Corporate and political fault lines got blurred on Thursday when Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata shot off a strongly worded “open letter” in response to BJP-backed Independent MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s missive a couple of days ago.
The former promoter of BPL Mobile had charged the Tata Group with, among other things, benefiting from policy flip-flops and flawed spectrum allocation by former telecom minister A Raja. He had also accused the group of “hypocrisy” and a failure to “live up to its image of ethical conduct”.
Rebutting the charges, Tata wrote: “Your affiliation to a particular political party is well known,” accusing Chandra-sekhar of trying to embarrass the Prime Minister.
He said a section of telecom operators, represented by Cellu-lar Operators Association of India, of which Chandrasekhar is an ex-president, was hoardi-ng excess spectrum and trying to subvert policy to suit their interests. “Many of the flip-flops occurred during BJP regime.”
And, a day after the Supreme Court ordered the probe into the 2G scam should go back to 2001, Tata, too, made the same demand, claiming that Raja’s 2008 policy had broken the powerful telecom cartel that was creating roadblocks to greater competition.
By evening, politicians had waded into what began as corporate mudslinging. Addressing a press conference, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said: “Ratan Tata must be making these disclosures with some knowledge for sure. The point is the opposition and primarily the BJP is not interested in the vindication of law.”
He was referring to the BJP’s ploy of stalling Parliament for 20 consecutive days to press for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the 2G telecom scam, which led to Raja’s resignation on November 14.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar reacted by saying Tata was “no judge” and that his views should not be given much importance as “he was a beneficiary of the UPA government’s telecom policy”.
Later, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitely said his party did not want to get into a corporate war of words.
Tata’s comments on flip-flops were in reference to policy changes that took place during the NDA regime in 1999, when the government shifted telecom operators from the fixed licence fee regime to revenue sharing. Again, in a U-turn in 2003, it allowed fixed line operators to offer mobile telephony. Telecom letter bombs
“Your company was the beneficiary of this ‘policy flip-flop’ and you chose to accept the benefits of this flip-flop at that time — despite this blatant violation and distortion,” said Chandrasekhar in his letter, which also accused Tata of getting out of turn allocation of spectrum under Raja.
“Tata Teleservices has not been advantaged in any way by Mr Raja or any earlier minister,” Tata responded, adding that a rival company “continues to subvert policy” and even paid fees for spectrum before the policy for its allocation was announced. By afternoon, Chandrasekhar, who Tata had accused of trying to lobby with the government for the benefit of his company and COAI, had sent out another letter charging Tata with ducking “the main issues” and instead, attempting “to shoot the messenger”.
He wrote: I’m only disappointed… that your letter is intensely personal, attributes feeble motives (including amusing political ones) and most unbecoming of the House of Tatas.”