Who is A Raja?

Who is A Raja?
New Delhi:  He is the face of the massive 2G Telecom Scam. Reams of newsprint, much airtime, many headlines have been used detailing how A Raja allegedly masterminded the country's biggest swindle; he is accused of giving away licenses and spectrum at throwaway prices. A resident of Tihar jail for about 15 months now, the former Telecom Minister has finally got bail today.

He applied for bail only after all the 13 other individuals accused in the case were granted bail.

Through the months A Raja has remained defiant, much like he was when forced to resign as Telecom Minister in December 2010, as the allegations of corruption against him became too hot to handle for the UPA government. He continues to plead innocent and maintains that he had just followed procedures laid down by his predecessors.

At 48, Andimuthu Raja has come a long way from being a lawyer in rural Tamil Nadu. And even as the end of his stint as Cabinet Minister at the Centre came in a brutal rush after days of stalemate, it was clear that Mr Raja's political journey was not over yet.

His party, the DMK, made it clear that while bowing to the dynamics of a political alliance, it would continue to project Mr Raja as a victim. "Targeted because he is a Dalit," DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi had said in 2010.

The support then was not without reason. Mr Raja was important because he is a Dalit leader, the most prominent Dalit face that the DMK had. Assembly elections were due next year, and the DMK could ill-afford to alienate Dalit voters. The party took a bad beating in the elections.

Mr Raja's being Dalit got him early breaks in his political career, like becoming Cabinet Minister at the age of 35 - in the NDA government in 1999. And he never looked back holding several portfolios both in the NDA and UPA regimes at the Centre. He became Telecom Minister in May 2007. And again in 2009, despite 2G scam allegations and the high-profile Dayanidhi Maran being in the race for the post, for being a rare Dalit DMK leader and for his loyalty to M Karunanidhi.

A Raja was born in May 1963 in Perambalur, Tamil Nadu, and likes to reminisce that he had to go to Trichy for an education as there were no facilities nearer home. In Trichy, Mr Raja got a BSc and then his law degrees.

As an interesting aside, Mr Raja writes poetry in Tamil. His literary skills are believed to have got him close to Mr Karunanidhi, who too is a poet and writer.

He was a student leader of the Dravidar Kazhagam, the parent body of the DMK. From a block-level leader, he rose quickly and was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996. Mr Raja earlier represented Perambalur and now represents the Nilgiris constituency in Tamil Nadu and this is his fourth term in Parliament after being re-elected in 2009.  

His catchphrase in that election campaign was "Oru kilo arisi oru rupa, oru hello 50 paisa" (One kg rice one rupee, a hello on the phone 50 paisa). As he resigned, Mr Raja again said, "I brought revolution in the Telecom sector."

The 2G scandal
Mr Raja hit headlines for the wrong reasons ever since he allocated license for the 2G bandwidth in 2007; that was soon after he took over the coveted Telecom portfolio. His decision to bring in new players and give licences and spectrum as per the existing policy of "first-come-first-serve" basis and rejecting demands for auctioning were soundly criticised, but Raja sang his own tune. He still defends his actions as being in line with policy.

After the licenses were given in January 2008 at 2001 prices of Rs 1,658 crore, two of the telecom operators who got spectrum sold part of the equity at much higher premium. Unitech sold to Telenor of Norway and Swan Telecom sold to Etisalat of the UAE. This led to controversy as it was felt that the spectrum allocation had led to a huge loss to public exchequer.

Various agencies including CBI, CVC and CAG started independent investigations into the alleged scam. The CAG put the loss at Rs. 1.40 lakh crore on the basis of new licenses of 2008 and Rs. 36,000 crore for giving licenses to existing operators for giving additional spectrum beyond contractual limit of 6.2 Mhz.

Many heads rolled in the case - top corporate honchos, big companies, politicians like Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi and some government officials went to jail. Over the months, once the CBI had framed charges, they all got bail, save Mr Raja.

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