Spectrum of opportunity

Written by Sunil Jain | Updated: Jan 19 2011, 06:25am hrs
If you didnt know Rajeev Chandrasekhar was neck-deep in the A Raja scam, the CAG report prominently displayed on his desk, next to the fat Mont Blanc in an ink-stand, makes sure you get to know it. On the wall are pictures of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), of various war heroes, of General Aurora and General Niazi, Shaheed Bhagat Singh a white board on wheels is at hand, for the one occasion we need it during our hour-long tea session. There are biscuits that dont look particularly distinguished and gajjak that looks as familiar as it is temptingand so it should, its what Chandrasekhars one-time friend Sunil Mittal sends out each Lohri. Perhaps theyre still friends after all

I want to discuss his letters, the letters to Ratan Tata, that suddenly brought Chandrasekhar back into the public eye for several days on end. Were the letters to Tata (you benefited as much as anyone else from telecom flip-flops during the BJP tenure), to the CBI and the CVC (please investigate the then Trai chief Pradip Baijals role in 2003), the letter to the Prime Minister (please get Kapil Sibal to retract his unfounded criticism of the CAG), and a planned press conference later this week (to expose the holes in Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalias critique of the CAG), all part of a plan to just get more publicity, a politician looking for an opportunity to canvass a larger audience, the urban voter

Not true dude, he says, with the air of a well-settled man about town, and well-settled he is, given how his VC operations have helped him quadruple his net worth since he sold out of his telecom firm five years ago; he flies his own plane to de-stress, rides his Harley in the early hours of the morning in Bangalore since thats the only time he can get an empty roadoh yes, from what I recall of an earlier meeting, Chandrasekhars bought the helmet Ayrton Senna wore in the race before the one in which he died and also has Michael Schumachers overalls in a glass airtight case so, if you come up really close, you can even smell the sweat. Ugh!

As I trade in the cup of strong Assam tea for a green tea, I see Chandrasekhars put back many of the 20-odd kilos hed lost after he sold out and started a rigorous exercise schedule, though hes got a lot more hair now. Hes wearing just a shirt to my pullover and jacket, his way of saying boo to Delhis winter.

The urban voter, he says, isnt a homogeneous voter. The rich chaps dont come out to vote, and the poor well, theyve got the same concerns that a rural voter has they want more schools, more hospitals but it still hasnt dawned on them that the corruption theyre seeing is actually their money, their money to be spent on schools.

Corruption is the ultimate victimless crime not like Jessica Lall since in that case, there was a body, in this case theres no body.

So has he been able to convince voters he means business, that hell fight corruption He talks of how hes having some impact (his Website gets 40,000 hits a day), but says its a far cry from whats really needed. By way of a direct answer: When I first joined the Rajya Sabha, I thought Id get into the electoral politics one day today I know it is the most difficult thing to do for a person like me.

So whats the solution The media, he says with a conviction only a non-media person can have. Until the media is able to convince people theyre being had, there will be no change. Thats why, of all the investments hes made in firms in the tech space, in restaurants, in aerospace, the only one thats not through Jupiter Capital (his VC firm) is television firm Asianet News which is in Kerala and Karnataka and he also plans to set up a newspaper. He makes fun of a sound byte-obsessed media for whom Sibal ripping into the CAG is as much of a sound byte as a CAG ripping into RajaI hate to, but I concur.

But wasnt he, I return to the topic of his letters, being selective with the news when he told Tata he had himself benefited from all the flip flops Tata accused the BJP of After all, Chandrasekhar got the Mumbai cellular licence for free in 1994; and wasnt it true the BJP helped him get a loan from ICICI when he was in troubleall those birthdays celebrated with the PMs foster-daughter had helped, hadnt they

Chandrasekhar doesnt lose his cool and chooses to explain his stand carefully. No, he did not get the Mumbai licence free, just as Sunil Mittal didnt get Delhi for freewow, Chandrasekhars actually defending the man he fell out with on whether to pursue the case against the government in the Supreme Court in 2003 after the UASL licences were issued! The government had specified all the conditionsthe airtime rates for different times of the day, the amount to be paid per year to the government for every subscriber they got, even the technology to be used (GSM, not CDMA)but firms had to bid on the minimum rental theyd charge customers. He moves on to talk of how hed won five circles in the 1995 bids but got to keep just three since the then minister Sukh Ram changed the rules to help Himachal Futuristic.

On the ICICI story, he insists there was a contract between the two and a fee paid to help him raise money. When ICICI refused to help him fund his business, he asked finance minister Jaswant Singh whether only lenders had rights or whether borrowers had rights as well. The matter went to RBI and, he says, ICICI was told to fulfil its contracthes the victim here, he insists you believe him, not the beneficiary.

Even so, the BJP did flip flop, I remind him. And while NTP 1999 may have been essential if the industry had to survivethe firms who were too broke to pay the fixed licence fee they had contracted to had sued the government for not giving them spectrum and various clearances, so it was pretty much headed for decades in the courtsthe same couldnt have been said for other policies. So why doesnt he attack the BJP Is it just because he was BJP like Ratan Tata said

He was, he says, nominated by the Janata Dal Secular. But there were 20-odd BJP MLAs who supported him, he admits on being questioned closely. So hes BJP! Not really, he replies.

BS Yeddyurappa says hes anti-BJP since Chandrasekhar has filed a PIL asking for more transparency in the way land is allotted in Karnataka. My letter to the CBI on Baijal, by your logic, will suggest that Im pro-Congress!

Does he miss telecom, considering he spends so much of his time thinking telecom, considering that his five minutes of fame today is about telecom. Whyd he quit, I ask Because, he says with the arrogance only a journalist can have, the only challenge was in lobbying for getting free spectrum and I was clear I didnt want to do that. So hes like Ratan Tata, I rib him, unable to sleep at night if he bribes anyone!

Not unwilling, just not very good at it, comes the reply.

So whats the lesson and what does the future hold once the current Rajya Sabha stint is over Theres Jupiter Capital and the overall rule about not investing in areas which have a large government role. As for the future, hell always have an active public lifethe better-Bangalore NGO called Abide, Flags of Honour to help resettle armed force widows and families For now, the agenda for the techie whose initials are etched on the back of the 486 chip (all Intels designers had their initials on the chips litho) is a lot clearer: to prepare slides for a presentation to knock holes in Sibal and Ahluwalias campaign to rip into the CAG.

Will it help Youre the media dude, its up to you to create the atmosphere oh oh, were back to where we began.