[Reader-list] The man who felled a king by Chandan Mitra
Appu Esthose Suresh
appu.es at gmail.com
Tue Nov 16 20:07:55 IST 2010
How Raja of all scam was uprooted by a reporter. This is a report appeared
in Pioneer today, a very unusual one, an editor writing about the reporter-
Gopikrishnan. A must read!
*The man who felled a king*
*Chandan Mitra | New Delhi*
*The Pioneer felicitates J Gopikrishnan, who unearthed the spectrum scam*
For a long time, I did not even know that J Gopikrishnan was a stringer
based in Thiruvananthapuram working for *The Pioneer*’s now-aborted Kochi
edition. So when he came to Delhi pleading for a job at the headquarters
once the Kochi edition shut in 2007, I was rather sceptical. I told Bureau
chief Navin Upadhyay that although I had noticed a few bylined stories by
him, Gopi had no exposure to Delhi and, therefore, was unlikely to have any
worthwhile contacts here. Navin, however, persuaded me to try him out for
three months. In fact, the letter of appointment specifically mentioned this
along with a “stipend” that was truly laughable by Delhi standards.
Gopi did not break any earth-shaking stories during the trial period. But
his sincerity, diligence, dogged pursuit of stories and pleasing personality
made up for that. He was given a proper appointment letter after three
months although his salary remained rather low. My opinion began to change
after friends in Left parties began to mention him to me in Parliament’s
Central Hall, pointing to the depth of his knowledge of the telecom sector.
Officially, he was on the Left beat so I still did not attach too much
significance to that.
Then the cascade began. Starting mid-2008, he broke one story after another
on scandalous ramifications of the 2G spectrum allotment. The issue was
complex and most people don’t understand its intricacies even now. But Gopi
had cracked the scandal.
And as one exclusive report followed another, information flowed to him like
a magnet attracting pins. Navin worked hard on these reports, filling up
missing links, polishing them and quoting relevant documents. The 2G scam
was Gopi’s passion and he scoured the Net, apart from visiting officers in
their offices and homes, gathering material. He had friends across the
political “spectrum”; Gopi, despite his Kerala origins, was
I don’t know how much pressure he came under and from which quarters. But I
faced more pressure over these reports than anything else in my 27 years of
journalism, of which nearly 20 have been spent in senior editorial
positions. I am proud to have withstood them. But even more proud that I
gave a dynamic young man from Kerala a break in the national media, a break
he used to do the nation a sterling service. J Gopikrishnan has made history
and *The Pioneer* basks in his achievement.
*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
*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
*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
*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
*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
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