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Given the events unfolding in the Aam Aadmi Party, AAP's Internal Lokpal's letter seems almost prophetic. This is the letter written by Admiral Ramdas to the leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party. The events of yesterday evening demonstrate how the thinking of those controlling power in the party has gone beyond comprehending caution. This is a letter that could have saved AAP if the Kejriwal camp had taken their own internal Lokpal seriously.

Dear Friends,

Please find enclosed a note that we have prepared for the PAC and NEC members as we will not be able to attend the meeting on Feb 26th at Delhi.This note contains some essential issues which I hope will be discussed during the meeting as part of the Way Ahead item for the party included in the Agenda. Wishing you a successful and constructive day together.

Admiral and Lalita Ramdas

NOTE TO THE PAC AND NEC FROM ADMIRAL RAMDAS

I am writing this note to members of the PAC and NEC today, to share with you some of my concerns and related issues regarding the governance of the party. I would have presented this in person on 26 Feb, but I am not too well and so this note.

As Lokpal of the party, I have often been called to do damage control to avoid the AAP ship from capsizing! Today I want to ensure that this ship will stay afloat to make many voyages in the years to come.

A Brief Recap

In end December 2014, there was a crisis situation brought about by Shri Prashant Bhushan’s unhappiness with candidate selection procedures and decision making processes. If not addressed, he said, he would be forced to resign from the party and go public. To contain this, a special meeting was called in Delhi on Jan 3-4, 2015 at which a decision was taken to refer the issue to the Lokpal, assisted by a specially selected team. Thanks to preliminary investigative work by this fine young team from across the country, I could finalise my own findings in time for the candidates to file their nomination papers by Jan 21st 2015.

This was not the first time that I had to use my good offices to defuse a crisis situation; the previous one being immediately after the explosive Sangrur NEC, [August 2014}. In response to my letter, members of the PAC and special invitees, agreed to take a pledge not to go to public and to stick together and show a united face until the Delhi elections were over.

In early January once again I had occasion to address a note to key players and those attending the Delhi meeting, urging them that this was not the time to allow inner differences to surface in the public domain. Once again I assured them, especially those who raised the complaints, that we would certainly address the several concerns being raised with respect to candidate selection procedures, decision making , committee meetings, financial transparency, ethics, after our government took charge in Delhi.

Had the inner conflicts exploded in front of a hostile media, there is no telling what the impact could have been on the unprecedented election results.

I had hoped that the thumping results of the recent elections would have restored a positive energy in the party and that many of the mutual suspicions would have been set to rest, given that all of you had pulled together, despite differences, to deliver a stunning victory. Alas, this was not to be, and most recently while in Delhi during the results and swearing in, I also spent many hours in many difficult conversations where many of the old ghosts were constantly raising their heads.

As Lokpal, I have therefore gone beyond giving a narrow judicial verdict on the ethics and standards pertaining to candidate selection alone. Rightly or wrongly, I have taken upon myself an expanded role, namely, acting as an elder statesman to ensure that the party remained united throughout this period. I did not join the party only to preside over a potential split down the middle. My paramount interest is to nurture AAP and its potential as the only political entity in the country today which can change the way politics is practiced. I see my role as one who will unambiguously point out that mistakes and compromises have been evident in many areas -and from all sectors - with no single person exempt from some element of responsibility for the present impasse.

THE WAY FORWARD

I would urge all in the NEC to play the role of an objective, wise and statesman like  body whose role will be to play with a straight bat; be impartial, heal and cement the wounds and fissures. I hope that the members of the NEC will not take sides, but be able to build mechanisms and find people who are acceptable to both parties to find solutions. The press and media and our opponents are waiting like vultures to rip AAP apart at the slightest hint of rifts and dissension within. We need therefore to address the points detailed below.

1. Our spectacular performance in the recently concluded Delhi elections implies that we have to provide good governance in Delhi. It has raised hopes and expectations to a new level among the people of Delhi. This means that we will have to perform and make sure that we do not fail them.

2. National Convenorship  – To discuss and arrive at creative and visionary decisions on redefining the role of the National Convenor of AAP. Can the Chief Minister of a state and the National Convenor if he/she be the same person be in a position to discharge both the the duties efficiently?  Do we need co-convenors? What kind of profile are we looking for? Whether we like it or not, today we are a national party; and we can no longer keep our vision limited to Delhi or some region within the capital. The Delhi results have also impacted at the national level; and expectations have been aroused amongst all AAM AADMI supporters outside the capital and across India.  We need to recognise this and programme ourselves accordingly.

3. Dissent and Democracy – There has been criticism within the party regarding decision making and inner party democracy. This needs to be further analysed by an independent, group who should carry out an internal audit and make suitable recommendations in keeping with the Constitution and the high standards of probity and ethics that we have charted for ourselves. Most importantly let us not rush this; these processes take time; and as we have done with Mission Vistaar, so must it be with the next round of change and expansion.

4. Volunteers and management of volunteers  – Volunteers are our life line. We neglected and took for granted our volunteers and their commitment, especially after the national elections in 2014. This may well have been, one of the contributory factors for the emergence of AVAM.  We need to learn the right lessons from this experience and put in place robust mechanisms and people to handle this resource.

5. Conspiracy Theories , Trust Deficit and Communication Failures  – During the past six to eight months there has been an abject breakdown in communications and mutual trust amongst the topmost leadership of the party. This has in my view led to the growth of two camps within the party and loose talk about conspiracies. This is unacceptable and shows that we are no different from any of the parties whom we criticise so vocally. I sincerely urge the entire leadership of this party, especially now that we are also running a government in the capital city, to stop listening to rumours and to discourage colleagues no matter how close, who continually bring negative feedback about each other.

My comment comes from, over forty four years of experience in the Indian Navy, where lending an ear to a single mischief maker can create havoc within the organisation. There is no substitute for one on one dialogue to understand each other better knowing that we may also disagree. Managing dissent is both an art and an imperative.We have managed to keep this under some form of control and avoided an implosion within, until now. This has only been possible because of the untiring efforts by many well wishers from the party, people with extraordinary loyalty and integrity spread across the country.

6. RECONSTITUTION OF PAC AND NEC

We need an open discussion on how, when and whether bodies like the NEC, PAC, and even the National Council might need to be  reconstituted to better represent region/geography, gender, ethnic and other forms of diversity, as well as to reflect the current developments in the party.

I was both surprised and disappointed at the manner in which decisions were taken at the Delhi NEC meeting in June 2014, be it on expanding the PAC or inviting new members onto the NEC.  Such important decisions need far more rigorous methods and processes, and not the hurried, almost ad hoc tabling of names and a show of hands or voice votes to take decisions. If a system of setting up a search committee with agreed parameters and criteria can be set up for both these important core committee, it would go a long way in streamlining our procedures. For both bodies, we also need well thought through criteria of skills, experience, and qualifications, as also better representation on the key questions regarding gender, region and other diversity related  issues mentioned above.

7. SYSTEMS, DISCIPLINE, CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS.

I have spent my life in a disciplined service, where secrecy and maintenance of confidentiality is  often a matter of life and death. Frankly I have been aghast at the way in which decisions taken in our meetings are leaked within minutes; where conversations are recorded and uploaded, and sting operations conducted with little or no accountability.

Every email and letter I have sent out seems to become common knowledge and often has found its way to the media! All of us who were at Ram Lila Maidan on Feb 14th heard each Minister take a separate oath of secrecy as he took office before the Governor in public view. This is not merely a formality but a sacred duty. We need to discuss whether some form of inner party discipline is required within our own core committees?!

I daresay we could argue that a political party is not the same as a defence force. And yet we must all observe certain agreed upon rules and regulations, put in place systems to which we must all pledge allegiance and slowly but surely evolve into something of which we can truly be proud and where taking shortcuts even for winnability and exigencies will slowly be an exception and not the rule. We could then genuinely claim to be setting high benchmarks for the country in the future.

6. GENDER JUSTICE AND WOMEN IN AAP

Finally, last but not least, we need to make much efforts in the direction of becoming a genuinely Gender sensitive party which will do far more than pay lip service to women’s empowerment and ensure that we work to improve women’s visibility and participation at all levels. I personally find it difficult to defend AAP against accusations of being mainly a Boys Club especially when we were not able to have even one women in our team of Ministers! Women Empowerment and Justice has to go deeper and farther than mere security alone the Delhi Dialogue on Women was a good start. I hope that a group like AAP Shakti, who have been working systematically on a range of practical and supportive measures will be  treated as an important resource to help us move in the direction of genuine empowerment of women.

7. POLICY, THINK TANKS, AND LONG TERM PERSPECTIVES

The crazy period of headlong rush from one election to another is mercifully over for a while. This is a time for us to consolidate to return to our initial and path breaking dialogues on Policy, on the huge range of issues that confront our country. We need to have special groups that will create a pool of ideas, of projects and a road map both for Delhi and the country as a whole.

8. CONFLICT RESOLUTION, OMBUDS-PERSONS, SENIORS ADVISORY COUNCILS

The sheer time and energies that have been consumed in the past year and more in addressing various levels and kinds of conflicts and problems shows us that this is an area which will continue to exist and will continue to demand a council of elders, of people who can give of their time and wisdom, to anticipate, head off, and resolve, debilitating disagreements and conflicts.

CONCLUSION

Finally by way of conclusion, I wish to say that we are lucky to get this time to put our own house in order. This is not the time to go back in history or take any hasty decisions. We need to be statesmen like and work our way through this quagmire deftly and cautiously. After all just two years and a few months have lapsed since we formed a party. We are not magicians and the environment we have had to face is not one of our making!

We must accept with all humility, that we are all on the learning curve. It is important that we give out clear signals that all senior members of the party, primarily the PAC, are together and united. Let us be positive and not resort to any form of hasty action against our members. The leadership will have to carry the team together. Everyone has worked very hard to arrive where we are today and the country expects a lot from the party and we should not disappoint them and miss this golden opportunity.

Mrs Ramdas and I have also not spared ourselves over these months to keep the AAPship on an even keel. She joins me in wishing all of you Good

Luck.

Warm regards

L. Ramdas.

One wonders how long Admiral Ramdas will be allowed to continue as Internal Lokpal as well, given that he's questioned the holy cow Arvind Kejriwal holding both CM post as well as National Convenor. Not to mention the women free cabinet.

After all, if AAP can preach RTI compliance for parties but refuse to do it themselves, they can also preach Lokpal without trusting one themselves.

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I am a Aam Aadmi Party supporter. And tomorrow morning I will try to book my Tatkal tickets to Varanasi, on my way to support Arvind Kejriwal. As I sit in my balcony on the 9th my flat in Ahmedabad, my mind goes back to that day in 2002. I was in my teens then. That morning as sounds of murmurs woke me up I joined my family and relatives in the same balcony witnessing a mob demolishing a small stall with a public phone right opposite my flat operated by an innocent blind man. Right then i felt something which changed me and separated me from my family, friends and almost everyone I knew at that point in my life forever. Witnessing then the same mob putting a shop in my building on fire sealed something in me which made me feel like an alien in my land of living forever.

I write this, because I know what it feels like to be that alien in Ahmedabad, in Gujarat. That guy who despises the right wing fanatics, the politics of hatred and who cannot just understand how everyone around him from family to friends and everyone else support leaders and politicians who were responsible for the protection of its citizens but instead what happened was a genocide. I kept reading details about the genocide, harrowing tales of what human beings are capable of and felt tortured inside, more so, when everyone around me then was indifferent to it all. Being in your teens and not supporting BJP and Modi and living in the heart of Ahmedabad was not easy in those years. I would be afraid to put forth my views, would be embarrassed to express my sadness and anger at the deaths and following isolation of minorities in pockets of Ahmedabad amongst the friends and family who would revel and boast in these realities with a strange sense of joy which my naïve mind never understood. All sorts of justification blaming the administration, vote bank politics etc were given to me to justify the genocide and what followed.

It was not just these political realities which made me feel alone. Where I grew up, being nice and honest was a sign of weakness. Not being an expert in manipulation and corruption was considered a sign of stupidity. Times when these qualities or lack of them would come out of me in spite of my best attempts to hide them would lead to only ridicule. My parents would be warned in typical Guajarati way ‘ Tamaro chhokro bou sidho che, ullu banavta avadvu joiye’ ( Your kid is too honest, he should learn to manipulate people) . We were almost brainwashed into compulsorily admiring the Ambanis and Adanis then. Now that I look back everyone around me including the media had given them the image of powerful gods who are not to be questioned, nor to be looked in the eyes. They were the kings, along with the politicians supporting them, we were the loyal silent servants who are sucked dry. Asking questions of them, doubting them, was a crime and made you a communist. Whether it was farmer suicides, land allotment, etc etc everything was kept silent. As everyone in my school and college cheered Modi in the state elections, the voice of this silent Gujju amongst the many other millions went more and more silent. I felt tortured inside, I felt humanity was dead and the worst part was the loneliness. When you are afraid of these thoughts, those days when you feel so alone because of your thinking and morals that you hate yourself for them. When you desperately want to change yourself and curse yourself for failing at that.

On moving to Mumbai few years back, I felt a sense of relief, hoping it will be different, but it was not really different. When Antilla came about and everyone around me from Ahmedabad cheered it, I was again disillusioned. I could not understand how in a country with so much poverty and disparity of income, can such unimaginable abundance of wealth exist, and more so be cheered by the middle class. I felt sick when youth around me including me were told to look up to these ‘Successful’ citizens, they were a role model. The stories we read every now and then about the nexus of politicians, media, industrialists were hushed away and talking about it was stupidity. And about then the talks shifted to Modi becoming the next PM, the sounds were getting louder. As I travelled more and more, grew older, that voice which was choked inside slowly started getting louder. And angrier. And then it came. The Janlokpal movement. Those pent up emotions started to come out. Still slowly, with pessimism imbibed in us after a decade of banging in our heads ‘Nothing will change, nothing can change.’ The movement slowly died. The voices cheering Modi started going higher and higher. And then he arrived.

I do not remember my exact first memory about Arvind Kejriwal. But I think it was after the Janlokpal movement when I saw his Youtube videos from IIT and other places. I was stunned. I was numb. Being a middle class Guajarati who had lived in Gujarat most of the life, to ask questions, to talk the way he was talking was criminal. How could someone have so much audacity? How could someone say the truth? How could someone ask the Demigods questions? It felt too good to be true and I tried very hard to support the movement, first Lokpal and then AAP and never ever follow into the trap of supporting the person as that is the first step of disillusionment in the long run. But I failed. I am not only a AAP supporter but Arvind kejriwal fan. Screw logic and rationality. Enough of fear.

Now when I came to Gujarat just before leaving for Varanasi, I can feel a confidence in me, a sense of hope but above all I am not ashamed of myself anymore. I will no longer have a silent lost look every time someone in Gujarat will condescendingly ask me ‘If not Modi then who?’ after I criticize. I now have an option. I now have hope. Of a leader and party which stands for honesty and secularism. Of transparency and courage. Of not bowing down to rich corporate. Blood does boil at what Media is doing, what pessimists are doing, but there is hope. I feel sad when on the few interactions with old school friends I see an inexplicable but expected denial to look at facts, to not discuss, to still support the extremists and corrupt, but with time, they will find in themselves, if nothing else, the courage to accept and talk about truths.

Above all, what Arvind kejriwal has given to people like me is to courage to stand up and no longer be embarrassed about our honesty. Not be afraid of being termed stupid on admitting that I will not be corrupt. To have the strength to smilingly suffer instead of indulging in corruption. If he succeeds the generation after me will be taught that real smartness if to be honest, real success is kindness and inclusiveness, if Lokpal succeeds, if Swaraj succeeds the coming generation will again reclaim their right to ask questions, to demand justice, to have courage. I do not want to even begin to thank Arvind Kejriwal or try to put into words what I feel about him, how could you be thankful to a person who gives you the strength to accept your true self without shame? Or make you feel courageous enough to ask questions of anyone especially him. As a small thanks, I will be a part of his small army trying to fight impossible odds in Varanasi and take anything thrown at us by the opposition filled with goons. But as he has always taught, nothing is impossible, real courage is to fight when odds are laughably against you. When I shook his hands on his visit to Mumbai few weeks ago, when I heard him speak, saw the love people had for him and above all saw him have the courage to be in the middle of his people laughing away at all the security concerns I realized what it felt like to have a leader who will stay with you till the end, and for whom you can take a bullet without thinking twice.

My purpose to write this is to tell those confused youngsters all over, and especially those in Gujarat who have also been robbed of their views, voice and morality that it is ok to be who you are. It is ok to be different, it is ok not to be communal or cheerlead for fascists and corrupt when everyone else around you is cheering. Change is coming, it is time to come out and accept yourselves and not be silent anymore.

 

*** Guest post by Chintan Bhatt ***

Indian citizens have the freedom of speech. But freedom of speech in itself means little without freedom of information. If you are free to decide for yourself and speak up, but you are deliberately fed information that makes something look really good and something look really bad, your condemning what was informed to you as bad, or your praising what was informed to you as good holds little meaning. Yet, your voice raised as an opinion lends its power to decisions the country takes. Whether as protests or public opinion on the street, choices in goods or accepting or refusing policies.... and voting in your own interest in elections. Your voice can be manipulated by feeding you inaccurate or invented information.

Paid news in coloquial use can refer to the practice of placing favorable news reports in mainstream news organizations. Practically, it extends to false or exaggerated criticism or deliberate double standards in evaluating. It can be used to influence decisions, as seen in the superb expose by Sainath of the favorable reporting of Monsanto by Times of India, which was aimed at preventing a ban because of farmer complaints. As it stands, the Parliamentary Committee report vindicated the facts from the expose in their interactions with villagers. The Analytical Monthly Review has published a robustly argued article linking the phenomenon of paid media with the neo-liberalization of India's economy and media.

On record, paid news is specifically the practice of manipulated reporting related with elections.

The increasing prevalence of manipulated news reporting aimed at influencing electoral results alarmed the Press Council of India after the 2009 elections and a Press Council of India Committee Report first defined what it considered as paid news in 2010:

Paid News can be defined as “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration”

The Press Council Committee report aims to not only define paid news, but to document the ways in which paid media manifests and attempts to recommend guidelines for the Press and the Press Council in tackling the phenomenon. A stinging 70 page Press Council Sub-Committee report on paid news, also in 2010 listed various instances of paid media that came to their attention. Another report that emerged from the monitoring of Gujarat Assembly Elections followed as well as careful documentation of Private Treaties (can't find document, will update) as a development in media being able to offer "deals". But there is not much that can be done.

There is no dearth of understanding the issue, and sting operations have as much as revealed rate cards with paid media coverage packages and politicians admitting that they cannot win elections without buying such coverage. However, the problem is manifold. The deals happening in secret, even if open secret, acquiring proof is not easy. There have been guidelines for media and even the Election Commission for accepting complaints related with paid news, but not much appears to have come out of it.

There does not appear to be much motivation either, as the lawmakers are the ones profiting from such favorable coverage and the media that can mobilize or stifle public opinion profits from the continued practice. This can sometimes go to absurd levels, like the UPA government filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the Election Commission  only has to make sure that the accounts of a candidate (which include spending on media) are filed on time, but they cannot disqualify if the accounts are falsified. It is the same UPA that would state in the Parliament two years later, as they attempted to ram through an amendment that would prevent RTI for political parties that political parties are already accountable to the Election Commission.

In the meanwhile the run up to this upcoming Loksabha Elections have seen more exposes. Operation Blue Virus by Cobrapost exposed a new dimension to paid media - the use of social media to create perceptions of massive support for candidates or slander opponents. "Services" offered by "providers" included planting false defamatory information and even spreading rumors to cause riots. There is no depth to which the profit machine will refuse to fall, it seems.

In the meanwhile, Operation Prime Minister by News Express exposed the manipulation of poll survey data to project favorable results for parties on demand.

After Aam Aadmi Party started challenging corporate corruption, the coverage changed to the point where some allegations in media coverage stopped making any sense at times. Arvind Kejriwal's direct confrontation of media and statement that if elected his government would take action against such media had news anchors throwing fits of fury on screen, as though this was the first time they had heard of paid media. Strangely, it were the same channels covering with a bias that were the loudest in claiming persecution of media as well. The NBA stopped an inch short of issuing an outright threat as they stated that they would have to see how the AAP was covered if Kejriwal continued to act in this manner.

There were, however several journalists who did take the allegations with the gravity they deserved. Here was the nation's largest democracy heading off to the what counts as among the world's largest election processes and rampant paid media was happening in the full eye of the world and drawing increasing comment. Notable among these were the panel hosted by Girish Nikam on Rajya Sabha TV with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Sr. Journalist) ; Ravi Mohan Khanna (Media analyst) ; Vipul Mudgal (Former Resident Editor, Hindustan Times) ; Saurabh Bharadwaj (Former Minister, AAP) as guests

and Nikhil Wagle's interview of Arvind Kejriwal.

There was a dramatic drop in biased coverage against Aam Aadmi Party in a few days after Arvind Kejriwal's allegations. However, how long this drop lasts is anyone's guess. The problem of paid media is also compounded by the complete lack of intellectual challenge to journalists and particularly television journalists, who essentially operate in whatever manner suits them with little criticism or peer commentary ever. It is extremely unlikely for one channel's absurd coverage of something to draw comment from another channel, and thus any outrage by people impacted by the inferior quality of journalism largely remains limited to tiny audiences and ineffective as deterrent.

A recent example is the declaration of Priti Gandhi as the person behind BJP's campaign using Assange's falsified quote. Yet all Wikileaks had done was to point out to Mrs Priti Gandhi promoting the image to her 40 thousand followers. The tweet in question was a retweet, and thus the image was clearly not posted originally by her. So it is really unclear how media has reached the conclusion that it is her behind the campaign without any further proof. But this is how media is. A grasshopper on caffeine. An elephant in a China shop. There is little sense of nuance, very poor comprehension skills and a complete disinterest in evolving. With BJP on the backfoot about the larger allegation of false social media plants, it is unlikely they will defend her on this technicality, so in all likelihood, Mrs. Gandhi will go down in history as the chief accused in Modi's Social Media fraud plants.

But beyond that, the facts of the case are so obfuscated in desperate labeling of heroes and villains and flying accusations that there is little time to take a deep breath and understand what really happened, let alone narrate it accurately. The speed of news has translated extremely poorly for the intellect that should drive it. Journalism is a post graduate degree course in India and our journalists don't link to sources of the facts they claim in their article, because their education has trained them for print and years of actual hands on work cannot bring them to this century.

What does this mean for you, as a citizen? It means that you cannot afford to be lazy with your own rights. You cannot count on media for accurate information, because whether out of motivated manipulation or poor comprehension or careless reporting, facts are often distorted. It is important that you use your ability to discern and evaluate.

It suits those in power if the masses can be kept stupidified and gullible and easy to herd to choice decisions through invented fears or invented qualities. It is mental colonization of a sort, where a few people with the ability to design and power to deploy mass media can engineer your perceptions.

The next freedom struggle of India is going to be of the mind.

Update: Since this post was written, Cobrapost have done several more stings exposing deep rooted wrongs in India. From social media services for political parties to spread disinformation, slander or rig elections, to confessions of brutal murders of dalits who have been getting acquited in case after case. Today Cobrapost has exposed the "Love jihad" - a Hindutva conspiracy to intimidate couples where a Hindu girl marries a boy of another religion with shocking confessions ranging from kidnapping and assault to intimidation, threats against family, false charges of rape and even the drugging of Hindu girls.

Cobrapost and Gulail have come up with a devastating video sting of Amit Shah's misuse of state machinery on the orders of Narendra Modi in surveilling a woman for a month. The sting covers almost an hour and includes over half an hour of taped phone conversations that show the extent of surveillance. (separate post on the sting will follow). Here is the video:

The article that follows, I had written after Operation Red Spider, also by Cobrapost.

Aniruddha Bahal and Cobrapost have come up with a devastating video sting - Operation Red Spider, in which they have exposed money laundering facilities offered by top banks HDFC, ICICI and Axis. The clear implication is a nationwide moneylaundering scam. The shocking expose was done with the help of one editor Syed Masroor Hasan and was simple. Syed walked into various branches of these banks saying he was acting on behalf of a politician who had a lot of black money he needed laundered. What followed is history. Bank officials not only readily agreed to it, they provided various strategies like bonds, deposits and gold in gross violations of the Income Tax Act, FEMA. As I write, news comes in that RBI is going to investigate the banks exposed by Operation Red Spider.

Aniruddha Bahal and his cobrapost.com have been doing spectacular video stings consistently. Some of their earlier work includes:

2011 Cobrapost had done the Bollywood Black Money video stings in partnership with CNN where top Bollywood producers and directors revealed on camera how black money funds their films and how they launder it for their investors.

2007 - Operation Guru Dakshina exposed illegal dealings in school admissions.

2006 - Haj Applications Scam exposed how Mumtaz Ahmed blatantly agreed to rig the lottery system for selecting Haj applications for a price.

2005 Operation Duryodhana captured on camera 11 MPs accepting money to table questions on the floor of the Parliament (10 - Lok Sabha, 1 - Rajya Sabha) - 7 BJP, 2 BSP, 1 INC, 1 RJD. The members were all expelled:

  • Narendra Kushwaha (BSP) - Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh: Rs 55,000
  • Annasaheb M. K. Patil (BJP) - Erandol, Maharashtra: Rs 45,000
  • Chhatrapal Singh Lodha (BJP) - Odisha (Rajya Sabha) : Rs 15,000
  • Y. G. Mahajan (BJP) - Jalgaon, Maharashtra: Rs 35,000
  • Manoj Kumar (Rashtriya Janata Dal) - Palamau, Jharkand: Rs 110,000
  • Suresh Chandel (BJP) - Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh: Rs 30,000
  • Raja Ram Pal (BSP) - Bilhaur, Uttar Pradesh : Rs 35,000
  • Lal Chandra Kol (BJP) - Robertsganj, Uttar Pradesh: Rs 35,000
  • Pradeep Gandhi (BJP) - Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh: Rs 55,000
  • Chandra Pratap Singh (BJP) - Sidhi, Madhya Pradesh : Rs 35,000
  • Ramsevak Singh (Congress) - Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh: Rs 50,000

2000 - Operation West End in collaboration with Matthew Samuels (in Tehelka) exposed irregularities in defense procurements and resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes. This was followed by an mega witchhunt of Tehelka by the ruling BJP government which shut it down.

1997 - Match-fixing sting - he was the first journalist anywhere in the world to expose the shady world of match-fixing in an expose that rattled the cricket world. Remember the end of Azaruddin?

Imagine my astonishment when the sole award to his name on Wikipedia is one for Bad Sex In Literature. Not joking. Cobrapost doesn't even have a page on Wikipedia. And we wonder why corruption is so difficult to end in a world where controversial corporations sponsor journalism awards and political parties have understandings with corporate owned media?

I had written this post for another website earlier, but it doesn't seem to have been published.

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In 2001, Tehelka did a sting operation called Operation Westend, where they pretended to be trying to sell thermal imaging binoculars and wanted to secure defense purchases. Recording all their interactions with hidden cameras, they ended up with an astonishing expose of some 34 people bought out on tape to sell a product to the country. A product that didn't exist at all. Among those caught were Mr. Bangaru Laxman (then president of the BJP), Ms. Jaya Jaitly and others.

Here is a sample tape they have edited out of their meetings with Bangaru Laxman.

So far, so good. We have proof of massive corruption in defense deals. Something which incidentally continues to date. What was chilling was the response of the government. At that time, there was a BJP government in power. Mentioning this, because the BJP takes high moral ground often, but here was a case of 34 people offered bribes and 34 people accepting. This is not to say the same wouldn't have happened with a Congress government, as Shoma Chaudhary rightly pointed out. The corruption is endemic and ongoing.

What was horrendous was that Tehelka was targetted by the government in an unprecedented manner with the government doing all it could to demolish them and their credibility entirely. From income tax audits to cases filed against individuals, it was a witch hunt that brought the paper down from 120 paid employees to one. It shut the paper down for all practical purposes. It was another two years for them to publish an edition.

The conviction of Bangaru Laxman that has happened after so many years is a vindication of the effort Tehelka put into that sting as well as a mark of their integrity, as Shoma says in this [remarkably polite - I wouldn't have managed it] video.

So all is well and good, Tehelka survived a nightmare, is credible and publishing again, culprits have been disowned by BJP and prosecuted, etc. All is well.

NOT.

As a citizen of India and a person concerned with freedom of speech and freedom of media, this is an important moment for me. The government's witch hunt of Tehelka is now clearly visible for what it was. In my view, allowing it to stand in spite of being proved wrong is an undermining of free speech and a step toward state sponsored silencing of the media - or in other words, an invisible fence of paid media. Push the wrong buttons and get destroyed is the message.

This will not do.

I think this is a good time for Tehelka to immediately file a case against the government - ideally a PIL that safeguards truth seekers from persecution, but at the very least as a case by them against the government for persecution and demand compensation for the losses from going out of business as a result of it as well as the trauma to individuals.

Operation Westend may have been about defense deals, but what followed was about silencing anyone that challenged corruption in the corridors of power, and if that persecution is allowed to exist unchallenged, it stays as a precedent for others to fear when tackling erosion of the integrity of our country.

It is no coincidence that very few newspapers ever touch the cores of power of the government. No one will question Sonia Gandhi to ask for an explanation of the bizarre nomination of Sachin Tendulkar to the Rajya Sabha. No one will ask the president to explain her rationale for approving it. The RTI activists and journos of Moneylife had to face vague threats when they questioned the President's retirement bungalow - news comes in that she is no longer accepting it. At the same time, the threats did try to silence the truth seekers.

RTI activists are dying routinely anyway. Usually at the hands of people in power. This year we also had the inexplicable death of someone handling RTI queries.

In my view, unless the media strikes back and defends its constitutional rights vigorously, they, like all rights will keep eroding till a point in time where a journalist writing anything about anyone may send it for "prescreening" approval first for fear of losing his job, life or other things dear. News organizations may reach a point of running everything by people to prevent offense and retaliation.

The internet is fighting for its voice against the government as we speak.

If we are to survive as a democracy, then the right to free speech must be defended with all we have. In my view, Tehelka MUST sue the government for damages to business, reputation and health, so that it sets a precedent for taking the government to task in future silencing. On a larger scale, the practice of countering any challenge of wrongdoing with defamation must be destroyed for even Parliamentary proceedings to exit our paralysis.

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Two questions answered before asked:

1. That was a different government.

So? It is the same country, same news magazine, same constitution, same government, even if the occupants changed. With this logic, if the BJP comes to power, the government shouldn't pay compensation for Sikh riots? They were harmed by the government, the government must compensate them. No one is stupid enough to think that the Congress would persecute anyone for nailing the president of the BJP. Unless they have individuals they know targetted them, they should aim for the Government of India.

2. What if they lose?

In my view, we shouldn't let them lose. But even if they do, the silencing must be challenged. And it must be challenged every time it happens. Every time, with every entity it happens with, because democracy is worth it.