The Persecution Of Tehelka

IN Opinion | 01/09/2002
but nobody can deny that the timing of the persecution of First Global is suspicious

but nobody can deny that the timing of the persecution of First Global is suspicious. It is hard to escape the nagging feeling that they are being punished as a warning to all those who would

invest in Tehelka.

If that is, in fact, the intention, then it has succeeded brilliantly. Today the message has gone out throughout the financial community: invest in Tehelka and the government will make sure you regret it.

Even if the Sharmas are not entitled to the protections afforded by the freedom of the press, there is no doubt that Kumar Badal, a reporter on Tehelka’s rolls, is guaranteed these freedoms. But Badal is currently in jail on what Tarun says are "the flimsiest of grounds".

Badal’s imprisonment has to do with another matter: a poaching case in Sahranpur. As far as I can see, the charge is that he tried to set up a sting operation on poaching (just as Westend was a defence purchases sting) and was, therefore, in touch with poachers. Tarun says that even this is not true. All that happened, he claims, is that Badal’s name and address were found on an arrested poacher.

In any event, this relatively minor case was quickly handed over to the CBI which promptly began leaking anti-Tehelka stories to the media. Then, on the day that Tarun was due to appear before the commission, a 15-member CBI team raided Tehelka and ransacked its offices from 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. We are not preventing you from going anywhere, they told Tarun. You can go to the commission while we tear your office apart.

You would have to be an idiot not to see a pattern in all this: the nit-picking before the commission, the prosecution of Shankar Sharma, the arrest of Kumar Badal, the raid on Tehelka and the steady leak of hostile stories to the media from the government’s agencies.

The message in all this is quite direct: if anyone ever tries to expose corruption in the way in which Tehelka has done, they will face the full might of the government of India.

It worries me that, as journalists, we are allowing the government to get away with all this. We may not agree with Tehelka’s methods, we may have reservations about some of its actions, and we may argue that Shankar Sharma’s prosecution is not a freedom of the press issue. But the overall picture is startlingly clear. Today, the attack is on Tehelka. Who knows which section of the press will get it in the neck tomorrow?

This is a government comprised of people who went to jail during the Emergency; of people who fought for civil liberties. Many of its leading lights complained loudly when The Indian Express was being persecuted by the Congress regime.

And yet, it is this government that is behaving like the Emergency regime, throwing aside the principles it once claimed to believe in, strangling the press and trampling on the right to free speech.

I wonder if it sees the irony?

Posted July 16, 2002