Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry spat: How Niira Radia returned to Tata fold in full swing
Shrugging off ghosts of her taped conversations that once triggered a furore, Niira Radia is back doing what she always loved: strategic advice. The corporate lobbyist is now backed by two of Ratan Tata’s most trusted lieutenants, Tata Trust’s trustees NA Soonawala and Rayaroth Kuttambally Krishna Kumar. A confidante of Tata, Kumar had retired from Tata Sons in 2013 and is currently associated with his consultancy firm, RNT Associates, and the group’s charitable trusts, which control 66 percent of Tata Sons. Both have advised Ratan Tata to seek her help to handle the insurmountable crisis of Cyrus Mistry, sacked as chairman of Tata Sons (by the Tatas) over a host of management issues. There are talks within Tata Sons to let Radia handle some of the communication strategy of Tata Tea, India’s largest packaged tea brand with a dominating market share.
There are also talks of her helping the group in its global operations, including those in London. Radia, who last surfaced in the media in February this year when newspapers carried her photograph with Tata at the inauguration of her hospital in the outskirts of Mathura, is advising the group to deal with the murky fallout. Her proximity with some of the top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders is well known in the Delhi political circles.
It has to be remembered that Radia was instrumental in shifting the Nano’s plant from West Bengal to Gujarat after MamataBannerjeeled protests in Singur in 2008. Narendra Modi was then chief minister in Gujarat. “She had brought the two (Tata and Modi) closer and she was never out of the power circuit,” said a top source in Delhi, explaining how Radia grew more active ever since the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) dropped all charges relating to her conversations with ministers, lobbyists bureaucrats and top shot editors in the height of the 2G telecom scam in 2019-10. The transcripts of her telephone conversations, printed on the cover of two news magazines, had her conversations during 2008-09 when the 2G scam was unfolding.
The conversations stretched right up to the time when the UPA-2 cabinet was formed after the 2009 polls. She was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI and eventually released and all 14 cases of “criminality” dropped for lack of evidence. It was then rumoured that there was a tacit understanding that she would wrap up her lucrative advocacy business - Vaishnavi Communications - and stay away from lobbying. Radia, realising the odds were not in her favour, walked the extra mile to get out of what many described as a messy case. In 2010, she had even funded a Krishna temple in South Delhi on her birthday, which, incidentally, coincides with Indira Gandhi’s. Radia entered the healthcare business through Nayati Healthcare. The company set up its first multisuper speciality hospital in Mathura.
The 351-bed facility was inaugurated by Ratan Tata in February.
“It is heartening to see a full fledged specialty hospital being established in Mathura with considerable personal sacrifice, driven by passion and a genuine desire to serve the community,” Tata had told reporters at the inauguration.
Radia had then told journalists that she had no regrets about her past and her foray in the corporate world was “a great learning”. She told reporters in Mathura about her plans to set up more hospitals in some northern states like Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. Tata’s presence at the Mathura event was an indication that her bridge with one of the most powerful business tycoons remained unaffected. Her weightage with Tata Sons never dipped, except the Mistry camp kept her at an arms length.
But this time around, realising her connections in the power corridors of the Indian capital, both NA Soonawala and R K Krishna Kumar is learnt to have advised Tata to use her to control the damage from some of the “negative” reporting against the group in the media.
This, especially after Mistry’s camp leaked the former chairman’s explosive letter relating to his ouster. Her colleagues called up middle rung journalists in Delhi and Mumbai while Radia met up with some top notch editors personally, explaining Ratan Tata’s side of the story, among them being the muchtalked sale of the Searock Hotel in Mumbai that many in corporate circles claim is one of the main clogs in the Tata-DoCoMo deals. She explained how it was important for Ratan Tata to checkmate Mistry before he “sold off the family silver”. A newspaper in the Indian Capital even reported that many of those she contacted this time “were the same media persons who figured in the controversial Radia tapes”. Unlike earlier times where she would directly call journalists, bureaucrats, ministers and lobbyists, Radia - this time - let her office do much of the groundwork and set up appointments between her and the media heads. The only female lobbyist among Delhi’s top notch power brokers, known for her workaholism, grasp of human psychology and technical jargon, is playing it super safe in her second ride with the rich and powerful.
Corporate lobbyst Niira Radia.