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Why Raja is correct

The insistent ringing of the telephone put me on my guard. Only Pertie could be so persistent. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Jul 30, 2011 22:26 IST

The insistent ringing of the telephone put me on my guard. Only Pertie could be so persistent.

“You guys are supposed to be well informed but you either get it completely wrong or you can’t see what’s staring you in the face.” It was quite a start.

“Just look at how the press covered the 2G story last week. I mean both what it said and, more importantly, what it failed to spot or build upon.”

“Do you mean Raja’s claim that the PM and Chidambaram were aware that Swan and Unitech sold their equity and had no problem with it?

And the fact this suggests their complicity?”

“It does nothing of the sort. And the reason is you guys didn’t understand what was said and, therefore, what you reported or wrote was not only wrong but rubbish.” I kept quiet. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Let me explain,” Pertie continued. “First, there’s a significant difference between a promoter selling his individual equity for a personal profit and issuing fresh shares, thus diluting the company’s equity, to raise money. Swan and Unitech did the latter. It’s perfectly legal. That’s how many companies raise capital. And the fact the PM and PC knew about it doesn’t incriminate them in the least.”

“Why do you say we got this wrong?” I have to admit I asked the question hesitantly. I felt Pertie knew what he was talking about.

“Didn’t you see Kapil Sibal tearing through his interviewers that night? They tried to suggest Raja had given the game away only to find Kapil telling them that diluting equity to raise funds was probably what their channels had also done. By the time he’d finished, Sibal was grinning from ear to ear.”

“But that’s not all." Pertie was unstoppable. “There’s a case you can make to suggest the PM has been less than vigilant but you guys either haven’t spotted it or can’t string together the facts to make a credible argument.”

“Well, go on Lord Know-it-all, make the case for me. Enlighten me, as I’m sure you’re dying to.” But my sarcasm was water off a duck’s back.

“Consider five facts. First, in 2006, the PM agreed to keep pricing out of the GoM. Second, in 2007, he failed to resolve differences between the telecom and law ministers over how to allocate spectrum. Third, again in 2007, he was either unaware of or ignored the fact that both the finance secretary and finance minister were pushing for an auction instead of first-come-first-serve.

“Fourth, after advising Raja to ensure fairness and transparency in November 2007, he failed to monitor and check if that had been done. And fifth, in December 2007, when Raja told him he was going to interpret first-come-first-serve in terms of compliance with the letters of intent and not the date of application, the PM did not demur. But this was ‘proof’ that Raja was fiddling with the rules.”

I was bewildered by Pertie’s knowledge. I hadn’t expected this. How had he come by these facts? More importantly, what did all this add up to?

“The questions this raises are two-fold. First, what did the PM know and when? And then, second, was he casual in his approach? Or did he suspect and turn a blind eye?”

“What proof do you have of this?”

“Only a mysterious note from January 15, 2008, written by the PM’s principal secretary, to say that the PM wants to be kept at arm’s length. Add that to the five facts I’ve given and ask what it suggests.”

The views expressed by the author are personal