Everything You Need To Know About the 2G Tape Scandal
If you haven’t heard of the tape scandal supposedly incriminating top journalists like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, you’d be forgiven. Other than Open magazine and Outlook, the Indian mainstream media (by which we mean the newspapers) have predictably remained schtum. If you couldn’t be bothered to trawl through the articles and recordings, here’s a quick breakdown of the controversy. That said, we encourage you to listen to the audio clips, which have been posted on both Outlook and Open magazine’s websites and judge for yourself.
What’s the deal with the tapes?
In short, the tapes in question, which contain several tapped phone conversations authorised by the government during 2009, supposedly reveal Dutt, Sanghvi, and a host of other senior journalists from outlets like India Today and The Economic Times, and industrialists like Ratan Tata talking to political lobbyist and PR maven Niira Radia (whose clients include the Ambanis and Tata Sons) about issues like the Telecom ministry appointment, the Ambani gas feud, and the division of the power sector in Maharashtra.
Not quite. Parts of the conversations, recorded between Dutt and Radia, and Sanghvi and Radia, apparently contain damning evidence that politicians, fixers, and journalists are uncomfortably hand-in-glove when it comes to acting as mediators and swaying national decisions, like for instance, trying to get A. Raja the Telecom job. We say apparently because while Dutt and Sanghvi have come out in defence of their conversations, saying it was part of their job and that they never followed through with what they are heard promising, there’s enough ambiguity in certain statements to let it fall both ways.
So what’s on the tapes?
There are several taped conversations (more than 104 according to Outlook), though two sets in particular seem to be in the eye of the storm. In the first set recorded in May 2009, Dutt, Sanghvi, other senior journalists and industralists talk to Radia about the breakdown in communication between the DMK (the coalition party of now resigned Telecom minister A. Raja) and the Congress about assigning ministries, particularly the much coveted Telecom portfolio to Raja. At one point in a recording between just Dutt and Radia, you can hear Dutt offering to set up meetings between two politicians (you can listen to the taping on Outlook‘s site). Though its not clear whether Dutt followed up (you can read her defence here), you can hear her asking Radia about conveying a message to Congress: “So now what, what should I tell them. Tell me what should I tell them?”
In the second set of recordings between Sanghvi and Radia in June, 2009, the conversation centres around the Ambani brother feud over the pricing of gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin that was decided by the Supreme Court in May. Sanghvi allegedly offers to coach Mukesh Ambani for an upcoming interview with him, and also to spin his Hindustan Times column “Counterpoint” in his favour, which he ended up not doing eventually. According to The Wall Street Journal he tells Radia: “What kind of story do you want?” and “That message we will get across, but what other points do we need to make?” and that his column “can’t seem too slanted.” In another conversation recorded in May 2009, Sanghvi, like Dutt, supposedly offers to act as a mediator between the DMK and Congress by talking to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Sanghvi, who posted his defence on his website, has flatly denied that he lobbied for Raja to get the Telecom ministry or that he spun a column in favour of Mukesh Ambani.
So now what?
Now that they’ve both posted defences, it’s unlikely that Dutt or Sanghvi will resign or that Indian media will be affected much. The tapes, however, will be used in a petition seeking to prosecute Raja in the 2G scam. In other words, all in a day’s work for the world’s largest and most corrupt democracy.