A lot has been speculated on the motive and the impact thereof from the latest Tehelka sting. It is clear from the subdued and muted response from the principal opposition in Gujarat that there is not much in this sting to make a case against Mr. Modi to sway public opinion inside Gujarat. There however remains the issue of public opinion outside of Gujarat. This question becomes important in the light of the following facts and some recent events. First the facts.

It must be remembered that before March of 2001, Tarun Tejpal was a relatively not so famour journalist and it was his maiden expose of alleged corruption in the Defense sector and on camera footage of then BJP President Bangaru Laxman that shot his outfit Tehelka into fame. One of the allegations at that time that was summarily dismissed was that Tehelka was acting on the behest of the ISI. However something interesting happened a couple of months later, an incident that has more or less disappeared from public memory. Offstumped has the chronology for you.

May 6, 2001: Delhi Police arrest six suspected ISI agents in New Delhi. The arrested were plotting to kill Tarun Tejpal, editor-in-chief of the portal tehelka.com and his colleague Anirudha Bahal

Aug 23 2001 : The Delhi police have chargesheeted the RJD MP from Bihar, Mr. Mohammad Shahabuddin, his alleged associate, Mr. Bhupinder Tyagi alias Avdesh, and nine others for allegedly conspiring to eliminate Tehelka.com CEO, Mr. Tarun Tejpal, and one of his journalists.

Dec 30 2003:  The report which did prove costly for former Bihar Director General of Police D.P. Ojha and led to his sacking, revealed that Shahabuddin alias “Shahabu”, the notorious RJD MP from Siwan, had hatched a conspiracy to eliminate Tehelka.com CEO Tarun Tejpal by hired criminals.

What is interesting is how little investigative journalism Tehelka engaged in against those who apparently conspired to kill its CEO and its star reporter ?

Just 8 stories in all on the many Shahabuddins over the last 7 years of Tehelka’s existence. Just 2 of those 8 stories on the don from Siwan.

If that is odd, dig this !

May 26, 2007 in a piece on Crime & Punishment, Anand ST Das recounts Shahabuddin’s many crimes but not a word on the plot to kill Tarun Tejpal.

Sept 17 2005 in a lengthy piece  Sankarshan Thakur treads dusty Siwan deep inside Bihar to trace Shahabuddin’s whereabouts, once again not a word on the plot to kill Tarun Tejpal.

If that is strange enough consider this. Nothing anywhere on Tehelka.com on the alleged plot to kill Tarun Tejpal.

So one may ask what then of the chargesheet in the Metropolitan Court in New Delgi and the report by the DGP of Bihar on the plot to kill Tarun Tejpal, allegedly at the behest of the ISI. Well let us examine what the man himself had to say about the alleged threat.

In Sept of 2003 a Nepali Hindi Daily reported that the plot to kill Tarun Tejpal was hatched by an ex-Nepalese Minister. Tejpal who is in the business of knowing things by sting or stink, surprisingly feigns utter ignorance

“I have no idea about this threat. I do not know of any Salim Ansari. But he is a contract killer and the person wishing to eliminate me may be somebody else.” 

 “Five persons hired to eliminate me and my former reporter from Tehelka.com, Aniruddha Bahal, are in Tihar Jail. We learnt from the police that they may have been planted by the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence). However I do not know too much about that either.”

Now remember the arrests in the plot to kill were made in May of 2001 which was just a couple of months after the first Tehelka expose implicating George Fernandes and Bangaru Laxman hit the wires. For two years after that till 2003 Tarun Tejpal had Z level security which is amongst the highest levels of state provided security. It is very odd that within a couple of months of hitting fame, a hitherto not so famous journalist attracts the attention of a cross border plot to kill and then enjoys the highest levels of security for 3 years there on but has nothing to say on the plot while we see deafening silence from his investigative outfit on the alleged plotter.

Now dig this. India Today interviews Bhupinder Tyagi, the hitman who was hired by Shahabuddin but was arrested in May 2001. Tyagi goes into great details of Shahabuddin’s travels to Birganj and Kathmandu several times to meet ISI operatives. Now the Tehelka sting goes public second week of March. Tyagi is arrested first week of May. Which essentially leaves about 5 weeks for someone in the ISI to think up the plot, send out feelers to Shahabuddin, organize the logistics for several meetings, identify the hitmen, arrange the weapons and then for the hit team to visit New Delhi, conduct reconaissance and get arrested. Now the first insinuations linking Tehelka to ISI come in the last week of March. So in less than 4 weeks all of the above happens.

Incredible isnt it for a relatively unknown journalist to become the target of a cross-border plot to kill in less than 4 weeks of fame.

 It is also incredible for an investigative journalist to feign ignorance of the plot after years of enjoying Z security but strangely letting the case die while not having a word to say about the alleged plotter.

Well the links to ISI real or imaginary have criss-crossed Tejpal’s paths more than once. When one looks at the impact of the latest stink outside of Gujarat one cannot but help view them in light of the recent terrorist attacks and the radicalization of Muslim youth. Offstumped had only recently pointed out that the radicalization of the disenchanted mind is of greater concern. The riots we can detect and control but the radicalization we have no measure of Offstumped had then said.

With this sting that concern has just gotten magnified hundred fold.

The footage laced with scenes from Parzania where the distinction between fact and reality blurs this sting is more potent than an Al-Qaeda training video or a Bin Laden message.

It was irresponsible and its likely impact on radicalisation of the disenchanted mind unfathomable.

If this was about justice, Mr. Tejpal’s outfit would have done the responsible thing of presenting all the corroborating evidence to the Nanavati Commission first. By not doing so Mr. Tejpal’s motives remain highly suspect.


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