Credit must go to Mr J. Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer for exposing the Spectrum scam. An interview with him published in The Pioneer reveals the kinds of pulls and pressures he faced and the way Raja and others tried to cover up the scam.
Excerpted from the article
"The man who felled a king" by Chandan Mitra.
The complete article can be read at
The Pioneer Investigative Team asked Gopi to unravel his journey from a fledgling political reporter to giant killer. Excerpts from a chat:
Q: How did you come across the 2G scam story?
A: We sensed a scam when Swan and Unitech started offloading shares at whopping prices of `4,500 crore and `6,200 crore in September 2008. Bureau chief Navin Upadhyay asked me to dig for information and luckily we got a great whistleblower, who knew the ins and outs of the Telecom Ministry. He once told me the PM was totally unhappy with Raja and had summoned him to ask what was going on.
Slowly, the whistleblower narrated the entire range of corruption in the Ministry. Those days, Minister Raja was making false claims that he had followed his predecessors. This young Government officer told me about the parking of funds in front companies by the Minister and his associates in the name of relatives. He told me who the actual beneficiaries of the scam were, including corporates, politicians and lobbyists.
This officer asked me to talk to my Editor and get his consent and only then would he reveal further. The Editor told me to go ahead and the whistleblower became a goldmine of hidden information for The Pioneer. Days and nights of discussion and checking the authenticity of facts happened in his office and at many crowded places in the city, once it became important to avoid detection.
Q: Which was the first story you did and what was the reaction?
A: After finding out the gamut of front companies dealing in real estate, we decided to expose Raja's ill-gotten wealth. Chandan Mitra and Navin Upadhyay saw all documents and decided to go ahead with the series. The first story appeared on December 11, 2008, on Raja's main real estate front company, Green House Promoters. The details of other companies and hidden irregularities in the spectrum scam were published over the following days.
Q: Did you come under pressure to stop the campaign? How did you ward them off?
A: I met Raja after the first report, as directed by the Editor. He alleged that I was being funded by his rivals in the party and even told me some names. He was visibly shaken asking me how I got the details of his personal assets. He requested me to avoid writing. My reply was that I had been deputed by the Editor only to take his version, nothing else. Raja agreed to speak, but repeatedly requested me to stop writing further on this. Similarly, many corporate groups were after me with the same plea. I must say none threatened or behaved badly.
Those days, Raja was planning to conduct the 3G auction at cheap base rates without Cabinet's approval. Many agents from the corporate sector requested us to stop our series of exposes, saying our reports would force the Government to refer the 3G auction to an EGoM. We told them that was exactly what we wanted. But I must say some friends with contacts in high places warned me I may be targeted. It was a hidden warning, which I ridiculed. It would not be fair to reveal what kind of offers were made by different entities to avoid the 3G issue going to an EGoM. But finally, the Cabinet referred it to an EGoM, which put Raja out of the picture and the nation netted `1.06 lakh crore.
Q: Did any political or corporate entity offer you financial inducements to stop writing on this?
A: Yes, they did. The figures were mind-boggling. Corporate lobbyists and Raja's people even asked me to stop informing the Editor and end the series abruptly. I told them even the meeting with them was in the knowledge of the Editor and the Bureau chief. Some shameless fellows tried to access Raja, claiming friendship with me. Some were acting as double agents. One top lobbyist was actually a double agent. That person was leaking information against Raja while providing information to him too. Pressure on the whistleblower was enormous by now, but he stood by us fearlessly. There were several politicians who enlightened and encouraged me. Some bureaucrats and police officials also guided our investigations.
Q: Do you think the matter will end with Raja's resignation or will more heads roll?
A: I personally feel the court cases filed by Subramanian Swamy and Prashant Bhushan would come to logical conclusions, leading to the cancellation of all licences which were found illegal by CAG. The court may direct auctions to be held like the old petrol pump scam of Satish Sharma. I don't expect anything from the Government in this matter. Some persons, including Raja, may face the wrath of the law. I don't think anything harsh will happen to corporates from the Government's side. After the CAG report and PAC findings, if the Government has the willpower, it can -- by executive order -- cancel all licences and order auction, which will definitely fetch around `2-3 lakh crore.
Q: How do you think the Government can make the spectrum policy transparent and above board?
A: Spectrum management should be handed over to ISRO, but no politician would like that for obvious reasons. In India, spectrum is not yet audited. No one knows how much spectrum is available. This was purposefully done for making easy money. First the Government should ask an organisation like ISRO to audit spectrum availability in all departments. Only then will transparency come.
Q: After Telecom what? Do you have more targets in mind?
A: No idea. I felt totally exhausted upon learning of Raja's resignation. I was expecting good news on Sunday, when sources told me Pranab Mukherjee had firmly asked Karunanidhi at 11.30 am to remove Raja. This was doubly confirmed when they later said Raja was forced to sign the papers around 5.30 pm. Anyway, no idea what's for me next…life will go on. I was covering Health and Left (parties) those days. By a stroke of luck, Raja came on our radar…
Virtual pat on back
Within minutes of A Raja submitting his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister late Sunday night, India's twitterati erupted into joyous celebrations. Pouring ridicule and vitriol on the scam-tainted Minister, twitterers across India heaped praise on The Pioneer and tweeted congratulatory messages to J Gopikrishnan by the hundreds. Several of the tweets were RT'ed, or re-tweeted, amplifying the overwhelming outpouring of goodwill for the paper. Had the news not broken on a Sunday, that too late in the night, when people are usually offline, both The Pioneer and Gopi would have trended globally, which they almost did, such was the enthusiastic response. The congratulatory tweets continued to pour in through Sunday night and Monday from Indians around the world. Tellingly, many of the tweets pointed out that The Pioneer persisted with a story that no 'big' paper would touch or 24x7 news channels would report. Along with Raja, Delhi's self-appointed 'MSM', or mainstream media, was the clear loser!