker from the BJP side on the 2009 Budget. Let me first ask you. Did this happen? Arun Shourie: Yes there is no doubt. I was to open the debate on the Budget and I had worked for one week to speak on the matter and at the last minute, actually I had reached the House I was told that the previous night Venkaiah Naidu had decided to speak. As he had been the party president so he will speak first. My turn would come after all the 13-14 speakers had spoken and I would be the second speaker for the party in the time that would be left by Venkaiah. Karan Thapar: Now the second thing that the tape suggests is if you had been the lead speaker then you would have taken a hard position on a proposal in the Budget which was going to help Mukesh Ambani hugely. But by replacing you with Venkaiah Naidu the person had ensured that the line taken by BJP would be more accommodating and more understanding. Arun Shourie: Yes! I think that was essentially their objective. It was clear from the tape that that was the objective. They may have apprehended this because once I had spoken about that particular proposal in an adverse way in a party meeting. How they got to know of it? Anyhow they got to know of it. I may or may not have spoken about it on the floor of the House. But this was their fear. Karan Thapar: So the reason for replacing you with Venkaiah Naidu was to protect a proposal that would benefit Mukesh Ambani? Arun Shourie: Well that proposal had already been announced by the finance minister. But as the revenue secretary as the tapes reveal had clarified the thing so as to say and thereby neutralised the whole proposal. Karan Thapar: Now two conclusions seem to follow from this. First that senior leaders of the BJP are susceptible perhaps even influenced by lobbyists. Would you accept that? Arun Shourie: Well I would actually think that all parties are of the same nature in the sense that if you are becoming a national party, you would need resources to get it from these persons. Second is if you are a businessman you would have to be prudent enough. You see different parties are in power in different states so you must have relations with all parties. Similarly if one party is rising you will bet and make sure and there are many avenues, for instance take this one case. Big lawyers are prominent in all political parties. So as a prudent businessman you spread your brief to all lawyers and gain access top different political parties. Karan Thapar: So are you surprised that Venkaiah Naidu, a former party president of the BJP, was someone who could be approached clearly by lobbyists and used, if I can use that phrase in this case. Arun Shourie: Firstly I would not know about Venkaiah Naidu personally. But there is no doubt for instance that these gas projects off the Andhra coast and anybody looking after these gas projects would also be known to Venkaiah Naidu. On that there would be no doubt. Probably would be known to me also. Karan Thapar: Now second thing revealed in the tapes is the belief is that the reason you would have taken a hard line on this proposal that would benefit Mukesh Ambani is because you had already allied with his brother Anil who had undertaken to help you get re-elected to the Rajya Sabha. Is that true? Arun Shourie: No! This is the conspiracy theory by which this kind of a liaison is being justified and the fact of the matter is nobody ever said this to me. An if the BJP as it was is not prepared to sponsor me or nominate me to the seat, why would some Samajwadi Party fellows waste their votes on a fellow like me when the BJP itself is denying me the ticket. Karan Thapar: So this is fanciful? Arun Shourie: This is just a theory to rationalize and justify what is being done. Karan Thapar: Now the voice on the tapes speaking to Nira Radia who I have been referring to all along, hasn't been identified. Do you recognize that voice? Arun Shourie: No doubt. Everybody who listens to the tapes will know it is my good college friend NK Singh. What is the problem with that? Karan Thapar: The gentleman who was the secretary to Vajpayee. Arun Shourie: He was the secretary to the prime minister. He was the finance secretary at some stage. He was a member of the Planning Commission and my college friend. Karan Thapar: Were you surprised by the role he was playing? Arun Shourie: No, we have known him since college. Karan Thapar: Does that suggest that you expected no better? Arun Shourie: Well this is his habit and his skill. Karan Thapar: Have you discussed this particular conversation with him after it was revealed? Arun Shourie: No, not with him. Actually I want him to come and listen to the tape and then tell me. But I did share it with very senior people in the BJP and outside the BJP and they were so out of date as to be alarmed. Karan Thapar: So out of date as to be alarmed? Arun Shourie: Yes! They said this is unbelievable. That just shows that you are out of touch. Karan Thapar: But this is also in a sense an answer to a question I asked earlier that just as Nira Radia and other lobbyists had access to Congress politicians, they had similar access to BJP politicians. Arun Shourie: I would think that tapes reveal that. She is a very talented lady. I have met her once. Obviously she knows more people than I in the brief meeting. Karan Thapar: Let us come to what Nira Radia tapes tell us about Vir Shanghvi and Barkha Dutt. You have listened to the tapes and in your assessment as the icon of Indian journalism, do you believe they were only acting as a go between messages or were they behaving like lobbyists? Arun Shourie: Well of course, they are saying we never delivered the messages. Actually I find that incredible because an astute and shrewd person like Nira Radia would at once know if her messages are being delivered or not because she would at once meet the next principal and know that. Second you have to look at the tone of what is being said. The tone is not a tone of a journalist enquiring or getting information. There is another tape of Nira Radia with Navika Kumar of Times Now. There it is a journalist getting information or Nira Radia giving information which she carries. Karan Thapar: What's the tone on Vir, Barkha tapes? Arun Shourie: Of a great familiarity, policies and so on. It is a message how raja should get telecom and Maran should not get anything related. Karan Thapar: You said two-three very important things which I want you to get confirmed. First you are saying you don't accept their defence that they stringing Nira Radia along, the tone as well as the fact that Nira would have double checked, both suggest that they did deliver the messages that they were asked to deliver. Arun Shourie: I think so. Then there is the third fact. There is the confirmation of the messages being delivered by cross reference in other conversations of Nira Radia with other people. Karan Thapar: So their defence in your eyes simply does not hold water. Arun Shourie: Not really. It is better to just say that I did this rather thanâ€¦ Karan Thapar: Better to own up than deny it? Arun Shourie: Yeah. In the circumstances because the defence doesn't sound plausible listening to the tapes. Karan Thapar: Second key question. Was it appropriate for journalists to carry messages asking for particular individuals to be made minister or to be not made ministers or for particular portfolios for specific individuals? Is that an appropriate message for journalists to carry? Arun Shourie: Yes and no. We are citizens also. Let us take an example like defence or a matter that has already taken place. We have Naxalite things going on and I feel that Shivraj patil is not doing a proper job and I feel that Chidambaram would do a perfectly good job, a better job than that. When I convey that opinion to the prime minister not as a journalist but as a citizen it is one thing. But if I am trying to get a particular person a lucrative portfolio then I don't think if I am doing it in case of Raja that it is because he is going to carry forward India's telecom revolution. Karan Thapar: So in the case of Raja it was inappropriate. Arun Shourie: In appropriate or in the case of Raja a great misjudgement and his abilities to carry forward the telecom revolution. Karan Thapar: A third question. In these messages clearly Vir and Barkha were using the access and influence that they get because of their profession or because of their employers. Was this correct use of that access or was it misuse of that access? Arun Shourie: In this particular case I certainly feel that it was because no higher purpose is revealed in the tapes. Karan Thapar: So it was misuse? Arun Shourie: I would think so. Karan Thapar: Now Vir and Barkha say that they were looking for scoop in terms of who would become a minister or portfolios he or she would get. But there are others who point out that both of them have deliberately not looked at or not picked up a bigger scoop that the DMK was using corporate lobbyists to lobby Congress for telecom portfolio and that the corporate lobbyist was herself involved in telecom relations with Ratan Tata and possibly Mukesh Ambani. That this was a much bigger story that DMK uses corporate lobbyist to lobby telecom. They didn't even pick it up or didn't deliberately. Do you agree with that criticism, with that viewpoint? Arun Shourie: Actually it is quite obvious that Radia was in telecom policy making, allocation of licences and so on. Well informed journalists like Barkha would Vir also have known that. They are quite intimate and friendly with her. Karan Thapar: Should they have revealed to the world because some people say this is a better story than trying to find out who is going to become a minister. Arun Shourie: Well I that don't know. If they are taking up the subject of telecom, yes they would have revealed the story. But otherwise the fact is the conversations are confined to who should get which portfolio and the tone certainly does not suggest that they are trying to scoop some information Karan Thapar: What about something else. The tapes suggest that Vir was prepared to include in his Hindustan Times column Counterpoint an anger or a view point that Nira Radia was giving him. The tapes also suggest that he was prepared to do scripted interviews. What do you make of that? Arun Shourie: Firstly on that we will have to take Vir's words also because he says that actually that was my own point of view. If Nira Radia has also the same point of view its one thing. Karan Thapar: Do you accept such a coincidence is likely or do you think it is implausible? What do you say on that? Arun Shourie: I would have to get into Vir's mind and history to know that. I would not know. Karan Thapar: So you have your doubts? Arun Shourie: Well, I could have a doubt or doubt either way. I could also accept his explanation on that count. Karan Thapar: Are Vir and Barkha who are themselves also two icons of journalism, they are extremely highly regarded, they have a great track record, but are they today damaged become of these revelations? Arun Shourie: You see we should be discriminating. If a friend asks, a friend can be in legal trouble and asks me for help on law, well I will say your lawyers have done a job, I will look it over. No problem with that. But I would not then try to conceal it and than give it some artificial thing that I was trying to increase my knowledge of law by going through the particular explanation. Karan Thapar: So the concealment is the real problem? Arun Shourie: The explanations that have been offered don't stand up. Karan Thapar: It would have been better rather than explain and conceal if they had made a clean breast of it and admitted? Arun Shourie: Yes, definitely. Say I am close to so and so and no problem. But then the onus falls on the reader or the listener to keep those earphones. Karan Thapar: Now Vir and Barkha are not just individuals but one is a columnist and an Advisory Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times and the other is the Group Editor of NDTV. Has this damaged the institutions they work for? Arun Shourie: I think the overall record of many institutions like this is just further confirmed by such revelations. This is not for the first time. Karan Thapar: This has corroborated the doubts that anyway existed in people's minds about all sorts of institutions? Arun Shourie: And about the media in general. The Mitrokhin Archives said how Russia was, how Soviet Union was able to plant stories suppressed by the Indian media. This privatetreaties.com, two-three journalists reveal it, completely suppressed by the Indian media. Paid news, the Press Council asks for a report and then the Press Council, the great bastion of freedom suppresses that particular report. Karan Thapar: This is one more? Arun Shourie: This is one more. Karan Thapar: So this is underlined and corroborated the concerns people have with the media? Arun Shourie: Yes, and the media should wake up to that. Karan Thapar: Mr. Shourie, now let's come to how the media has responded to these revelations about senior journalists. Many people say that the media goes hammer in turn to expose politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists. But in this instance, with one or two exceptions, the media has kept almost completely silent? Arun Shourie: Yes, it has a well-proven capacity to look the other way. Karan Thapar: Is this double standards? Arun Shourie: Of course, they are double standards and they are injurious to the media itself. One of the remedies must be that the media talks about itself with the same objectivity and openness as it talks about other institutions because the media is a very precious institution in democracy. Karan Thapar: So when major newspapers and major television channels remain completely silent and don't mention this, don't discuss it, don't analyse it, they're injuring the media as a whole. Arun Shourie: Yes as much as the corporates who then try to undermine institutions? We have to all realize that you see institutions including the media are the banks of a river. They enable the river of democracy to flow. When we erode this, when we shut our eyes to what is happening, either in other institutions or in our own institution, we're eroding the banks and the river will not flow. Karan Thapar: In this instance, the media, which is the bank is crumbling and the river as a result is threatening to flood? Arun Shourie: Flood. Indeed it will Karan Thapar: How much damage then has this done to the way in which the media is perceived, you ended part 1 by saying there were already serious question marks about the media. Have those question marks grown bigger? Arun Shourie: Oh Yes. No doubt about that. In been in two cities in the last three days and everybody talks about the media. 'Did you see?', 'did you hear?' (Dekha aapne, aapne suna). Did you realize? Did you know this is happening? Every place, investors, financial officers, everyone. So, I would think that one of the things that somebody should do is to please listen to the tapes. Somebody should, some enterprising company should put CDs out of these tapes. It's a very good glimpse into how policy is made, how the media functions. Karan Thapar: It's eye opening. Arun Shourie: It is eye opening and thereby everybody will then become very skeptical about what they hear and what they read. Karan Thapar: Now, my last question. What steps does the media as a whole need to take to ensure the journalists behave appropriately and don't allow themselves to get caught in such conflicts and situations? Arun Shourie: I think the main thing is that sunlight is the best disinfectant. So, as we talk about others freely and openly with well documented exposes, so must we talk about the media? That is the central remedy and I think the media is short sighted by not talking, for instance, about the tapes and the implications these have. These formal rules of ethics are not going to work. I remember 10 years ago the editorial, the Editor's Guild was drafting all these ethical conduit rules. They got nowhere. It's exposure in the public that is our faith about remedying other institutions that should be our faith about our institution as well. Karan Thapar: So just as politicians are scared of the media, that the media will expose their wrong doing, so do journalists should be wary that their own peers in their own profession will expose them if they commit some fault? Arun Shourie: Yes. Karan Thapar: We are the best check of ourselves? Arun Shourie: Absolutely. And we should not seed that responsibility to anybody else because then all sorts of other problems arise. Karan Thapar: So it's not just in our own interest, but to protect our independence we must be the regulating authority of our own profession? Arun Shourie: And not by sitting up in yet another council but by freelance writing about each other. Karan Thapar: Arun Shourie, a pleasure talking to you. Arun Shourie: Thank you.