May 30, 2020
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t'hell'ka: Sting of the Devil

A blow by blow account, almost, of how TIT (Tehelka Investigating Team) blew the horn on our graft-ridden officialdom and polity

t'hell'ka: Sting of the Devil
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There are many rituals of hierarchy in the military because this is one job where you may have to tell someone to go die. It happened recently in Kargil. I was there for some time. You would think that the fourth largest army in the world would have a system in place that could detect amateur sleuths like those in the Tehelka Investigative Team (tit) because of the rather grand question of national security.

But no.

I will here narrate a few incidents of the kind of tomfoolery that happened that should have blown our cover much earlier than it did.

At a meeting with General Murgai (rtd), who was serving when we first met him, he asked a tit member the range of our Thermal Imaging Cameras. With characteristic sincerity, promptness and pomp, our member said, "Unlimited." Then seeing the bewildered expression on the general's face, he tried to retrieve the situation. He said, "No, no what I meant is that after a long distance the vision gets blurred."

At another meeting with Murgai he asked who the bankers were for West End. Our illustrious tit member said, "Thomas Cook."

Don't laugh yet. I will just reproduce the conversation:

Murgai: Achcha, tumhare udhar West End ke voh...who are your bankers in West End?

T: Hain?

Murgai: In West End International, who are the bankers?

T: Thomas Cook.

Murgai: Haan.

T: Thomas Cook.

Murgai: Thomas Cook. Because you see, the balance...when will you give?

Of course, here's one more. The coup de grace. After Mohinder Singh Sahni, the honorary consular general of Belize, and defence middleman, asks the same tit member where he stayed in England, his answer was 'Manchester United'!

Sahni found nothing wrong. Of course, the particular tit member was Mathew Samuel and while he won't get any marks for geography or knowledge of banking, you wouldn't know where to get enough to give for being India's scarlet pimpernel. For being able to weave in and out of dense masses of concrete in the south and north blocks.

These days, segments of the nda are coming up against the armoured divisions of the networks and are finding it an uneven match. The soundbites and grainy visuals are hanging over India like a low static cloud.

The bad guys are finding it difficult to escape the chamber of horrors that is being created by the sheer number of reporters chasing the story. They are stupefied as to how they became the bad guys. When party spokespersons persist in denying the undeniable, they are guilty not of being fraudulent but of sounding Neanderthal.

So in time-tried fashion, what is happening now? There is an attempt on to derail the story by hunting for motives. Does it really require an extraordinary feat of the imagination to figure that for a journalist a good story is the greatest motive? It is symptomatic of the prevailing political crookedness that instead of addressing the graphic evidence, we have national leaders mouthing banalities like "national conspiracy". At the same time one can see a frenzied move on to somehow discredit us, going as ludicrously far as to try and connect us with even the stockmarket crash.

Tarun (Tejpal, Tehelka boss) has been saying this repeatedly from the moment we broke the story, and I repeat it here again. We have absolutely no affiliation with any political party or business house. We are a bunch of independent media professionals, with no fat cat owner in the wings who can be leaned upon by political heavyweights.The other thing is no one, outside of the team that worked on it, even knew about the story till the night before we broke it. And that includes friends, family, and financiers.

We sensed a story. We worked on it. And we broke it. The moment it was ready. The politics of it doesn't interest us.

The media, the little I understand it, isn't so ideologically biased as in favour of conflict. The weight of evidence we unleashed is not feathery and that's what propelled Operation West End to thermonuclear stage. Youth like me are less forgiving. At least I'd like to leave India a better place for my daughters when they grow up.

Tehelka, as I see it, is not an unconquerable principality pitted against the powers that be. We aren't covering ourselves with the halo that we would go to suicidal lengths for that intangible thing called the truth. We only pride ourselves in, generally, having a narrative that is at variance with the pack.

It's important to realise that when a viewpoint is expressed with intensity, then the truth of it isn't halfway somewhere. It's possible for the version to be entirely true. And though a speculative stampede is perhaps inevitable and we have excited the man on the street with the thought that here comes the opportunity to put the system through some fumigation, a word of caution—the system as it is won't allow anything of any scale to be achieved.

At the moment, it leaves an oil slick in your mouth as huge as Alaska.

Part of that system believes that what the tit did was unethical. Well, at the cost of being intemperate, balls to them. I think those who are red in fang and claw deserve nothing better.

Also, we at Tehelka are no visionaries with a heavy workload or a brief as philosophical as changing the system. That wouldn't be a fun position. We are normal people who are perhaps good at what we do and the depth of our ambition could be to throw a little sunlight into the system.

Of course, there's something else. I am from Allahabad and I realised very early that even the powerful pull down their zippers to piss.

(Aniruddha Bahal is a former Outlook correspondent and editor, investigations, Tehelka, who masterminded Operation West End.)
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