Unholy Trio: Nira Radia, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi
by Amitabh Thakur on 21 Nov 2010 16 Comments
The Barkha-Vir-Nira tapes have created a storm all over the country. The nation, already reeling under the spectrum scam, wherein an ex-minister is being openly accused of massive misappropriation of the public exchequer, received a far greater jolt with these tapes, wherein it was revealed that Barkha Dutt, the renowned and widely respected star reporter of NDTV was heard discussing with ‘consultant’ Nira Radia how to manipulate formation of the UPA cabinet in Delhi, specifically the DMK share of portfolios and ber


Not one or two, but FIVE such tapes have so far come into the public realm (Transcripts links at end). There is at least one tape of a conversation between Vir Sanghvi, the authoritative and moralistic columnist of The Hindustan Times, with Nira Radia, and it is clearly about ‘fixing’ the cabinet, among other things.


Then there is an interesting conversation of ‘Mr Clean’ Ratan Tata talking about a business rival! All in all, an unedifying story of New Delhi’s corridors of power, which seem to move through five star corporate sleaze, official complicity, political connivance, and media collusion.


-        Theek hai, not a problem. That’s not a problem, I’ll talk to Azad—I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR [Race Course Road, presumably, the PM’s residence] - Barkha Dutt, celebrated NDTV journalist


-        600 crores! It is hard to argue with that kind of pressure.... Basically what they want is a little bit more flexibility. One more Cabinet, I suppose - Vir Sanghvi, Executive Director, Hindustan Times

Some of you might imagine what exactly these people are talking about. Well, as far as we can understand from the tapes, these words are being spoken by the high-priests of the India Media with Nira Radia, another renowned personality in her own way, about the formation of the Indian Cabinet in 2009, and the fixing of the berths and portfolios of a coalition ally from

South India!


‘The formation of the Indian Cabinet?’ – I hear you quip. “But what has that got to do with journalism?’


Well, like traditional Mumbai masala films, our media-persons possibly also need to be some kind of potpourri – Jack of all trades, to put it kindly, though media itself tends to be mighty less charitable in disposing of the high and mighty who might cross its path to glory.


In the tapes, Nira is heard talking to these two journalists about the composition of the Central government ministry, with special reference to the DMK. She requests these great persons to talk to influential people at the Centre to get particular members of the DMK inducted in the ministry. The two assure Nira they will do the needful. They bring up the names of some persons believed to be very powerful in the political structure and tell Nira they will do their best to help her out.


To quote some parts of the conversations between Nira and Barkha:

RADIA: No, they wanted to; they didn’t want any infrastructure, that’s what Prime Minister said, so he said that’s why they give him labour, fertiliser, chemical—and telecom, IT, they said for Raja. So what has happened is, is that message not relayed to Karunanidhi?


BARKHA: Oh I see!


RADIA: They might have told some minion down the line or told Maran who is not relaying the truth.


BARKHA: No, I’ll set it up as soon as they get out of RCR.


RADIA: What she saying is that, you know, that someone senior like Ghulam (Nabi Azad, senior Congress leader) because he is the one who is authorised to speak. ….


BARKHA: Theek hai, not a problem. That’s not a problem, I’ll talk to Azad—I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR [Race Course Road, presumably, the PM’s residence].

Some of the Vir Sanghvi-Nira Radia conversation goes:

RADIA: They had a meeting. I had suggested of Kani (Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK chief Karunanidhi) only. They talk about 4 formula and 1 independent. There was no issue. He has clarified everything that you had told them. There was a lot of relief from the Chief Minister’s side. But he is still under great pressure from Maran.


VIR: Where is it coming from?

RADIA: It is coming from Stalin and his isster Salvi. They have given 600 crore to Dayalu’s mother.

VIR: 600 crores! It is hard to argue with that kind of pressure.

VIR: Basically what they want is a little bit more flexibility. One more Cabinet, I suppose.

RADIA: If they stick to 3 and Kani gets independent, then Azhagiri, Baalu and Raja come in.


VIR: That is not so bad unless Maran is one of the Cabinets.

RADIA: Because Baalu and Raja thing is spread by Maran. If Narayan (national security adviser) was to come back tomorrow, let us look for Alaghiri, Baalu and Raja.

VIR: Actually Narayan anyway will talk to PM. He will not talk to Congress President. PMO will send feedback to Congress Party.

RADIA: So they will anyway speak to us, Naa.

VIR: yeah, yeah.

Once these tapes became public, the NDTV on behalf of Barkha Dutt, and Vir on behalf of himself, came out with some kind of defence:-

-        In response to the Open Magazine cover story dated 20th November 2010, NDTV would like to object in the strongest terms to the clear misrepresentation of conversations between Barkha Dutt and Ms. Nira Radia that took place in May 2009. In the pursuit of news and information, journalists talk to an array of people from all professional backgrounds; this case being an unfolding political story on cabinet formation, after the general elections. To caricature the professional sourcing of information as ‘lobbying’ is not just baseless, but preposterous. At every stage effective journalism involves engagement with a multitude of characters in the process of gathering news and information. To call this process ‘lobbying’ is a serious and defamatory distortion of journalistic practices. – Narayan Rao, CEO, NDTV


-        Moreover, there is nothing at all in the transcripts to suggest that I lobbied for Mr Raja. The conversations recorded relate to the phase when there was an impasse between the DMK and the Congress. Ms Radia called several journalists, including me, to ask us to convey a message to any Congress leaders we met in the course of our work. This message was, essentially, that the Congress was communicating with the wrong people in the DMK. While gathering news, journalists talk to a wide variety of sources from all walks of life, especially when a fast-moving story is unfolding. Out of a desire to elicit more information from these sources, we are generally polite. – Vir Sanghvi


Both have chosen to defend their conduct in similar language, citing journalistic concerns and pressures to tap sources for unfolding stories. Yet going through the conversations and the active roles played by Barkha and Vir in getting the work done, including talking to the highest quarters in the political echelons, one fails to perceive these conversations as part of legitimate journalistic work.


It really looks more like a foray into the unwarranted murky hinterlands of middleman-ship. It is true that there is not a single word in the conversations that remotely points to the exchange of money, but the very fact that one of the persons for whom Barkha in particular and Vir to some extent exercised influence, later got named in one of the biggest scams ever known in independent India, makes the entire episode very serious.


It warrants bringing them under some kind of severe scrutiny and penetrating scan. This is all the more so because of the kind of respect these names have commanded among the Indian masses through their writings and anchoring. Seen as icons of the middle class, they are now found faltering, caught in “dangerous liaisons”. There certainly seems to be an immediate need to get the matter enquired into and clarify the roles of these two individuals.

At the same time, this episode has also generated the issue of judicial impropriety and the need for a moral code of conduct for journalists. Each profession has a definite set of duties assigned to it. By no stretch of imagination can we assume or accept that the role of a journalist is to play a role in the formation of Ministries. So, if such things are found to be true, it does raise eye-brows.



Readers are advised to visit the following links to get a full flavour of the dimensions of the scam and form their own opinions:








The writer is an IPS officer, currently studying a the IIM Lucknow

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