MUMBAI, Kolkota and Chennai have lots of industries – textiles and chemicals and pharmaceuticals etc. But Delhi has only one and a very flourishing one at that-politics. And as far as Delhiwallas are concerned, they make more money from this single industry than all others put together.
Go into any government office at noon and you will find it jammed with people with bulging briefcases. Sometimes, but not too often, they also carry suitcases. They walk the corridors – the so-called corridors of power – aimlessly but they know what they are up to. They are the so-called liaison men operating out of posh liaison offices scattered around the town. And they do more business than the industries of Mumbai.
Apart from the liaison men – and women – there are the fixers, some with capital “F” and other with small ‘F’. You don’t see many of them in the ministries. They do their work quietly, sometimes from the Press Club, often from the coffee shops of five-star hotels. Many are fixers masquerading as journalists on the secret lists of corporations in Mumbai and elsewhere.
You might think that this “fixing” business is an Indian speciality, but it is not. You find it everywhere in the world, from Washington to Moscow, and from London to Beijing. Washington is supposed to be a capitalist paradise, where you are ruled by the markets with the government playing a very small role. Actually, there are more fixers in and around Washington than anywhere else. They are called lobbyists and their job is to influence legislators -Congressmen and Senators- before the laws are framed. Once you “fix” the laws, you can fix anything.
In America, there are hundreds of “fixers” or “lobbyists”, and almost anybody can be a lobbyist as long as you have the licence. Congressmen or Senators who have lost elections or are out of a job, become lobbyists, and make use of their contacts to make deals, and, of course, to make money. So do ex-bureaucrats or people like Henry Kissinger who call themselves strategic advisers and deal with prime ministers and presidents. Kissinger has a company operating out of New York and he charges millions of dollars to fix appointments with men like the King of Saudi Arabia or even the President of the United States. The father of George W Bush, himself a former President, is a lobbyist and works for the Saudis for a fee that is said to be millions of dollars a year.
In India, things are a little vague, and lobbying has a bad smell about it, like prostitution. And just like prostitution, anybody can do it, including, of course, journalists. Just as anybody can be a journalist, anybody can set himself or herself up as a lobbyist and become a fixer. There are, of course, professional lobbyists like Niira Radia, who does not have any special qualifications for the job, but who is so successful that she has acquired enough influence to get men of her choice appointed as ministers. She has dozens of journalists in tow who do her on bidding, for a fee, of course. What this “fee” is can be gauged by the fact that Radia herself has become fabulously wealthy in the last few years she has been plying her trade and is said to be worth Rs 400 crore.
So Radia handles crores instead of lakhs and must be handing out crores to the dozens of journalists who work for her on the sly. Now you know why she has so many journalists chasing her and doing her bid and being told what to write and whom to meet, and generally behaving like poodles. These are not ordinary hacks but former editors of national newspapers, which shows what a dirty business journalism has become.
What I do not understand is why groups like Tatas need such liaison men and women in Delhi, though they themselves maintain full-scale offices in the capital. I can understand small fry from Coimbatore or Nagpur needing the help of so-called “communicators” in Delhi but not powerful companies like Tata. Is it because lobbying is a dirty business and involves what is called “black” money, or are there people in Delhi who are even more powerful than Tata?
Twenty years ago, Indian economy was unshackled and the so-called licence-and-permit raj dismantled. Anyway, that is what we were told. There were no Niira Radias at the time, though some companies did maintain powerful liaison men – they were known by their real name, liaison men, not such fancy designations as communicators – and some lowly journos did work for them, for a few hundred rupees a month. But twenty years after it all began, we find liaison men being overtaken by liaison women and making crores in the process, not a couple of crores, but hundreds of them, through the courtesy of powerful business houses.
I have a hunch that most of this cash is bribes to be paid to ministers and their bureaucrats, cash that cannot be paid directly by the companies themselves. The cash goes through the fixers who do the ‘fixing’ for a price. So nothing much has changed: you still have under-the-table payments through the so-called communicators with their so-called liaison companies which are basically vehicles for bribing. The licence-and- permit raj has apparently been replaced by licence-and- lobbying raj, where the lobbyists play a much bigger role than the liaison men of the past. Nothing really has changed, and as the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Now everybody is playing for high stakes, including the journalist hacks who have obviously hiked their fees. This is something between them and their conscience, but what about ordinary readers like me? When I come across a column by a wellknown hack holding forth on this or that, do I believe him, or just throw the paper away? You can see that the man is writing about corruption and holding politicians and babus – his friends – responsible for it, but at the same time quietly counting the bundles he – or she – has just received from the hi-fi liaison lady. What credibility has he got and what credibility has journalism as a profession? God save us all!