Tarun Tejpal was my deputy at Outlook for nearly six years. Professionally, his contribution to the magazine was immense. A few years down, he brought in Shoma Chaudhury. Last week, on a frenzied Arnab Goswami programme, I was shouted down because I had the temerity to say “I like Tarun”. All hell broke loose. When I tried to read an SMS Tarun had sent me earlier in the day, the outrage intensified. I was lucky to escape in one piece.
To say I do not endorse Tarun’s conduct would make me sound like a lunatic. How can I, even tangentially, defend sexual molestation? Tarun has committed a horrific blunder and compounded it with clumsy efforts to vilify the victim. Atonement is not a personal matter when the charge is attempt to rape. With the start of the legal process, a quick court verdict should conclude matters. Some of Tarun’s teammates still in Outlook say that the otherwise comradely colleague is a split personality. Whatever, this is no time for Freudian analysis.
Two other critical issues have been thrown up. Anyone who is familiar with my writings will testify that for the past 40 years I have been arguing for more transparency and accountability in the profession. We cannot preach to the whole world on ethics, morality, openness and abuse of power, while we merrily breach the code we preach. We folks on the media pulpit are pulling skeletons out of other people’s cupboards. What about the skeletons in our own cupboard?
The abuse of power in the media, especially in the higher echelons, is rampant. Editors sexually exploit and harass trainees and junior staff with a crudity which is unbelievably cynical. The threat is always the same: if the girl ‘cooperates’, she not only keeps her job but enjoys rapid promotion. If she doesn’t, she is shown the door. It is the worst kept secret in our profession but it dare not speak its name. Some of the biggest luminaries in Indian journalism stand accused. Who they are is known both inside and outside the trade. The shameful silence needs to be broken.
Another silver lining. The new Indian working woman has arrived. She is much more confident, assertive and more aware of her rights. Moreover, she is prepared to fight for them. Predator editors better watch out. It is not going to be so easy to get away with ‘lapses’ either in or outside the lift.
From one abuse of power to another. And this one is much more sinister. The alleged Narendra Modi-masterminded Snoopgate may have disappeared from page 1, and suspended IAS officer Pradeep Sharma’s contention that he is being hounded because of a sex CD could be false. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the state-organised surveillance on a woman architect give the game away.
When the scandal first broke, a rookie reporter could have seen through it. If hell hath no fury like a woman spurned, the same could be true for Modi too. Whatever the reason, the object of Narendrabhai’s affection decided to break the relationship after having milked it. From what we know of our likely PM, he does not forget or forgive easily. Consequently, all three wings of the state’s intelligence unit were pressed into service.
The letter from the lady’s father seems to be part of a damage limitation exercise. Alas, it cuts no ice and neither does the one which mysteriously popped up at the National Commission for Women. Even a cursory reading of the transcripts shows the surveillance was not taken to ‘protect’ her but to keep Mr Modi informed about who she meets and which ice-cream she and her male friend prefer.
A question to ponder: Mr Modi is long estranged from his wife. He could be called a bachelor. Were he to enter into an open relationship, would he be committing a crime? In comparison with our netas, he is young and remarkably energetic. Thus, his desire for female company is both understandable and normal.
Mr Modi may claim to be an expert in governance and development but he needs coaching in the art of wooing. You don’t endear yourself to your lady love by putting a tail on her. You win her over by sending her amorous poems, by dazzling her with your wit, by whispering sweet nothings in her ear. If Modi had done some of these things, he wouldn’t have found himself in the predicament he is today.
Editor has been urging me to take a sabbatical from TV. He has a clear vested interest, since he gets locked up for hours when the TV crew come home. For myself, despite the ego massage and spurious celebrity, I am getting slightly bored with the responsibility of setting the national agenda every night at 9 pm! Should I take Editor’s advice?
I spent most of my time answering questions about Tarun J. Tejpal.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com