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February 23, 1999


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The Rediff Business Interview/ Mohan Guruswamy

'My position on the BAT takeover of ITC did me in'

Ever since Mohan Guruswamy was "sacked" as the officer on special duty in the ministry of finance, he has been hounded by the media for interviews. If his strongly worded resignation letter was manna for the media, his subsequent first person fulmination blew the lid off the goings-on in the government and the Prime Minister's Office.

In an exclusive interview with Suhasini Haidar, Guruswamy reveals why he chose to go public, unlike Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha who still maintains a studied silence on the subject.

You have today come out with revelations about the Vajpayee government, which are explosive...

Why should they be explosive -- everyone in Delhi knows what is happening.

Let us clear this question up -- did you resign or were you fired by the government?

I resigned. My resignation letter was dated the 27th of January. In fact, I don't even have a sack order -- I have not received a letter saying I no longer work for the finance ministry. But it doesn't really matter. I'm out and they are there. It doesn't really matter as to who kicked whom.

What would you say was the main reason for your parting ways with the government?

Everything was fine until the 24th of January. In fact on the 23rd, I even selected a private secretary for the minister (Yashwant Sinha), and he was fine with that. So till the 23rd, he trusted my judgement. On the 24th, something happened. I think the minister should also speak out on what happened.

Tell us what you think happened.

I think it was my position on the BAT takeover of ITC that did it. Because the papers went to and fro from Yashwant Sinha to me twice over. I sent them (papers regarding BAT) to him on the 20th, and he returned them on the 21st saying that I should discuss the matter with him. I sent it back with a comment that I had discussed it with the Chairman of UTI and he agreed with me on the issue of the BAT takeover. The minister sent the file back to me on the 23rd. And when I sent it back on the 24th with the same notings, it triggered off something big...

You have further alleged that BAT offered you a bribe in order to pass their file.

No, I never said that BAT offered me -- somebody offered me a bribe on behalf of BAT, and I won't give the name of that person.

You also have come out against unfair favours granted by the Vajpayee government to foreign companies such as GE Capital and Enron. Now these are companies that can be prosecuted in their own countries if they are found guilty of bribery. What proof do you have against them?

I have not suggested that they have paid any bribes at all. All I am saying is that they do not deserve the kind of support they are getting from the government. But the way it works here is 'crony capitalism'. Sometimes, money doesn't have to change hands in order for you to favour somebody.

What kind of support is this?

GE Capital is accessing money from public funds at a low interest rate and then killing Indian finance companies by lending out that money at low rate. Upto Rs 30 billion has been give out this way by them. All I said was that if GE is interested in our market they should bring in money from their own principals, especially as interest rates in America are so low.

Now GE Capital is tied up with big powerful people like Deepak Parikh, who is the man for all seasons at the PMO. So they said, this Guruswamy is attacking our friend Deepak Parikh's friends, and it worked the same way with Enron....

When you say 'they', whom do you mean?

The PMO -- you know, everyone there. When I said something was wrong and asked, how do you change this? And the answer always was, nobody can change it, the Prime Minister's Office cleared it. I mean, you can't play around with public money like this. It's not your own money. As Pramod Mahajan put it, "Baap ka paisa nahin hai."

Why have you kept quiet about all these issues for so long?

I have not kept quiet. All my objections have been noted in the ministry files for the record. And I have copies of them. (He points to a file of photo-stats)

What happened with the government's expressway project?

I think the Prime Minister has a definite attention deficiency disorder. If he had any kind of knowledge of these things or even listened to what he was being told, he would have realised you cannot build an expressway with modern infrastructure and facilities at Rs 40 million per kilometre.

He grandly announced that they would run from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Somnath to Silchar. You're trying to link markets here -- how can you build expressways from nowhere to nowhere? I think someone should have told him this. But this atmosphere of sycophancy is such that they won't. So the emperor is strutting around without his clothes and everyone is watching him.

You have also spoken of the undue favours given out to the Hindujas and to S P Mittal of the Ispat Group. What kind of clout do they wield over the Vajpayee government?

You should ask the government that. I would rather not comment on this. I just want to expose the hypocrisy. They accused me of bringing the Ruia brothers into a meeting in an unethical way, and said that was wrong. I say, if that is wrong, then all the meetings you hold with the Hindujas in the finance minister's office are wrong. All the meetings you arrange with the Mittals in our offices are also wrong. Why is just this one meeting wrong? Are you acting at the behest of some other corporate house?

What is your relationship with L K Advani?

I don't know what kind of a relationship I have now. I used to have a very good relationship with him. I have a very high regard for him. I think he is far more capable, astute, and a far more decent man than Vajpayee. And I have never concealed this.

Is that one of the reasons you were axed?

But I have never concealed my feelings. For instance, I have never called on the prime minister during my tenure in government. I didn't think that was necessary.

Tell us about the relationship between the prime minister and L K Advani.

What is there to tell -- it is Delhi's worst kept secret about how much they dislike each other. I've always said that the Vajpayee-Advani relationship is like the Prince Charles-Diana marriage. Everyone knows how bad it is, but the palace keeps denying it. And in their photographs, one looks one way, and the other looks in the other direction.

Has your departure from the ministry meant a parting of ways with the BJP?

I don't know. As far as I am concerned, it is a parting of ways between me and this kind of politics. I don't want to go back, I don't want to go to another party. I will be happy just writing, and cooking.

What has gone wrong with this government's economic policy?

Their economic policy is not just drifting, it is being pulled in different ways. It's all exploded. BAT is a classic case. They want to allow foreign capital into the cigarette industry. They say that this is globalisation. But when I say, why don't you sell your share in Maruti to Suzuki, then they turn swadeshi.

This is our heirloom, they say, we can't sell this. These guys are all crony capitalists -- they are Suhartoists. For them capitalism is good, so long as their son-in-law is benefiting from it, my cousin is doing well, etc.

Have you made these revelations with a view to changing something? What is your purpose behind pouring your heart out?

I don't see myself as a messiah. I am not a hoax. I know my limitations. I am hurt and I want them to know that. The PMO cannot just think that they control everything. This is still a democracy, not a banana republic.


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