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Act or we could become banana republic: Tata strikes back

Govt should take a stand,book those guilty,says Ratan Tata after his lobbyist’s phonetaps.

Written by Express News Service | Mumbai |
November 27, 2010 2:25:03 am

Cautioning that the environment of scandals was damaging the country’s image,Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata said here today that if the government did not step in and uphold the rule of law,there was every possibility that India could slide down the path of becoming a “banana republic.” He added that he would have “no hesitation of telling the Prime Minister that.”

Speaking to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta for NDTV’s Walk The Talk programme — to be broadcast tomorrow — Tata said the mood in the country had swiftly deteriorated.

“It is a murky time,it is a confusing time,just a couple of weeks ago we were sitting on top of a summit or a mountain top with President Obama showering praise on what we had done,talking about maturity,talking of our having emerged and not being an emerging force,” Tata said.

“And then we have somewhat slipped into a morass of series of allegations,unauthorized tapes being flooded,the media going crazy — alleging,convicting,executing,literally character assassination — and in fact I think in so doing there’s been a smokescreen behind what is really the so-called scam,” he said,referring to the spectrum scandal that led to the resignation of Union Telecom Minister A Raja.

Tata’s public comments are the first since tapped telephone conversations involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia,journalists and businessmen,including Tata himself,were made public by Outlook and Open magazines in connection with reports about the spectrum scandal. Radia,who has been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate,represents the Tata group,among others.

The real scam,the chairman of Tata Group which also has a large telecoms business,said was “out of turn allocation of spectrum,hoarding of spectrum by important players for free and things of this nature”.

“So I think these are bad times. I wish the government would take a stand,bring order to the thing,have an investigation,book people who are guilty of something but stop this sort of banana republic kind of attack on whoever one chooses to attack,on a basis unsubstantiated,” he said,adding that he did not use the phrase “banana republic” lightly.

“Banana republics are run on cronyism,people of great power wield great power,people of lesser power or people who have fallen out of power go to jail without adequate evidence or their bodies are found in the trunks of cars,” Tata said. “The danger is that you could degenerate into that kind of atmosphere unless necessary parts of government play their role in upholding the law.”

Asked if he saw evidence of crony capitalism,Tata replied that he saw some evidence of it,particularly when it came to “large contracts being awarded,conditions of contracts becoming a little vague,eligibility of capability being abused”,among others.

Praising the Prime Minister,Tata said: “I think he should be concerned about the nation going in that direction (towards a banana republic)…Here is one person who is truly above the allegations thrown at him,his face is the face of transforming India. He doesn’t deserve this kind of humiliation.”

Referring to Radia,Tata said his group hired her to represent it to be heard better and convey its point of view more effectively. “Never once in our association with her have we tried to subvert policy,move policy. Yes,we have advocated level playing fields,we’ve advocated change of policy through her or directly but never once have we done something to exploit a political or a policy issue. Never once have we used her to make payments or to seek favours and we have had a good professional relationship with her,” he said.

Radia also represents Reliance Industries and Tata said there was no conflict in her doing so as the two groups had not been competitors. However,with the corporate tussle between the Ambani brothers having been resolved,Mukesh Ambani’s RIL was expected to enter businesses such as telecom and power and this could lead to some conflict. “Today with the two sides coming together I think there’s more of a chance of conflict and Niira would eventually have to make up her mind what she wants to do.”

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