New Delhi: Kenya-born and London-educated corporate lobbyist Niira Radia has become a household name ever since a news magazine published taped conversations from her phone over a six-month period in 2009.
The 5,800 tapes have revealed, among other things, how key portfolios were allocated when the Union Cabinet was formed after the victory of the Congress-led UPA in May 2009, with the lobbyist, who counts the Tatas and Ambanis among her clients, in the thick of it.
Even as more skeletons tumble out of the closet, there is very little known about Radia's background and her meteoric rise to fame.
Radia, said to be in her fifties, moved to London from Kenya in the 1970s and schooled at the elite school Haberdashers' Aske's in northern London. She graduated from the University of Warwick and got married to UK businessman Janak Radia, a Gujarati, whom she later divorced and moved to India in the mid-nineties. She started off as Sahara liaison officer and soon became India representative of Singapore Airlines, KLM, UK Air.
It is during this time she forged her powerful contacts in the civil aviation ministry, the government and the media. She tried to float an airline, Crown Air, in 2000, but the plan did not take off.
In 2001, she set up Vaishnavi Communications, followed by Noesis, Victom and Neucom Consulting.
Radia's big-ticket break came when she bagged all 90 Tata group accounts in 2001. Another crowing moment was when Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited joined her clients' list in 2008.
"She was leveraging the power of her clients who are some of the most powerful businessmen in the country," said Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer who filed a public interest litigation seeking the prosecution of Raja on the basis of the taped conversations of Radia.
In 2009, she moved from corporate lobbying to allegedly fixing the lucrative telecom ministry, resulting in a scam that depleted the national exchequer by billions of rupees.
A suspicious IT department taped her conversations at the time of cabinet formation last year in UPA-II. Those tapes have now become part of the national conversation.
(With agency inputs)