Ratan Tata: Thank you for honouring that wish. Thank you very much for having this session today, it's always an honour, it's always a pleasure to be with you.
Shekhar Gupta: I also said unusual times, you know why. Because there is a certain murkiness in the air right now, particularly when it comes to government-business interface...
Ratan Tata: Yes, it is a murky time, you are right. It's a confusing time for me because just a couple of weeks ago, we were sitting sort of on top of a summit or a mountain top with President Obama showering praise on what we had done, talking about maturity, talking of our having emerged, and not being an emerging force... and then we have somewhat slipped into a morass of a series of allegations... unauthorised tapes flooding... the media going crazy on alleging, convicting, executing... literally character assassination. In fact the whole thing in so doing - there has been a smoke screen behind what is really the so-called scam - which really is out-of-turn allocation of spectrum, hoarding of spectrum by important players for free... and things of this nature. So I think it's a bad time. I wish the government would take a stand, bring an auditor... have an investigation and book people who are guilty of something, but stop this sort of Banana Republic kind of attack on whoever one chooses to attack on a basis unsubstantiated even before the person has a very Indian right - namely to be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
Shekhar Gupta: The government has the power to tap somebody's phone, and that power has to be exercised with a great deal of caution - the Supreme Court has set down the law very strictly. Shouldn't there also be responsibility to protect somebody's privacy, even if they are involved in criminality? They can only use that information specifically in case of prosecution.
Ratan Tata: I totally agree, government also has a responsibility; the agencies also have a responsibility. They have been given a special right to be able to invade people's privacy for national security or for enforcement of law, whatever it may be. So they can do so. That additional power is a very special power which has to be exercised with a sense of responsibility. The content needs to be held for prosecution purposes and not to be misused, and certainly not to go out to have a field day with. There doesn't seem to be prosecution on one end and there doesn't seem to be confidentiality on the other. Perhaps as things will emerge, not even knowledge of how it was disseminated, nor admission of even having conducted such telephone tapping. So we are going to be in a dead man's zone on this, which I think is unfortunate. Here I just want to put what you have said quite rightly in juxtaposition to feeling I have as an Indian, perhaps a law abiding Indian, I wouldn't even try to work my way out of a speeding ticket. We have all to be proud of what we have done in India, we have got to be proud of our Prime Minister, we have got to be proud of the success we have. It's terrible if we as a nation destroy ourselves and whoever is doing this kind of thing needs to consider themselves not as hero of the nation but in fact as one of the villains who would bring down this nation after the good that is being done.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you see the danger in that? Do you see where the murkiness can lead to...
Ratan Tata: I think if it's not controlled, I think yes. I used the word Banana Republic, I did not use it lightly.
Shekhar Gupta: I was coming to that, because that is a very serious expression.
Ratan Tata: Banana republics are run on cronyism. People of great power wield great power, but people of lesser power or people who have fallen out of power go to jail without adequate evidence or their bodies are found in the trunks of cars. The danger is that you could degenerate into that kind of atmosphere unless the necessary parts of government play their role in upholding the law and fine, let no one be above the law. I would happily have that happen, various other people would not like to see that happen but I would feel very happy to see that, I would feel very proud. So I think it can happen, I mean a Banana Republic kind of an environment could emerge, if we don't put an end to this kind of thing and under the guise of freedom of speech or the guise of many other numbers of so-called rights of democracy abused, the luxury of a democracy.
Shekhar Gupta: While the government does not do its job?
Ratan Tata: The government should do its job, the government's job is in fact to run the country, to manage the country, to govern the country. And governance is an important thing not application where it suits one so to micro control where it suits them on the other hand.
Shekhar Gupta: So you see a lot of crony capitalism, since you used the expression.
Ratan Tata: Yes I see the evidence of it. I am not in a position to say a lot of it but it's certainly evident.
Shekhar Gupta: Will you say some of it?
Ratan Tata: Yes.
Shekhar Gupta: Will you describe some of the evidence that you've seen?
Ratan Tata: You see, large contracts being awarded, we see conditions of contracts becoming a little vague, implemented funnily, eligibility of capability being abused. You know, very often I wondered there are some countries for example where favouritism doesn't apply but you actually pay into the government if you get a contract. But the nice thing about those countries is that you get the best contractor, it becomes like a tax. It's an open tax, you pay not to individuals but an agency. I'm not condoning that but am saying that's one form.
Shekhar Gupta: That's corruption by tariff card... transparent.
Ratan Tata: Yes, here, who pays the cost of giving something to a person with less capability - the customer. We get something that takes five more years to finish than it should. It costs five times more to complete than it should. So this is not the time we should do this, this is the time we should build our nation. And we should build it as many other emerging nations have built theirs, on the basis of meritocracy.
Shekhar Gupta: How do you manage? How does the group of Tatas manage in this environment?
Ratan Tata: Well, we have endeavoured to uphold a value system that has been a part of our tradition. And we've been disadvantaged repeatedly. In that we have lost projects, projects have been delayed, we have ingratiated ourselves in some cases with some politicians but we will stay that course. Sorry, annoyed them. And in that sense we would like to keep the group ferociously protecting this one asset that we have.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you sometimes pay if you have to pay?
Ratan Tata: We've never done so. Never.
Shekhar Gupta: Be it on the tariff cards... as you say in countries where they charge it almost like a surcharge.
Ratan Tata: No, we have not actually operated in those countries... I have myself introspected what happens here which is a little fussy. I can't say that it's something else. What happens here, it makes you believe that there is an undercurrent that is subjective against what you see in some countries, which is out in the open, and as I said earlier that I don't condone that. At least I see that the country gets the best that is for that particular project.
Shekhar Gupta: I understand some of our Chief Ministers have started doing that now, they have open biddings, but whoever wins the bids knows that a certain part of it has to be contributed back somewhere.
Ratan Tata: Well again, that's off the table. Whereas what I was talking of... it's there... it's in the invoice. It's out in the open.
Shekhar Gupta: But if we come back to the banana republic, would you say that to the Prime Minister, whom you said that you respect?
Ratan Tata: I think what has happened in the last few weeks is an indication of what can happen anytime... then we are really going down the route into a banana republic. I would have no hesitation of telling the PM this because I don't believe the PM is contributing to this. I think he should be concerned about the nation going in that direction. And he's a tremendously good man. We are lucky to have him as a PM. I want to say that it has hurt me to see what he has gone through in the past weeks... in Parliament... the pressure... the innuendoes and the pressures he's been going through to resign and so on. He is one person who is truly above any of the allegations thrown at him... the person whom we are lucky to have to because it's his face that has been the face of transforming India. And it is this person who has commanded the respect of the leaders in major countries. He doesn't deserve to face this kind of humiliation.
Shekhar Gupta: And the Gandhi family has spent a lot of capital in building his image and sustaining it.
Ratan Tata: And I was very pleased to see Mrs. Sonia Gandhi supporting him publically because he doesn't deserve this kind of thing... this kind of pressure in Parliament. And here again I think this is the responsibility of the Parliamentarians to transact, to govern the country and not to adjourn the Parliament everyday to meet some.
Shekhar Gupta: Everybody knows you in the world of business... in the world of finance. Do you find some of the investors of foreign lands getting worried or wary of India now?
Ratan Tata: I think it has just happened... so truthfully, I have no knowledge. But I have a feeling that everybody would be having it on their lips and would be hearing it when I go abroad, that would be in a couple of days. People would be asking about all what is going on... this scam and that scam. People are now well informed about India through the Internet. They will think of India as a scandal-riddled country, which it is not. And you can easily make it that way... make everybody's mindset operate from one scandal to the other. You can make that unfortunately the fodder... that the media needs to sell publications or to attract viewing on televisions. And my experience has been that more noise comes from those who have the most to hide. So we should not fall into the trap of becoming a nation that is destroying itself by making everything into a scam.
Shekhar Gupta: Have you seen any increasing unpredictability in the government policy or governance in India, again from the point of view of an investor?
Ratan Tata: Yes I think so, I've always felt and said this openly that behind it is not government policy, what's behind it is the vested interests. I think the FDI limits in a whole series of areas - some of them promised by the government - have not been done, insurance for example. Retail has been promised, and that is another area. The banks are the third. These are things that the free world has come to accept as areas of participation. India is a nation that everyone is looking at today. People want to invest and it's not unusual now for a foreign investor to ask when do you think the FDI limits on this will change? And you can't give them an answer because there's nothing today standing in the way of the government doing that. So there are those areas that...
Shekhar Gupta: ...that you find are inconsistent...
Ratan Tata: Telecom is another example. Through the years... through ten years... if one really went and looked whether the stated government policy has been implemented in the manner and spirit it was intended, the answer is no. It's been modified several times to suit individuals. Initially it may have been public sector incumbencies, then it was one segment or another.
Shekhar Gupta: So you say it has been changed at whim?
Ratan Tata: Usually behind any change, behind any deviation, is a vested interest.
Shekhar Gupta: I remember two things you said at our last conversation referring to corridors. I'm taking the second one first - you said that we have come a long way but things still happen in dark corridors in Delhi and you said that we don't know that much about them. The other thing you said that corridors of power don't matter as much as they do... as they used to... but they still matter too much. How have the things changed in six years, have they gotten better or worse?
Ratan Tata: In some ways it has got better, but I think in many ways it is worse.
Shekhar Gupta: Tell us those, some of those.
Ratan Tata: Well you know there used to be grater adherence to policy. Today the interpretation of policy has become very vague, so eventually you find that you are arguing on something that the other side interprets in manner that is so bully and vague that you come away of that meeting thinking that I'm never going to be able to do this.
Shekhar Gupta: Any specific example?
Ratan Tata: No, but let me give you an example that has been bandied and used in the press because they all give me a chance to clarify. It may be known to many, or some, that when Narsimha Rao was the Prime Minister, an accord was signed in Singapore to form a joint venture airline. JRD Tata was called by Mr. A N Verma (who was the Principal Secretary to the PM) to put up a proposal for such an airline. And we went to Singapore Airlines... we made a great progress... we put a proposal before the government. There was no policy for FDI at that time and a fifty-fifty joint venture was, I wouldn't say approved, but informally accepted. Then vested interest brought about a change and fifty-fifty became sixty-forty as a new policy. No reason, no grounds given. Singapore Airlines accepted that to become a minority player. So sixty-forty - a new proposal was made. In this period of time, many governments also changed. I can't specifically say which happened when but it started in Narsimha Rao's time, then Mr. Gowda then Mr. Gujral.
Shekhar Gupta: In between that 13 days of Mr. Vajpayee.
Ratan Tata: Yes. Then finally we met every requirement that the government had... and then the last change was no, no foreign airline can participate. If you are a diaper manufacturer or P-cap manufacturer, you could invest... but as an airline, you couldn't. And this is the kind of change and you see that is an example. You see cases where you just don't get any attraction, nothing happens... the minister may tell you that I will do this, we will deal with this but it doesn't take place.
Shekhar Gupta: I know you have struggled with defense for some time.
Ratan Tata: Yes, then again it's an issue of not knowing where you stand, though I think in defense things are truly opening up now in more transparent manner.
Shekhar Gupta: And your group has expanded that a great deal...
Ratan Tata: Yes and I hope that we get away from this concept - which I think I even said in defense meetings - where I or you are not considered less nationalist than the public sector and that only they conserve the nation all over the world and free world. The private sector does the most sensitive defense work and it isn't only the public sector.
Shekhar Gupta: All over the world... in free world... except France.
Ratan Tata: But in France, even in France, most of that... except most of the labs etc in the public sector... but there are private sectors that do sensitive work.
Shekhar Gupta: But you see changes there in the defense.
Ratan Tata: Yes, I have seen huge changes.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you regret for being in telecom? Do you sometimes say that I'm doing 20 things by Telecom?
Ratan Tata: Yes, because of the inconsistency of policy... because of the bias that exists... yes sometimes I do. But it's a great area. It's a wonderful thing that the government opened it up to everyone and it's travesty that policy got subverted in a manner that it helps you, disadvantages others.
Shekhar Gupta: And when you can subvert policy and now sought of extra policing and editorialising, when you have the freedom to subvert the policy then that opens the market for rent seeking?
Ratan Tata: May be yes, theoretically yes.
Shekhar Gupta: Has anybody asked for money in telecom?
Ratan Tata: In telecom... no.
Shekhar Gupta: In aviation, you made a remark that somebody sitting next to you said something...
Ratan Tata: Yes, I said that somebody sitting next to me... what I said was not what the media reported. What I said was a fellow industrialist, in a flight sitting on the seat next to me, said that why don't you pay money to the minister? You know that he wants - Rs 15 crore. No one had ever asked us for any amount of money.
Shekhar Gupta: Those were very good times. Rs 15 crore would be small change now.
Ratan Tata: Yes, I realise that. And the person said you people want the airline, don't you? You want the airline, so pay Rs 15 crore. How does that matter to you? And I said - what I was trying to say in answer to the question that - how do you avoid corruption. I said that ought to be self-regulating. I told this person that you will never understand we just don't do that. He said you are stupid. I said no, I want to go to bed at night feeling that I have not succumbed.
Shekhar Gupta: And you have never done it even for a mining lease anywhere? Because now it is considered to be the normal thing for mining leases.
Ratan Tata: No, it is not... on our part, no.
Shekhar Gupta: Tatas have never done that, and have you suffered because of that?
Ratan Tata: Yes. We have several mining leases that are still not extended - old mining leases that have not been extended. Questions have been asked. We are an expanding steel company. We need iron ore in terms of assured supply. If we are allowed to expand in iron and steel, one may think, if one looks back the 100-odd years that Tata Steel has been in existence, have we once exploited or usurped in any way the mining interest that we have? Have we profited? Have we destroyed the environment? Have we done any of those things? We have not. But we are the ones that are picked out and it's unfortunate. I think our effort has been to be good corporate citizens.
Shekhar Gupta: There is another story floating is that a group of Tatas paid a sizeable amount of money to Madhu Koda...
Ratan Tata: It's absolutely untrue. As the Chairman of Tata steel, I can say, we have not done any such thing - directly or indirectly.
Shekhar Gupta: Did you get many leases in his time?
Ratan Tata: Actually we have got no leases in his time which should in itself be an indication of the veracity, or the lack of veracity, of the stories being circulated.
Shekhar Gupta: But you have heard this charge?
Ratan Tata: Yes, we heard about the charge. I believe Tata Steel has even been called and asked those questions by the enforcement agencies and we have given them a response, which is the same as I have told you.
Shekhar Gupta: This is the first public response. You know, I'm pushing the envelope and I'm also digressing a little bit. India is a funny country. While we have so many raw materials, yet countries like China, and Korea for that matter which has no recourse, processes a lot more of it. So are we in effect transferring our jobs, our taxes, our revenues to smarter countries?
Ratan Tata: In terms of meeting the needs of our own goals?
Shekhar Gupta: Yes, and also in terms of creating a value-added wealth here. Instead of exporting a lot of this ore, if we had allowed our own capacity to expand in India, it would be a lot better for us?
Ratan Tata: Absolutely, it would. In fact we are going counter to many years (of) Mr Nehru's and Mrs Gandhi's national criterion of being self-sufficient, where we have the capability to be self-sufficient, where today we can equal the best manufacturing facility anywhere in the world. Now as an open country we can acquire technology (and) that's the time when we have our wealth - kept either on the ground or under-ground - and ore going to people who are exporting that natural resource. Natural resource today should be one of our key issues. It should have value added and, as you say, what we should gain is to finish product as an input.
Shekhar Gupta: Have you raised it with policy makers?
Ratan Tata: At various times, yes. (Do you find direction?) Find understanding, but one of the ills we have is the issues - that are state issues and there are central issues, and between the two sometimes nothing happens.
Shekhar Gupta: But mining leases is also the biggest ATMs in our politics for last few years. Besides land, mining leases have become most productive ATM that never runs out of cash.
Ratan Tata: Yes, because natural resources globally have gone through the roof. For years and years, nobody bothered about iron ore. Suddenly iron ore and coal... Coal India has been sitting on the sea of coal all these years (but suddenly it has become the issue) value of which on the global basis is considered to be enormous.
Shekhar Gupta: Back to Delhi. At which point you realised that you needed someone in Delhi to work for you and then you hired Niira Radia. How did that happen?
Ratan Tata: I forget how many years ago. Ten-fifteen years ago, we found ourselves, like just now, under attack - all kinds of statements being made. In fact I'd go back home wondering where did these stories come from. We haven't done this, we haven't done that - it would go on and on. One example is, I think you are aware of, the story about me having hob-knobbed with the extremists in Assam...
Shekhar Gupta: That story, if I may say so, was broken by Express in 1996, I think...
Ratan Tata: No no, the story was not broken. It was a prosecution by the Assamese government at that time. We thought where it is coming from. So those kinds of issues led us to say that we need to protect ourselves and get our point of view across to the media. Every time we had tried to do something, it was a defensive move - rebutting or denying - or usually we got relegated to back page in newspapers. So we decided we go out and seek a firm to represent us and that is how we in fact came together with Niira Radia who formed this company. Never once in our association with her, have we ever tried to subvert policies, move policy in our favour. Yes we have advocated level playing fields, we advocated changes in policy through her or directly, but never once have we done something to exploit a policy issue. Never once have we used her to make payments or to seek favours, and we have had a good professional relationship with her. I think she is being attacked just now in a manner... As I said, every citizen deserves the right to be innocent until proven guilty, not to be considered guilty by the media.
Shekhar Gupta: And you think that it is unfair... the situation you find right now...
Ratan Tata: It would appear so. I can't really say, but I think all the sense one gets (that) there is someone and something behind it. It's not just natural thing.
Shekhar Gupta: And what (who) could it be? Rivals?
Ratan Tata: I do not know. It could be - could be rivals, enemies in the government, the corporate rivals. I could not say but it's not a natural thing.
Shekhar Gupta: In your interactions with her, did you ever worry that since she was working for the corporate world , you might get conflicted at some point?
Ratan Tata: Yes, and in fact, from time to time, I have voiced my concerns to Niira. In my statements, I confined it to our relationship. Because she represents more companies, statements are restricted to our professional relationship with her which has been very good.
Shekhar Gupta: Because much later than she started working for you, she started to work for the Mukesh Ambani group, which was again involved in a fairly messy situation. Did you see either a conflict or division of time and mind space that may have affected your interest?
Ratan Tata: Certainly division of time. Yes, undoubtedly because she did it through a different company. I'm sure it took some of our time. In terms of conflict, Reliance industries at that time had no conflict. They were in oil and gas and not in power, not in telecom and not in financial services.
Shekhar Gupta: But you were in conflict with the other Reliance in a way, in the marketplace...
Ratan Tata: Yes, we were in competition but she didn't represent them (Anil Ambani group).
Shekhar Gupta: But you see she was representing you and the other body on the other side. The two brothers were engaged in a combat of a kind. It is complicated?
Ratan Tata: It could be complicated. I can't say. I'm aware of what pressures or focus Niira was facing on the other side. Today the two sides coming together, I think there is more of a chance of conflict. Today Niira would eventually have to make up her mind what she wants to do...
Shekhar Gupta: Two sides coming together means that Anil and Mukesh have had a settlement. Is that what you are saying?
Ratan Tata: Yes. So now that Mukesh is in a position to enter the field of telecom or power we have a potential conflict.
Shekhar Gupta: If you look at these tapes, such as they are, I think what caught public imagination is the idea of somebody - you can call her lobbyist or PR person or a representative - is talking to people to influence a Cabinet appointment.
Ratan Tata: I have listened to some of the tapes... I'm not a Delhi resident... (Shekhar Gupta: Good for you) I wonder if other people's phones were tapped, whether we got similar kinds of conversation. I don't know that she has the power to influence cabinet appointments or anything of this nature.
Shekhar Gupta: But certainly if anybody thought this could be done to a journalist, I find it very touching...(laughs). Think about that - a journalist can call somebody and say make so-and-so a minister and don't make so-and-so a minister. I've been in the business much longer than those people now, and I don't think I could do that. As you said, I would have had hard time getting somebody a ticket.
Ratan Tata: I really believe that Delhi is full of people whose life revolves around politics and what has happened today and what is going to happen and who does what in political circles... so I really don't know. (Shekhar Gupta: Dark corridors at 11 pm as they say) Correct. Now I think corridors are replaced by telephone lines.
Shekhar Gupta: (The) Late J N Dixit used to tell me (the National Security Advisor who passed away) that Shekhar it takes you a lifetime to understand the ways of this city, and by the time I understood it was too late for me to help you. It takes another life time. Did it (the tapes) come as a shock to you?
Ratan Tata: Some of them have come as a shock to me but the tapes have been around for a long long time in one form or another. The parts of it (Shekhar Gupta: You knew that tapes were there?) I knew that there were some tapes - the fact that some included conversation with me. I realised that her phone had been tapped. We have had many conversations as with many other people, and what bothers me is that we are living in a state in this country where that kind of thing happens on an official basis
Shekhar Gupta: And then it gets leaked...
Ratan Tata: Yes, that's a new phenomenon.
Shekhar Gupta: India is a funny country. We don't declassify something that happened 60 years back. Nehru's letters to Kennedy (for example) we have to get them from Kennedy's family's archive, we just got it two weeks back because Kennedy's family's archive had it. We still have that classified in India. Here we leak some information that were recorded few months back.
Ratan Tata: I think the porosity in Delhi also is something of great concern. Telephone tapes are leaked, official documents get leaked, files disappear. I think there is a great deal that the government has to look internally into.
Shekhar Gupta: All that happens in a corporate situations. Can you imagine what happens to the Pakistani, the Chinese, the CIA, if they get involved. Have you raised it with Prime Minister or Finance Minister yet?
Ratan Tata: Not to this extent. (Shekhar Gupta: Do you intend to?) Yes. (Shekhar Gupta: How would you do it?) I think at present moment, I would like to register my concern as an Indian that this is happening. I don't have enough knowledge to profess to the Government what they should do, but I think as an Indian and as a caring Indian who is proud of my country, I feel I should register. (Shekhar Gupta: Formally would you write to them?) I have been toying with whether to write or try to speak. Probably the better thing to do is to put on paper my concern and register my concern with them. I'm not seeking anything for myself from this. I'm not asking anything to be done for me. I'm asking the Government to consider that there is an Indian who has concerns for his country that feels that this kind of thing should not happen; and our country is such that we should honor the responsibility the agencies have and take the necessary prosecuting actions that need to be taken. But this free for all and sort of media blitz with seemingly evident agenda and what looks more and more like a smokescreen, one should put an end to that, and get down to taking the culprits to justice and getting over with this.
Shekhar Gupta: It is flooding the environment with things that are very seditious. It may be interesting to others but of no real consequence. In the little conversation between you and Niira - you are showing wearing a black tie/dress and she is wearing a black gown - it's funny but it's funny like a sequence in a movie.
Ratan Tata: But was that subverting policy? Was that in fact influencing the induction or removal of a minister? Was that toppling Government? how is that of any relevance and how do you correlate that with putting my picture on the cover saying 2G scam.
Shekhar Gupta: Did it matter to you who became telecom minister?
Ratan Tata: From the standpoint of wanting to see, you know, a policy and a level playing field - yes, it would matter. If you say did I want to see Mr Raja in or Mr X...no, whoever we thought was going to be ...(Shekhar Gupta: But you have history with Maran...) Yes, unfortunately because I think he is a very intelligent person and we just had, if I might be honest with you, what seems to be a chemistry problem more than anything else. He is extremely intelligent, extremely sophisticated (Shekhar Gupta: And very smart and articulate ...) Yes.
Shekhar Gupta: Will you take us to what happened, because that is again something we have heard? What happened between you and Maran?
Ratan Tata: I would not want to go into that because I think that has been abused at various times. It was not my intention to abuse. So I think that should just be left alone but we had differences. I don't know why. If Raja was going to create a more level playing field - in a way he may have done many things wrong, but he did some things right. He opened up the industry, took away a very powerful thing (if I might say this) and made it a part of a bigger industry. He or whoever it may be need to deal with people who have excess spectrum. They should they pay for it or return it. They have deprived others of that spectrum. As of now, we still do not have any spectrum in Delhi and 39 other areas for no reason. Other people have got it - other people are holding spectrum for free. So there are inequalities and inequities in telecom area which still need to be solved.
Shekhar Gupta: Will you give me your description of what you think the scam is?
Ratan Tata: I really don't know. When it started, I thought it was Mr Raja's alleged deeds, then it seemed the scam related to Niira Radia's conversations with various people, which were more innuendos than anything else, and Mr Raja's scam was the loss to the exchequer. I don't want to comment on the rights or wrongs, but loss to the exchequer was computed on the basis of 3G auction. 2G spectrum was allocated before the auctions, so it looks somewhat like a hindsight issue but the media has said that he robbed the nation of X... (Shekhar Gupta: $40 billion) OK, so if that is so, somebody will need to show that there has been a sort of visionary view before the event took place that cost him to cause that much loss to the exchequer. These are things I think the media has blown up. What is unclear to me is what really is the scam? Was it the manner in which he implemented the policy?
Shekhar Gupta: The one is spectrum and the other is licenses issued in arbitrary manner...
Ratan Tata: Right, others feel that... So that should raise a question that all the accusations to Niira, they culminated in her client going to court. So it's not clear what the scam is.
Shekhar Gupta: Going to court as a victim?
Ratan Tata: Yes, as a victim and not as a beneficiary.
Shekhar Gupta: Give your solution to the Government. 3 things the Government should do now to calm down situation and also to take it to right conclusion.
Ratan Tata: I think the government has a new minister in place, who I admire for his ability to think through the situation. There should be first the calming down. The Government should take over the control over the tapes and there should be strictures on the media to not use the tapes the way they have been using them. I think the Government should institute a public inquiry on whatever they wish to do relating to the licenses, the manner in which they were implemented, the allotment of spectrum and far beyond the eligibility of certain players - that should not be ignored. In (retrospect), in 2005, I was the person who advocated that spectrum should not be free. It upset Mr Maran and some of the operators made statements that if I have so much of money, I should donate to the PM relief fund (Shekhar Gupta: Sunil Mittal?) Yes. I said at that time that spectrum is a scarce resource and should be paid for, and I'm the only one who did not get any spectrum (laughter). So the point is I think there be an inquiry to go into what has really happened and it should go back to 1999 or 2003 when policy were embedded in certain areas, and whoever the minister or the Government was at that time. It should be a holistic view because the industry deserves a consistent policy, not a chop-chop policy - not a kind of review of what Raja did and what Maran did.
Shekhar Gupta: If investigation happens, you will fully cooperate with them...
Ratan Tata: Of course, if asked to.
Shekhar Gupta: We spend lot of time on what's wrong. Talk about your group. From 1991 to now your turnover has grown 40 times but nearly 60% of it now is overseas, is that the different?
Ratan Tata: To some extent it is, and in some extent it happens because the reason that the so much of our turn over is overseas is because we made two large acquisition overseas.
Shekhar Gupta: Prime Minister Cameron told us that you are the largest employer in private sectors.
Ratan Tata: That's turned out, yes, we are between Corus and JLR. JLR was the acquisition based strategically on products that we make - not the Jaguar part , but the Land Rover part. As both came together, we were obliged to take both; and I'm very pleased to Jaguar because I think it's the company with tremendous technology embedded in it. And it's been a very exciting period of time after we got over the down turn, which I think was weight around our neck which would in fact sink us
Shekhar Gupta: Was there moment when you thought that you had bit off too much.
Ratan Tata: Actually, I never thought that we are bit off too much. I just didn't know that we could go through the deep water of the down turn. My main concern was that all the initiatives that were in the pipeline should not stop, otherwise it would come out of the down turn the same ways we went in. The product development plans, the research-and-development program should continue
Shekhar Gupta: 26/11 came on top of that?
Ratan Tata: 26/11 came on top of that and that affected the hospitality end of our business. The steel market collapsed worldwide coming out of this and the banking system vapourised so you got hit the worse way from all sides
Shekhar Gupta: What was the toughest night that you face?
Ratan Tata: There were no toughest nights but there were several instances where we had to turn to Tata Sons to back us up or to back stop situation or give a guarantee. And Tata Sons is also not an infinitely deep pocket and so I had in fact double responsibilities - one is to see these companies through and second, to make sure that I didn't in any way endanger the security of Tata Sons. I think that was my toughest period.
Shekhar Gupta: And then the attack came on top of that.
Ratan Tata: And then the attack came on top of it. Very emotional and in fact something, even now, I feel difficult to control in thinking back to the misery that was caused. It is such a needless loss of life...
Shekhar Gupta: Do you see a real danger of Indian entrepreneurs now actually preferring to go overseas then invest in India.
Ratan Tata: It's possible because today we have the ability to go overseas opportunity for investments are there and countries are very investment friendly trying to bring in investment. In India states it wishes to be investment friendly but when you look at fine prints you get stuck
Shekhar Gupta: What was your experience in investment commission, if I say that it may not have achieved that much.
Ratan Tata: Well it didn't achieve that much because...
Shekhar Gupta: That you, Ashok Ganguly, Deepak Parekh were formidable people...
Ratan Tata: I think we produced two documents that were worthy of view that I don't think they ever had, we had about 140 specific recommendations to improve the investment climate. We have never heard one way or another that A has been approved or B has been disapproved, etc. It's just a black box in which it is gone and I just think that it was one of these commissions that have been established we help some companies, what was our local standard and what was our span of authority, zero. That apart, I think it was a terrific exercise to look at the opportunities that there were in India and pin-pointing the areas, the road blocks that we could take away that would make that happen; and I think there is a frustration that it didn't do what it could do.
Shekhar Gupta: Did you share it with the Prime Minister?
Ratan Tata: Yes, the Prime Minister is very supportive, although it didn't go into details, he has been very supportive and I think really wanted to see this happen, the goal he has set of having $10 billion investments actually took place, but I in humility must say not because of the investment commission, India itself just became more attractive.
Shekhar Gupta: Actually 10 billion became a much smaller figure and the world changed so rapidly.
Ratan Tata: That's right yes..
Shekhar Gupta: So Ratan hopefully the murkiness would go, life would be back to normal. When that happens what's next on agenda?
Ratan Tata: I don't know Shekhar, I think one way is, not to make too many plans because the world gives you an opportunity to be quite flexible. And I think as one grows older, one wants to have the luxury of being more flexible and more tentative about what they want to do. So, as we go forward, what is next is an issue of what the country, or...
Shekhar Gupta: I think defense and aerospace is on your mind right now...
Ratan Tata: Yes, that's of considerable interest. Also what occupies my mind just now is new ways to propel a motor car, you know, be electric, be it hybrid - those new technologies are of great interest to me.
Shekhar Gupta: So are we waiting to see a Tata hybrid?
Ratan Tata: Yes, actually, there will be a Tata electric car on sale in the UK next year, that is, in the next few months - an Indica, but an electric Indica. And yes, you will see hybrids in our stable in the next couple of years. JLR will have a hybrid and so will Landrover. These are interesting and intriguing technologies.
Shekhar Gupta: And the inevitable question, December 2012?
Ratan Tata: It will fall in November 2012. The search is on. I'm not on the committee. I consciously decided to stay away from it. And this is something that is going to emerge through a list of people, whom they would look at. And I keep saying, let them come forward with something, lets not prejudge.
Shekhar Gupta: But in 2012, as you hang up your boots in active management, do you see Tata as a global company, an Indian company, or a foreign company?
Ratan Tata: It's not a foreign company; it will always be an Indian company, with an important international footprint. I will like to see it be considered as an international company of Indian origin.
Shekhar Gupta: So an Indian MNC?
Ratan Tata: Yes.
Shekhar Gupta: And how do you spend your time, I know you are interested in flying and swimming, and certainly dogs that's the interest we share but you have plans.?
Ratan Tata: No I don't have any plans, you know sometimes in case like that you don't want to make plans, I said publicly that I would like to continue my interest in design and thats something I'll think through
Shekhar Gupta: And what's the point of retiring if you have to plan?
Ratan Tata: (Laughs) Good Point... but you know Sunday is a kind of day that you don't want to make any plans and I hope that applies after December.
Shekhar Gupta: A week of seven Sundays...
Ratan Tata: That's right. At least for a period of time that will be a luxury and then it might drag, in which time I'll find something to do
Shekhar Gupta: Ratan, you deserve it and I hope you get your seven Sundays and I know they will be seven working Sundays.
Ratan Tata: I hope not.
Shekhar Gupta: Working on something that there are many opportunities to do...
Ratan Tata: Sure it's something.
Shekhar Gupta: Having this conversation with you is always such a privilege because besides everything else one learn so much
Ratan Tata: Thank You.
Shekhar Gupta: (It's) Always inspirational talking to you.
Ratan Tata: Let me just tell you that you come to be somebody that I really respect because of the fact you stand for, what you believe in and I have enjoyed every moment that we have been able to share together, I hope that friendship will grow as we go forward
Ratan Tata: It's something I'll cherish. Thank You.