Aakash Channel awaits its comeuppance

BY correspondent| IN Regional Media | 29/12/2003
The TV channel which was one of the major reasons for Ajit Jogi’s downfall is set to face uncertain times as pressure builds up for a takeover by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s men.



By a correspondent in Raipur



THE SKY (Aakash) has virtually fallen on Ajit Jogi. The till recently high soaring Jogi who received a number of setbacks in his political career can also  count the Aakash Channel, the sole cable network in the State as one of the major reasons for his downfall.


Aakash Channel, widely perceived to be controlled by the Jogi clan, was probably the most  controversial channel in the country, if its track record, especially in the cash-on-camera episode involving the former union minister, Dilip Singh Judeo  was  any yardstick. The documents recovered during raids in the  scam have indicated the involvement of former chief minister, Jogi’s son Amit, even the investigation  agency, CBI, was examining some videotapes and compact discs seized from his residence.  


Close on the heels of this earth-shaking controversy, the channel again figured in the Jogi tape episode in  which the bribe money of Rs 45 lakhs to induce tribal  BJP leaders and MLAs to defect, was allegedly funded by Aakash Channel. This was evident by the currency notes date markings, which was traced to the channel  by CBI sleuths investigating the episode. The last nail in the channel coffin was when its CEO Rohit Prasad, a close friend of Amit,  was arrested by the Delhi police, a couple of days back, for possessing illegal wild life skins, revolvers and over a hundred bottles of costly imported  Scotch whisky seized from Prasad’s palatial house in Delhi.


Startling facts are now surfacing on how Aakash Channel, right from its inception, was brazenly used to serve the vested interests of Ajit Jogi and company. According to insiders, the hands behind the channel did not hesitate to bribe, slander, terrorise  or intimidate Jogi rivals with the huge amount of money power as well as by misuse of the channel network to cow down all opponents who went against their interests. This aspect was made glaring by its current affairs channel - ‘Abhi Abhi’ which was blatantly used to project Jogi and his cahoots and at  the same time it would eclipse the achievements of the opposition parties. It was a one-way channel with just  Ajit Jogi in focus.


Even before all this started the channel had the notorious tendency of blanking out all news from national channels that showed Jogi in a negative light and at the same time highlighting all negative news about Jogi opponents. All this finally reached boiling point when the major opposition parties led by the BJP seething with anger, made it a major election issue in the recently concluded Assembly elections. Even the people behind Aakash Channel were aware and apprehensive that if Jogi fails to form the government in the State, it would be their funeral. 


This was evident when even as  the poll results pouring on December 4 afternoon in showed a major BJP victory, the panicky channel staff  had started winding up, fearing a strong retribution by rivals. They had even hurriedly packed off costly cameras and other electronic equipments to unknown destinations.


Earlier, the channel was owned by Shiv Sena leader Dhananjay  Parihar. The present owners gained control of the channel by virtually hounding Parihar by allegedly framing a murder charge on him with the help of friendly police. As Parihar’s control over the cable operators weakened, Aakash became the unquestioned king of cable operations as well as the local advertisement market in all over the state. The channel had come under attack from the Union Law Minister, Arun Jaitley, just two days before the Assembly elections. The Union Law Minister alleged that the channel’s owners were behind the Judeo episode because the person who booked the five-star hotel in the union capital for bribing Judeo was Rajat Prasad, the then CEO of the channel.


According to Jaitley, the actual owner of Aakash was Amit as, in e-mail to a friend, he had talked about the bifurcation of the management of the two channels. Meanwhile, a cable war is on in the state. The Aakash owners had given a five-year lease  for the channel to a hotelier. But the ruling BJP leaders are pressurising the hotel owner to hand over the business to their men. Several vested interest parties are keen to take over the `lucrative’ business. Notable among  them, is a brother of an influential BJP minister. If the brother of the minister succeeds in  taking over the channel, it would be a major issue for the principal opposition party, the Congress, which,  led by Jogi, once pampered it !


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