Six months after the Tehelka sting

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 19/04/2002
Six months after the Tehelka sting

Six months after the Tehelka sting

Sevanti Ninan

The Indian government brazens it out, while the dotcom which captured the imagination of the world is both financially beleagured, and on the defensive.

In mid-September it will be six months from the day Tehelka.com broke the results of its Operation Westend and gave the ruling coalition in India a blow which left it reeling for a while. But looking back five and half months down the line from that watershed in Indian journalism, the picture is ironical. The government has appointed an enquiry commission and washed its hands of the issue. And the scrutiny has turned from the issues of systemic defence corruption and political donations to Tehelka itself, its methods and the quality of its investigation.

Former defence minister George Fernandes resigned in what seemed like disgrace but after a series of trouble-shooting assignments on behalf of the prime minister, and friendly TV interviews, he is back in the mainstream of public life. His companion and Samata Party general secretary Jaya Jaitly has figured belligerently in a TV promo saying "Go to hell," all these five and a half

months, week after week. She is no longer the general secretary of her party but she is giving combative interviews to magazines like Outlook and is back to figuring prominently in Delhi¿s public life. The only major figure who remains under a cloud is Bangaru Lakshman, the former Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary who was immortalised on the Tehelka tapes, accepting a wad of currency.

Some of the army personnel implicated in Tehelka have paid a price after the army¿s enquiry found them guilty. But if you were to ask whether Tehelka achieved a sustained debate on how rotten the system has become, the answer is no. And the dotcom¿s chief Tarun Tejpal admitted as much in an interview to this website. " I think the investigation would have achieved something if it had

just led to a serious debate on two issues. One is arms procurement methods, and even more importantly, political funding. I think if Operation Westend leads to any kind of serious action and debate on these two issues, it would have been worth it. All the danger, all the hard work, all the money spent, would have been worth it."

But instead says Tejpal, The government is not even willing to accept that there is a problem. "I thought the prime minister would take a far, far more pro-active stand and say alright these guys have nailed something lets act on it, you know.Rather than getting this kind of endless stonewalling that we have received.

" I think there is a problem when you see such obvious corruption on the tape. Nothing has happened. This is a government which has been saying there are no arms dealers. We¿ve shown there are dozens of arms dealers crawling all over the woodwork. Not one has been acted upon. And in any case like I say I don¿t care about the individuals. What happens to the individuals. I don¿t know Jaya Jaitley, I don¿t know George Fernandes. I don¿t care whether they are indicted or exonerated. And I said this when I broke the story. It is a systemic problem. If any other political party had been in power, the results of our investigation would have been the same."

Five and a half months after all hell broke loose, those who broke the story are having to do much more explaining than those who were caught with their pants down, both literally and figuratively. Is that because of Tehelka¿s unusual methods, or is it because the system has become, as Tejpal puts it, incredibly brazen?

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