Friday, May 29, 2009


Last year, some of us were surprised when someone who once wanted to become the Secretary General of the United Nations wrote in glowing praise of Sonia Gandhi. No one was in any doubt then that Shashi Tharoor was using Time magazine to bend over in such a manner only because he saw in it a fail-safe ticket to get into the Congress party and then into the government. And that is precisely what has happened with his appointment as a junior minister in India's Foreign Office.

While Tharoor's objective was clearly visible and somewhat justifiable too, considering the culture of the Congress party, how does one explain the unbelievably despicable level to which a journalist famous for passing off his sordid and politically motivated sting operations as exercises in public morality, has sunk to in his lowly endeavour to endear himself to, yes, Sonia Gandhi? In perhaps a first for Indian journalists - and that is saying a lot considering the lot we have - Tarun J Tejpal, editor of Tehelka, has crossed every possible red line that separates journalism and political sycophancy.

In an open letter “to the unlikely woman whose tenacity in staying the course changed the contours of Indian politics”, this paragon of secularism not only belittles India's many gods but lays obscene praise at her feet, including her famous 'renunciation' of the PM's post, by - hold your breath - crediting it to Tenth Commandment (Though shall not covet) of the "extra god" that he says she has brought along with her from Italy! Quoting Mathew's exhortation in 10:7, he lays bare his deeply ingrained religious and political hatred for the "devils", "the bigots who divide us" and the ones "who have taken a fourth of our dominions".

He does not stop here. Craftily, he even roots for dynastic rule and Rahul Gandhi: "No doubt with the help of your extra god, you have done a fine job of bringing up your son. He has humility, decorum, diligence, and he takes the long and inclusive view. We do not like the idea of dynasty, but we abhor the idea of divisiveness more". And then he drops the inevitable big bombshell, not wanting to take even the slightest risk of being found wanting along any dimension: "And yes, as I bid you speed and strength, with the extra god by your side, may I make a final plea. You have given us of yourself, and of your son. Now will you kindly also give unto us your luminous daughter"!

Now you know why this angel of morality and ethics and values and integrity lay silent for the five years that the Congress was in power. Now you know why no sting operation that could taint the government in any manner was done by Tehelka. Tejpal was not alone in this deceit. You would have noticed that it was only after the elections that the media suddenly started openly talking about "wet/ATM" ministries where big money had been made by ministers; DMK was also openly called "Delhi Money for Karunanidhi" and roundly criticised for becoming a family business, conveniently forgetting that the Congress was exactly that in Delhi. Why was everyone quiet for five years while DMK ministers were allegedly looting their ministries openly? Why the noise after the elections? It does not take great imagination to understand that the media brought all the muck into public glare only to embarrass the DMK and pressure it to give up its demands for all these lucrative ministries again! Poor Congressmen couldn't be made to suffer for another five years in "dry" ministries, could they?

Make any amount of money, loot the nation, do anything, but don't do anything that annoys or harms mommy. That is the credo that seems to be guiding the likes of Tejpal. Saving Sonia is more important than saving India. Cut that bullshit of the devil that you want India to see elsewhere, Tejpal; we can see him in you.

Remember how Tehelka did the original sting when the BJP was in power and crowed about its dishonest party President who was filmed receiving Rs 1 lakh in cash? Remember how Defence Minister George Fernandes, an absolutely honest man, was hounded by the Congress for corruption without even a shred of evidence except that some money was paid by Tejpal's flunkies to Jaya Jaitley in his residence? Remember how just before the Assembly elections in Gujarat, Tehelka did another sting on Narendra Modi solely to ensure that the Congress party won? Who can forget the recent Pink Chaddi campaign launched by one of Tejpal's reporters to bring the Congress back on track in Karnataka? I will not be surprised if that sting on Varun Gandhi was also done by Tejpal, to literally force Muslims into the arms of the Congress in UP. As is well known now, that did happen. Of course credit for that has, expectedly, been given to the genius of Rahul Gandhi.

Doing sting operations is a costly and time consuming affair, particularly if they are aimed at getting stunning political rewards for your political masters. Many, many stings have to be done before you get the kind of dramatic result that you are looking for in just one of them. One can only imagine the kind of effort that Tejpal's Tehelka hounds must have put in over the years to bring windfall gains for the Congress party, while pretending to be on a great unbiased and selfless national mission. No prizes for guessing where the huge funding and possibly more could have come from, for long years.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal has exposed the rampant corruption that is prevalent in India's media. Apparently nothing comes for free. If you want coverage, you have to pay for it. And in the many cases where the media are closely aligned to a particular party, if you have a contrary view, you may not be covered even if you pay. The problem must be really serious if the WSJ sees "reporters, editors and newspaper owners holding the democratic process to ransom." That is why Paul Beckett is compelled to observe that a "corrupt press is both symptom and perpetrator of a rotten democracy".

Tarun Tejpal manifestly represents all that is rotten and stinking in India's media. Unfortunately he is not alone. There are many smug faces you can see out there, some hiding behind beards like him, who appear to be using the same route to riches and power. Recently in a TV discussion about Indian money in Swiss banks, Kapil Sibal, if my memory serves me right, told off a clever TV anchor that there were people even from the media who had parked ill-gotten money there. The problem is clearly far more serious than the glimpse that has been given in the WSJ.

When Shashi Tharoor sucks up to Sonia, everyone knows that like a seasoned bureaucrat, he is using that powerful, even if demeaning, tool to get rehabilitated respectably in India. But when a hardcore journalist like Tejpal crosses every single boundary of self-respect and honesty to do so, you have to question his motive.

Has this lick ass article been written out of gratitude for an overdose of Swiss fragrance received for a job well done or is it another you-pay-I-write job? Whatever it be, there is little doubt that it is a very loud signal that India's media and its democracy are far more rotten than ordinary Indians suspect.
Readers may also read:
1. Teesta, Ajmal, Varun and the secular brigade
2. Rahul: from dud to genius in two hours!
3. Baba raga become a symphony