Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gopal Mama

I’m overwhelmed with a truly warm feeling just thinking of one of my favourite uncles, Gopal Mama. An enduring image from my very young days is of his broad smile. Gopu Mama, lanky and wiry, bald with black framed glasses and long long fingers. As a child, those fingers held a special fascination for me – whether he was clicking away on his camera (Gopu Mama was an accomplished photographer), spinning the ball when he played cricket with us, or packing little samples of ores and minerals into neatly labeled packets (“fool’s gold”, “quartz”,…) which was our initiation into his world of geology. And, of course, the image of him, wiggling his long fingers, teasing us that he’d tickle us with them. “T-o-r-m-e-n-t-o-r”, he’d laugh and get us all squirmy without even actually tickling us.

Gopal Mama was special to us. He was especially close to Shouri, since they –- technically an older nephew and a younger uncle -- were very close in age, practically siblings and childhood playmates. And, in all of Shouri’s family, he was the closest to my mother. How we looked forward to his visiting Delhi and staying with us, joking with us and keeping us regaled with stories! And to visiting Madras and staying with him. The memories of us jumping into the car with Suku, Sridhar and Shobha, going to the Snake Park and having boas round our necks are still so vivid. On a later trip, Gopal Mama took us all to Kanchipuram and also to Mammalapuram, telling us not only about the monuments and temples there but also about their construction, the stone used, and a wealth of other information. How lucky we were to have Nature’s mysteries opened to us – one uncle introducing us to plants and trees, another to rocks and stones, and a friend of my father’s to the world of wildlife.

Another indelible memory is from a visit in June 1983 to his home in Nungambakkam. The cricket World Cup final was on, and the whole family (Veena’s family was over too), was gathered around the TV, watching that tense gripping match. India had not put up much of a score, 183, and there was a doleful air amongst all of us. But Sandhu (I remember Jayant gently correcting his father, who had mistaken him for Bedi) gave all of India a moment of sheer joy by pegging Greenidge’s stumps back. And then Kapil Dev took that magical catch, and then the wickets began falling. Hope once more, and bated breaths. Amidst all the tension Gopu Mama went to the toilet, and while he was away, a couple of wickets fell. Then there was a bit of a stand. We started joking with him that another trip there would yield a wicket, and he winkingly obliged us by downing a glass of buttermilk and pretending to head out of the room again. A few more quick wickets, this time of tail-enders, and India was on the threshold of victory. Gopu Mama had worked his magic again! He was our man of the match.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

People who live in glass houses shouldn't.

(Something for Headlines Today to “introspect about”)

The publication of the recordings of telephone conversations between lobbyist Niira Radia and several journalists by Open and Outlook magazines generated much discussion in the media. CNN-IBN broadcast a show anchored by Karan Thapar, in which several senior journalists (N. Ram, Sanjaya Baru, etc.) discussed how media personalities such as Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi had crossed the line. NDTV then gave Barkha Dutt an opportunity to answer the allegations of power-brokering in a show anchored by Sonia Singh, where Ms Dutt faced questions from Dilip Padgaonkar, Sanjaya Baru and Manu Joseph (editor of Open Magazine). The less said about her performance, the better.

On 2 December 2010, Headlines Today broadcast a (live) panel debate: “Experts debate Radia tapes' impact”. The show was anchored by Rahul Kanwal, and the participants were Vir Sanghvi (then Editorial Director of HT Media), Prabhu Chawla (Editor, Languages, India Today) MJ Akbar (Editorial Director of India Today), N. Ram (Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu) from Chennai, Hartosh Singh Bal (Political Editor of Open Magazine) also sitting in Chennai, and Dilip Cherian (Lobbyist, Consulting Partner at Perfect Relations).

The entire broadcast can be viewed at the following site: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Video/121822/42/Videos/experts-debate-radia-tapes-impact.html where it has been segmented into 20 parts. Fortunately for us, Headlines Today is rather proud of this show, and over a week later continues to highlight it in its promotional spots. There is considerable irony in Headlines Today airing a show on journalistic ethics involving the Radia recordings, since the channel had been in possession of them for several months, and had carried a story till the names of two journalists from the India Today group – Prabhu Chawla and Shankkar Aiyar – cropped up. The India Today group was, in the words of a friend, holding two lumps of kryptonite. There is also more than some irony in N Ram speaking on journalists transgressing the line.

After the usual introductions, the show aired portions of the controversial conversations between Niira Radia and the journalists.

Vir Sanghvi, who was charged with acting “as a middleman in Radiagate” and of having taken dictation from a lobbyist and printing this verbatim in his column, spoke live from a balcony in Bangkok. He delivered a prepared statement in which he explained, rather unconvincingly, his version of what had transpired and gave a rather weak apology for his conduct. Subsequent releases of conversations by Outlook totally belie any claim on his part that his column was not a cleverly dressed up statement from Niira Radia.
I am not going to comment further on Vir Sanghvi’s statement but will focus on another farcical aspect of this broadcast.

In Part 10 of the debate, N Ram was asked to give his opinion on Sanghvi’s statement. He correctly and unhesitatingly termed Barkha Dutt’s defence of her conduct (the previous night , on the NDTV show) “pathetic”. He was also right in calling VIr Sanghvi’s explanation unconvincing – and he quoted at length from the transcripts of the conversation and Sanghvi’s articles while commenting about them. He concluded by dubbing Sanghvi’s conduct “a transgression of professional norms”. Anchor Rahul Kanwal added helpfully that action should be taken against the “guilty journalists”.

Now let us examine how the same gentlemen, Kanwal and Ram in particular, applied very different standards when discussing the conduct of the other participant who figured in the controversial recordings, namely, Prabhu Chawla. First, Chawla was (oddly enough?) not “accused” by the anchor of any specific misconduct.

Part 4 of the broadcast aired excerpts of Prabhu Chawla’s conversation with Niira Radia (the call took place on Jun 20, 2009 14:32:07 and the recording was 13:07 minutes long). Having previously heard the recording of this conversation (#82, put out by Outlook magazine on their site (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268406), I immediately felt that several critical portions had (deliberately) been omitted. I went back and listened carefully to the recording on the Outlook site (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268406) and starting with the transcript provided there, made the corrected transcript for this conversation that is attached. I have marked which portions were omitted by Headlines Today in their broadcast, and it should be clear that by leaving out these critical portions, Headlines Today gives a misleading picture about the nature of the conversation. In particular, it crucially omits portions where Prabhu Chawla mentions actions of his which may have constituted gross violations of journalistic ethics.

A brief summary of the conversation is that it that took place 5 days after the Mumbai (Bombay) High Court’s judgement on the Ambani brothers’ dispute over natural gas. Niira Radia was touching base with Prabhu Chawla’ for his opinion on the dispute and the judgement. During the conversation Chawla indicated that he knew both the litigants well, and clearly stated that he had tried to intimate Mukesh Ambani some days before the judgement that it would be adverse to him (M. Ambani). This portion has been cleverly omitted by Headlines Today in the excerpts that it aired. The legal implications of Chawla’s statement are not clear to me, but it is certainly clear that it would not be very ethical conduct on part of a journalist. Niira Radia conveyed her view that the judgement was unfair, whereas Chawla’s position was that the dispute between the brothers was not a good thing for all concerned. A fair part of the conversation consists of opinions and gossip about various individuals, how the “system” works, and specifically that both the Ambani brothers try to “fix” judgements in their favour. The second portion of the conversation that has been elided mentions details of the judgement, and comprises gossip about various politicians, people working with the Ambanis, and people from the legal profession. The conversation moves to tactics that may be applied by the litigants when appealing the judgement in the Supreme Court. In the third and fourth elided portions, Chawla hints to Radia about information he has obtained, (perhaps through his son), and strongly hints in guarded but coded language at a specific kind of message that she should convey to Mukesh Ambani, very likely about a possibly unethical legal tactic “on how to approach the Supreme Court” (stated in what can be called a rather triumphant tone).

One should maybe do what Rahul Kanwal failed to – make the allegation against Prabhu Chawla of transgressing limits of responsible journalism, acting as an operator/fixer/go-between for business interests, passing inside information to interested parties and unsolicited advice on actions of a possibly dubious nature in a matter concerning the Supreme Court.

In his response, which appears in Part 11 of the broadcast, Prabhu Chawla chose brazen obfuscation as his defence strategy. He claimed that he had been accused of advising Niira Radia {his conduct is far more problematic than that, since he seemingly wished to pass information about an impending judgement in the Bombay High Court gas case to one of the parties}. He raised the irrelevant issue of what some other journalists had written, and then absurdly claimed that no one was hearing the tapes carefully. He claimed that in the conversation that he was “very angry” with the behaviour of the Ambani brothers, yet his tone in the recording is a far cry from an angry tone, and indeed very different from the almost apoplectic blustering that he currently was displaying.

He claimed that the tape was “fractured”, whereas there is no indication in the recording (put out by Outlook) that it was, and then brought in a conversation of M K Venu (whom he called Venugopal) with Niira Radia about the same judgement, quoting from it to buttress his claim that he was only stating a belief, an opinion to which he was entitled, that the judgment was fixed. He however, offered no explanation – as e.g., Barkha Dutt was asked to provide – why he didn’t write about the judgement being fixed, which is what one would expect from a journalist following a story. He finished with an all-too-loud protestation of innocence, and gave a rather measly apology for, if at all anything, gossiping and speaking loosely.

In Part 12 of the debate, Hartosh Singh Bal, after rubbishing Vir Sanghvi’s defence and also pointing out that Open did not carry the Chawla conversation because that may have involved contempt of court, correctly raised the issue of the transcript on Prabhu Chawla’s site misrepresenting a crucial word (at time point 2:02 in the conversation). Chawla’s transcript states “probe on him” instead of “forewarn him”. (Outlook’s transcript incorrectly has it as ``forewarn you’’).

Prabhu Chawla pressed on with “probing on him”, paradoxically stating that he agreed with Mr Bal. Then he raised the red herring of there being other issues on which he wanted to “probe on him”. When he came around to accepting that the word might be “forewarn”, he claimed that there were other reasons he was talking to Mukesh Ambani and that he wanted to “forewarn him” about something else. (He has elsewhere said he wanted to meet Nita Ambani, and still elsewhere that he wanted to invite Mukesh Ambani for the India Today conclave). This defence is disingenuous, since the very next line in the conversation is an interjection from Niira Radia: “ki Judgement uske khilaf aa rahaa hai”, to which he assents (Haan haan). He continued to insist, without basis, that his transcript was correct.

In Part 13, Chawla continued to obfuscate, blustering on about journalists not being clear about the sequence of events: he asked how there could be a question about him being involved in fixing the Supreme Court judgement when it hadn’t yet happened at the time of the conversation. He went on to claim that there is no word “judgement” when he is alleged to have said “forewarn”, trying to hide from everyone the fact that the very next words from Radia confirm that the reference was about the Bombay HC judgement, to which he had assented, as is very clearly present in the recording carried by Outlook (and which words were cleverly left out in the Headlines Today excerpt). Chawla then, even more disingenuously, claimed that he had nothing to do with the Bombay High Court, since he was in Delhi. He claimed again that there were breakages in the tape, and that he had not doctored the transcript. Both these claims are unsupportable.

At this point, sensing that the question was getting too uncomfortable for the channel’s interests, on the specious plea that both had made their points, the anchor Rahul Kanwal quickly moved the discussion to Dilip Cherian, to talk about Niira Radia’s rise and “lobbyism”. Somewhere through Cherian’s anodyne answers, Akbar interjected with some sharp observations. And then (against the flow of the conversation), Akbar “agreed” with N Ram (who hadn’t actually said so in the programme) that “journalism lives and dies by credibility”.

At this point, in Part 14 of the broadcast, N Ram, with little in the preceding discussion to buttress this contention, announced “to be fair to Prabhu” that Chawla “had no case to answer for”. He claimed to have read the excerpt from the transcript (from Chawla’s website), and cleared him of any professional misconduct (with a figurative nod towards the issue that Bal had raised, but which seemed to strike him as a minor issue). He didn’t bracket him with Vir or Barkha. To me, this was shockingly dishonest or poor journalism or both – one wondered whether he was indeed in the same room as Mr Bal who was sitting next to him; one wondered why, if he could quote extensively from the Sanghvi transcripts, he couldn’t have listened to the Radia-Chawla conversation; and one wondered why he had chosen to look at Chawla’s version of the transcript, in which Bal had pointed out a crucial error.

What transpired then was even funnier. Ram raised the totally irrelevant issue of passing on a message to the Congress (as if that were the worst crime that had been committed by the journalists), for which “why go to Prabhu Chawla when one could have gone to Ranjan Bhattacharya?”. Unfortunately for him, Chawla could not understand that he was being given a clean chit, since it was so backhanded; he counter-attacked Ram and made snide remarks about Akbar and Ram’s role in advising governments, etc.

Ram had to later reiterate his clean chit to Chawla in clearer terms (it wasn’t a Siidhi Baat, the first time around) and only then did the latter visibly relax.

Ram, even more disingenuously, said that he couldn’t understand why Chawla needed to be part of this discussion (ostensibly since he didn’t consider him in the same bracket as Vir and Barkha, but with an oh-so-clever smirk). With eagerness, Rahul Kanwal explained why it was so important for the India Today Group to have Chawla on the programme, and that he had “taken the questions head on”. {Come on, Ram and Kanwal, it was all too obvious that Headlines Today needed a publicly issued clean chit to Chawla,; the studio air was thick with collusion}.

Chawla was still edgy and persisted in digging himself deeper into a rut by now mentioning a significant elided line, but again crucially distorted as “Kya judgement uske khilaf aa raha hai?”, trying to obfuscate further by talking about the illogic of some unnamed journalists.

The rest of the show was carefully orchestrated to avoid the discomfort caused by the question raised by Bal. In part 15, Kanwal did not allow Hartosh Bal to speak, first offering a non-existent question to Ram, then moving the conversation to Cherian, and then talking about tweets from viewers. To his rhetorical question, “Can journalists brazen it out?”, one can only respond that we had just witnessed one do so, with the connivance of some of his colleagues.

Mission “Clean Chit to Prabhu” accomplished, the rest of the debate degenerated into some mutual back-scratching between Akbar and Ram, with Ram talking of his Asian College of Journalism, after a favourable plug from Akbar. To Akbar’s wisecrack about whether this was the Bofors of the Indian media, Ram talked about cover-ups. Nice inside joke, Akbar and Ram, but we just had witnessed a cover-up job by Headlines Today. Hartosh Bal tried to reinject some idealism into the conversation with an important point on legitimacy of sources, but the rest of the conversation was mostly self-promotion (Ram about Reader’s Editor at The Hindu, Chawla on his being a teetotaler, Kanwal plugging Headlines Today)

Kanwal concluded by informing us, “this programme has been a completely unscripted, live show; nothing has been predecided, everybody had their say. You can’t cast aspersions on others without looking in.”

Well, Rahul-ji, if you live in a glass house, you can look in. I hope you are receiving your paycheck at the end of the show, because you did a superb job of rigging your show to clear one from your own organization. What you just anchored was an example of dishonest journalism; it should have raised your pretty-picked eyebrows. Perhaps you can explain to us how cherry-picking excerpts from a dodgy conversation can be “unscripted” and not “pre-decided”. And did you let poor Hartosh Singh Bal “have his say?” {I love being able to imitate Rahul Kanwal’s sincere admonitions, talking truth to power}.

And maybe Mr Ram can explain the logic which holds Barkha Dutt passing on a message from Niira Radia to the Congress to be deplorable, but makes it okay for Prabhu Chawla to (attempt to) pass on a mssage to Mukesh Ambani about an impending HC judgement, for him to pass advice to Mukesh Ambani on “how to approach the Supreme Court”. Mr Ram, you just became the “journalist who defended the indefensible.

{This version makes some corrections to the version posted by Outlook. Any further corrections will be appreciated. Parts elided by the Headlines Today are clearly marked, and appear in red. Outlook also posts a link to Chawla’s own version. }

Niira Radia: Hi Prabhu

Prabhu Chawla: Yeah tell me now
{both speak, stop}

Niira Radia: Nahii nothing, I was just wanting to understand from you. You always have a very good perspective.

Prabhu Chawla: {(laughs) ha ha ha} On what?

Niira Radia: On everything bhai, ha ha ha ha. Generally you have a good perspective. I was trying to understand what is your view of this great... historic judgment.

Prabhu Chawla: Which one? The Bombay one?

Niira Radia: Bombay one. Which takes the family pact above the national interest.

Prabhu Chawla: {(laughs) ha ha ha ha ha ha} You see when the brothers are involved, …

Niira Radia: Haa
Prabhu Chawla: … the nation also gets involved, naa?

{The following portion of the conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Niira Radia: Yeah, but probably not a good thing naa. Not good for the nation.

Prabhu Chawla: Not good for the nation, but the brothers don’t talk to each other. There is nobody who can force them to talk also naa?

Niira Radia: Wo to hogaa hi nahii Prabhu tum bhii jaante ho

Prabhu Chawla: Maine koshish kii thi., nahii huaa. maine kahaa ho jayegaa

Niira Radia: Nahii. Abhii nahii. I was speaking to him even recently, I spoke to him this morning, the question of ..

Prabhu Chawla: (interrupts) is he back from wherever he had gone, Mukesh?

Niira Radia: He is very much here, he has been here the whole week.
 He’s not gone anywhere

Prabhu Chawla: He was abroad last week I think.

Niira Radia: No no no.

He was here.

Prabhu Chawla: Anyway, somebody told me that he is abroad.

Niira Radia: NO NO NO. He has been here the whole week. He’s not been anywhere. He is not due to travel till next week.

Prabhu Chawla: Haa because maine to. But he doesn’t. Sometimes he responds. Abhii I have stopped calling him and talking to him, ...

Niira Radia: No. He’s been here the whole week. I just spoke to him this morning also. He is very much here. He is not supposed to go anywhere till next week.

Prabhu Chawla: Nahii. Maine to usko... somebody… I didn’t… Usko maine 15-20 din pahle message bhejaa thaa. Then he responded. Then I asked again. Then he never responded. Maine usko message nahii bhejaa phir…. Because the whole judgement was coming, yaa, I wanted to forewarn him.

{end of portion of conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Niira Radia: Haan… Ki judgment uske khilaaf aa rahaa hai?

Prabhu Chawla: Haan Haan, Arrogant hai naa. uske saath kyaa kare? Uske arrogance, dono bhaaiyyon ki, samajh mein nahi aatii mere ko 

Niira Radia: Nahii. But Prabhu tell me one thing. Judgement is fixed, right?

Prabhu Chawla: Dekho in this country, dono side mein fix karne kii capacity hain. Par baRaa bhaai jo hain naa.. Chhotaa bhaai mobile jyaada hai. Paise kam kharach kartaa hai, kanjoos hai sabse jyaadaa. But he is more mobile than the elder brother. Elder brother doesn’t want to go beyond what Dhirubhai left behind with him. Men or people, whatever. I think… You are getting what I am telling?

Niira Radia: I understand. 

Haan Haan

Prabhu Chawla: He is totally depending on the people who Dhirubhai created. They were relevant at that point of time. Now they are not relevant. Anil Ambani has done… has developed new sources, new contacts, new way of thinking. That can be possibility of Mukesh ko apnaa… uskii wife bhi thoRaa dictate jyaadaa karti hai. Anil kii wife nahii kartii hai. The way things are moving, Mukesh, poor fellow, is not able to get the right feedback,... because of insulation from various other sources. And I know what he is doing on the Supreme Court front. Various things. Which is not the way to go about.

Niira Radia: Hmm.

Prabhu Chawla: What he doing it is known to every pers… rest of the world. Which is not good. Usko thoRaa… If he has to…. because everything is fixed now these days.

Niira Radia: Haan

Prabhu Chawla: Ab Supreme Court mein reverse ho gayaa, then he is finished forever, yaar! If he doesn’t get a favourable judgement from Supreme Court, then he is finished, naa?

{The following portion of the conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Niira Radia: Hmm. But Prabhu ek baat bataauuN?

Prabhu Chawla: HaaN?

Niira Radia: Abhi to Supreme Court kaa, between you and me, to finalise huaa bhii nahin?

Prabhu Chawla: Finalise kaa matlab kya hai? Bhai Murli Deora bhii jaayega court mein. Murli Deora ko … Prime Minister is also putting pressure on Murli Deora to settle it. Because ultimately it is national loss naa, as you put it. {not intelligible} Itnaa mehanga ho raha hai fuel, ab 90 dollars ho jayegaa 2-3 mahiine meiN, if you are not able to take out gas from your own sources, then there is a problem, naa. Country should bloody not suffer because of these two brothers.

Niira Radia: That’s right. Which is what Mukesh has also told Anil very clearly. What is the issue? Anil …usne kabhii apne gas ke liye manaa kiya nahin. Usne kaha tera 28 mmcd [mmBtu siidhi?] bantha hai. Agar NTPC 12 nahiiN letaa to teraa wo bhii bantaa hai. Theek hai? Lekin jo 2.34 ki price hai wo government ki domain hai, mein us mein decide nahin kar sakta as I’m an operator. Uska point limited woh hai. Prabhu, I don’t know, aapne MoU dekha hai? Maine MOU …I don’t know whether you have seen it, but I will show it to you. MOU mein aisa kuchh likhaa nahiiN hain.

Prabhu Chawla: Nahii. MoU mein pataa nahiin, maine dekhaa nahiin isiliye I can't say, frankly speaking , and MoU mein, agar court ne order kiya, toh kisii basis pe kiyaa hogaa naa. Padhaa hogaa court ne.

Niira Radia: Nahin. Uska court kaa order meiN, 328 pages meiN I can give you anything, I can tell you, woh pen drive bhi jo use kii hogii naa, Prabhu, woh jo telecom kaa TDSAT kaa judgement huaa naa, dual technology kaa Vahanvati ne jo karvaya hain, Dr Sarma.. Baad meiN Raja ne phir Dr Sarma ko TRAI chairman banaa diya. Woh … I’m guaranteed ki same pen drive use kii hogii

Prabhu Chawla: hahaha (laughs)

Niira Radia: Mein tumko dono judgement aamne saamne dikhake, dekh lo, dono paRlo. Usme jo… Tumhari dono wordings meiN…

Prabhu Chawla: Goolam Vahanvati is an old friend of mine. He was in Indian Express. When I was editor of Indian Express, he was our counsel in Indian Express. Meraa bahut achhaa dost hai puraanaa. Nusli Wadia ke saath thaa pahle. Nusli Wadia brought him. He was a good friend of Nusli, I think even now he is with . [inaudible] He was with Sharad Pawar also. But he is very close to Anil Ambani. Everybody knows about it. And appointment.. Anil Ambani, Nusli Wadia and our kya naam hai? power minister, Shinde, they all went for him naa for the appointment of [inaudible]. Bhardwaj never liked him. Bhardwaj would not have made him the attorney general agar Bhardwaj law minister hotaa. Ab ban gaya wo. The question is these brothers have to come to the conclusion themselves first. Kyuunkii agreement to hogaa Court meiN jaa karke. Supreme Court ne order dono ko acceptable de diya, that can be one way of looking at it. KyuuNkii abhii to you are basically… this whole judgement will decide the future of both of them naa? More of Mukesh than of Anil. {Kyunki} Anil kaa to saalaa power plant hii shuruu nahiiN huaa, usko gas ka kyaa karni saale ko?

Niira Radia: Judgement meiN usne 17 saal to likhaa nahiiN hai. mujhe lagtaa hai kal se gas to de denii chaahiye. Usko bolo chal tu le. Kya karegaa uske saath? Kuchh nahiiN kar saktaa

Prabhu Chawla: Aur le nahin sakta. Thiik hai, lelo utthaa lo gas jaa kar ke

Niira Radia: Aur paise do uske liye.

Prabhu Chawla: Haan paise do, bech saktaa nahii kisii aur ko. Judgement is you can't sell it to anybody else naa?

Niira Radia: Correct, correct.

Prabhu Chawla: Theek hai, bhai. That, that… let Mukesh sell it wherever he wants to sell it. That should be the… Ab Mukesh kaa objective kyaa hai, I don’t know. You are not clear. Because unkaa yahaaN jo Anand Jain to baahar ho gayaa mere khayaal se. He is out, naa?

Niira Radia: Nahii nahiin, he is very much there. Again ye Anil ki philaaii hui baateiN haiN. Yeh galat baat hai. MaiN usko itnii baar khud dekh chukii huun.

Prabhu Chawla: I’m just saying. I don’t know, because people on both sides are haraamis, advisors.

Niira Radia: Nahiin, ek baat, sach baat, bataa duun tum ko. Anand Jain is very much there. Manoj Modi is very much there. Mukesh is very much there.

Prabhu Chawla: Manoj Modi is little more professional

Niira Radia: He is very professional

Prabhu Chawla: Manoj Modi very much professional. Anand Jain thoRaa politics kartaa hai kii uskaa apnaa dhandaa bhi hai. He has more influence on…

Niira Radia: But is matter meiN Manoj Modi jyaadaa hogaa na nazdiik?

Prabhu Chawla: Haan, Manoj Modi jo bhi hain, but now Supreme Court mein to aana hi hai case. Anil Ambani ne caveat file kardii. Kal parson kii.

Niira Radia: Woh toh karegaa naa. He has to safeguard his interests.

{end of portion of conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Prabhu Chawla: But if you have access to Mukesh, just convey that the way he is going about the Supreme Court is not… I won’t give you anything more than that. It is not the right way.

Niira Radia: Nahin, “not the right way” matlab? You’re saying – “He is going to Supreme Court, he shouldn’t go to Supreme Court”?

Prabhu Chawla: No, No, No. The way he going to the Supreme Court. I won't tell you more than that. The people which he is using, they are not the people who can be trusted for keeping it to themselves.

Niira Radia: Hmm..

Prabhu Chawla: Bol dete hain, ab London mein baith ke kuchh bhi kuch bolta rahe. Achchaa nahiin lagtaa naa, it gets back. London is like… London is not London. It is a phone call away.

Niira Radia: Hmmm..

Prabhu Chawla: Usko thoRaa… He must be… Political system bhii Delhi meiN change ho gayaa. Mukesh. Mukesh ne bhi.. People may be projecting whatever he is close to Sonia, he is close to Rahul, he is close to this. But may be he has got access, but he can’t influence anything. Collective zyadaa ho gaya naa. Kamalnath can decide one thing but he can be overruled by Pranab Mukherjee. Yeh saare loose ends ko tight karnaa paRta hai naa?

{The following portion of the conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Niira Radia: Maine tumharaa London kaa point catch nahiin kiyaa

Prabhu Chawla: Matlab, he is trying to understand how to go to the Supreme Court.

Niira Radia: I don’t think so Prabhu, tumko yeh kisne bataya?

Prabhu Chawla: ChhoRo na ab.

Niira Radia: Nahiin seriously, main tumse kyuuN chupauuN baat? Sach-much. I mean. Come on.

Prabhu Chawla: He has to go to appeal in Supreme Court or not finally?

Niira Radia: Agreed. He is appealing to Supreme Court. He will have to appeal in the Supreme Court, the question doesn’t arise.

Prabhu Chawla: If he is appealing to Supreme Court, he must be trying to find out the right people. Harish Salve to uskaa advocate hai hii. He will appear for him. Because Harish Salve is an outstanding advocate. But he must be thinking if there is any way of, like, Anil can use various ways, he can also use various ways or not. And you know what? Brothers are not… Clean to dono mein se… apne apne tareeke dono lagayenge naa?

{end of portion of conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Niira Radia: Haan. Anil Ambani apnaa lagaa hogaa, apne logo ke through, DMK ke through , apne Chief Justice ke paas yeh sab.

Prabhu Chawla: No, DMK yeh sab… Chief Justice Kerala kaa hai.

Niira Radia: Haan. Kerala kaa.

Prabhu Chawla: He is not… Yeh bhi lage hoNge naa kisii ke through? Mukesh bhii to kar rahaa hogaa naa? Phir? Wohii kah rahaa huun. Mukesh jis tariike se approach kar rahaa hai, if what I heard is correct, is not the right way to go.

Niira Radia: Thiik hai. I understood what you are saying.

Prabhu Chawla: Haan. Now you understand naa?

Niira Radia: I will… Mein baat karuungi thoRii der meiN, I will tell him to speak to you.

{The following portion of the conversation elided by Headlines Today}

Prabhu Chawla: Yeah, Because, I sent him messages, 10 bar messages bhejaa, he doesn’t reply. I don’t want to come into. Because my family is a retainer for Anil. I don’t want to discuss with him at all. Par sun to letaa huuN naa kai baar kai chiizen, idhar udhar political logoN se. But he not appearing for him. My son is not involved in this case at all.

Niira Radia: Your son, naa?

Prabhu Chawla: Haan, he is not involved at all

Niira Radia: Why?

Prabhu Chawla: He doesn’t trust my son also, in this case. {laughs} Anil doesn’t trust my son (in this case).

Niira Radia: Your son is with whom now?

Prabhu Chawla: He is a retained by Anil naa. He is independent. He is running his own independent company. He is not with Ryan [?] any more. He is running his own solicitors firm. He was retained by various people. Das barah log hain Anil’s mobile is one company which retains him. But in this case he is not involved. But idhar udhar se pick up to kar lete hain na chiizen sab.

Niira Radia: Right right

Prabhu Chawla: My information is through the legal sources. Once you tell him that Prabhu was saying something about you talking to people in London, he will understand.

Niira Radia: Chalo I will tell him

Prabhu Chawla: Chhota Bhai baRaa haraami hai.

Niira Radia: Harami to hai lekin har waqt haraamii panaa last nahiin kartaa naa, Prabhu you also know.

Prabhu Chawla: Question is, abhii, when you are working in a system which is not clean, you have to be… bhaii tumhaare ko nuksaan to ho gaya naa? Udhar recovery karte raho apne aap. It is better to do it in a manner so that you are not the loser.

Niira Radia: Thiik hai.

Prabhu Chawla: Main kal jaa rahaa huuN Bombay. Ek baar usne kahaa thaa dinner pe aana ghar pe. That is about… He called me one day. You remember [inaudible] Press Conference mein gaya tha uske liye. I was the only senior editor there. After that I tried to meet him but nahiiN mil paayaa. I went a couple of times to Bombay recently but he was not there. I have been trying to reach him par uske baad baat hii nahii huii.
end of portion of conversation elided by Headlines Today}

[abrupt end]

Since writing this piece, I have learnt of two blogs which have taken apart Prabhu Chawla’s version of the transcript and his accompanying explanation.



A subsequent development is that Outlook has posted a conversation between Niira Radia and another person a little while before the call discussed here on the same afternoon, wherein the latter is instructed by her to contact Shankkar Aiyar (then with India Today Group) since Prabhu Chawla had been trying to contact Mukesh Ambani, that Anil is ahead. The other person was asked to find out from Shankkar Aiyar the context, prior to Radia speaking to Chawla, who was then at lunch. Taken at face value, this conversation would confirm that the context of Chawla wanting to contact Ambani was in all likelihood related to the Gas dispute and not, as per his protestations, to the India Today conclave or contacting Mrs Nita Ambani.