Kenya-born and London-educated Nira Radia was perhaps destined to fly high, but little did she know that she would be trapped by tell-tale tapes one day and become the face of a multi-billion dollar scam.
Not many knew about her till Open magazine three weeks ago blew the cover off 5,800 reported taped conversations from Radia’s phone over a six-month period in 2009 that stunned the nation with intimate disclosures about the incestuous world of the powerful and power-mongers.
The tapes show the chameleon lobbyist talking with top industrialists and star journalists, hard-selling DMK politician A. Raja’s bid for the second stint at telecom ministry. Even as more skeletons tumble out of the closet and insinuations are being made about her being an agent of a foreign intelligence agency, there is very little known about her 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. The marriage did not click and the divorced Radia moved to India in 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. By this time, Radia’s sprawling Chhattarpur farmhouse was generating much buzz among New Delhi’s bold and beautiful.
Some of her prized contacts included Ananth Kumar, civil aviation minister during NDA’s tenure in 1998-99, and Ranjan Bhattacharya, foster son-in-law of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She tried to float an airline, Crown Air, in 2000, but the plan did not take off.