He is currently working on this 26th book at the Lavasa complex near Pune, an attempt to understand human suffering through various religions.
Here he takes readers through the minefields of the 2G spectrum scam and the Niira Radia tapes and explains how the political milieu in New Delhi has reached the tipping point.
The first of a two-part conversation:
How can we make sense of what is happening in New Delhi after the expose of the 2G spectrum scandal and the release of the Niira Radia tapes?
What's the bigger message that comes out of Radia's conversations?
This shows the extent of corporate penetration into government, into the media and into details of policy making.
The main point that emerges from the tapes is the level of corporate penetration. These tapes have shown that everybody is now linked to everybody else.
Democracy survives on counter-rallying power. It survives when there are alternate sources of authority. But now those have joined hands. There is, what my friend (Union Urban Development Minister S) Jaipal Reddy has once called, an invisible government of India [ Images ] which is completely stable.
The visible Government of India keeps changing, but that invisible government of India remains completely stable.
That is the real danger because now the Opposition is no different from the ruling party, whichever is the ruling party. The influence of those puppeteers behind the scene works on both sides. As a result, no issue is pursued to conclusion.
Is the 2G issue a new one? No. It is two years old. I know how I have taken documents to editors, to senior people in government. How can it be that only one reporter in one newspaper The Pioneer was following it? He was not withholding information, but not one newspaper or television channel touched it.
Today also the reportage is about what (former telecom minister) A Raja says, what Arun Shourie says. Is that the end of the story? I hardly read newspapers now. I just don't watch television. There is nothing to be learnt.
Why are journalists going for sound bytes? Why don't they take the documents home, study it and come to their own conclusions? I can't understand.
I feel completely distanced from this profession (journalism) and, of course, politicians. They are in bed with each other and with everybody.
Don't you think the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ]) also has a lot to answer for in the current situation?
I don't see the difference between the two. I feel they (the BJP and the Congress) are one party. They are jointly ruling. It is a dinner party. They meet at dinners. They meet socially. They decide on what has to be done about issues.
It is all very cooperative behaviour. They (the BJP) are shouting (for a Joint Parliamentary Committee). They know that it will kill the investigation.
A JPC will raise side issues and that is what both sides want. Because the corporates behind both sides are the same. They don't want the 2G spectrum investigation to proceed.
If you see the bigger picture of 2G spectrum, it is a battle between the old operators and the new operators in telecom...
But that's the separate issue...
It was during the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government led by the BJP that (then Union minister) Ananth Kumar introduced Niira Radia to the New Delhi set-up.
Yes, that's one point. I remember there was a report in that regard in the Indian Express which had an eight column front-page story just below the masthead. The story was about Ananth Kumar and Niira Radia's association with each other. I don't recollect if Annath Kumar was then the civil aviation or tourism minister.
I was astonished to read that such person has been named in the report. I was told by a very senior official about the observations made by some agency. He was in a position to know about the minister. He told me that the report about Ananth Kumar and Radia's association is correct and that is why no action was taken against the published report.
See, issues are not taken up in New Delhi by anybody. The political parties and corporates have complete liaison with the media. Its not just Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, it is the whole lot involved with each other.
That's why political parties are not taking up the issue of the Radia tapes. The cpi-m (Communist Party of India-Marxist) shouted about the tapes, but the next day the story came that West Bengal [ Images ] Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya [ Images ] was dealing with Radia for the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.
Now can the CPI-M [ Images ] shout 'crony capitalism' in the same way?
The problem is the homogenisation of India's political parties. All are becoming clones of each other. That means there is no counter-wheeling power any longer in the country.
Do you accept the argument of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [ Images ] supporters and Congress leaders that there are limitations to a coalition government?
Also, a Congress leader claimed that you can't ask the government to abdicate the duty to govern by taking action under pressure.
Why have they taken action now? Has the coalition fallen? No. These arguments are not right.
The prime minister of India has unlimited power. Our system is so structured that the PM knows everything.
Yashwant Sinha [ Images ], when he was finance minister, told me an incident. He got a message from a leader of the state that s/he wanted to see him. He asked Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee if he could can meet that person. Vajpayee said he could meet her/him.
When Sinha went to the state he met the particular leader without anyone knowing about it. He had lunch and talked about all sorts of things. At the end of it, the leader gave him an envelope. He kept it in his pocket. He came to New Delhi and only then opened it.
It was a legal brief on why cases against that leader should not be pursued by the Enforcement Directorate. He put the envelope in his drawer and did nothing about it. He forgot the case.
Several days later he met Vajpayee and spoke about his meeting with the state leader. Vajpayee listened quietly and kept looking at him. At the end of the meeting he asked Sinha, 'Aur woh lifafa (what about the envelope)?'
Sinha was astonished since he had told no one about the meeting and he did not act on what was requested.
Unless the prime minister deliberately shuts his eyes there is no difficulty in knowing everything. It would be incredible that the prime minister would not know. The system is so structured.
Second, all the telecom dealings were done in public. The Prime Minister's Office would certainly read the newspapers. There was so much commotion in Sanchar Bhuvan that people were beaten up the day the allotment of 2G spectrum was announced.
The point is that the prime minister himself wrote a letter and as politely as possible gave instructions that please examine the issue of auctioning of spectrum and determining its price in a fair and transparent manner.
And his minister disregards that.
Do you think that the PM would not know that?
It was the letter signed by him that was ignored.
Coalition dharma doesn't mean that I will become protector of the corrupt.
I feel the prime minister must have known about the 2G issue. That's evident from all sorts of facts.
Second, coalition compulsions do not give you the licence to abdicate your duty.
If your minister is doing something wrong, as captain of the team, the prime minister owes the responsibility to the country to stop the minister.
If the PM had confronted (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam [ Images ] chief M) Karunanidhi with all the evidence, I don't imagine he would have told the PM, 'Don't take action against Raja'.
It is possible that the Congress party must have prevailed over the PMO in that matter.
I don't know. I have heard the opposite. Six months ago, the Congress party had told the prime minister that you remove Raja and it is your responsibility to explain this matter to Karunanidhi. That is what senior leaders of the party have been saying.
I don't know the inner party politics of the Congress. But your point of view or mine is immaterial.
The material fact is that nothing was done. People are asking, 'Raja ke khilaf karwai kyon nahi ki? (Why was action not taken against Raja?)'