To Jaya Jaitly, others in Tehelka sting: Preying on Tejpal now is opportunism

Editor's note: This article is in response to former Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitly's article on Tehelka's sting operation that alleged kickbacks in defence deals in 2000-2001.      

By Madhu Trehan

Firstpost.com published a 2497 word ‘article’ by Jaya Jatily on 4 December, 2013. Is it an article or a rant? It is an equivocation of Jaya Jaitly’s innocence. It is a histrionic hermeneutic attempt to reinterpret facts. It is a sadistic delectation. Too many long words? Most important to put it simply. Here it is: Because Tarun Tejpal is accused of sexual assault ipso facto Jaya Jaitly is innocent. Because Tarun Tejpal’s financial dealings are selfish and murky, Jaya Jaitly was not seen on Operation West End tapes acknowledging the packet of money Mathew Samuel of Tehelka handed over on 28 December, 2000 at George Fernandes, the defence minister’s house. Because Tarun Tejpal now stands accused of sexual misbehaviour, Jaya Jaitly was not seen and heard on the tapes explaining how the money would be spent for the party conclave to be held. Jaya was president of the Samata Party at that time. Her understandable obsession with clearing her name has not stopped.

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A screengrab from video footage of Tehelka's sting operation

It was Mathew Samuel who recorded 105 video tapes in Operation West End for Tehelka. (I believe that certain stories can only be done through stings otherwise they remain unreported. Tehelka reporters were no angels and made many mistakes. Now this method has been misused by blackmailers and political parties. But, it still does not undermine the work that was done in Operation West End and what they exposed.) Mathew reported to Aniruddha Bahal who monitored every second of Mathew’s activities. So much so, that when I began the first of a series of interviews with Mathew, his boss Aniruddha called him on his phone. I could hear a lot of shouting. It was Aniruddha yelling at Mathew to not talk to me. I got prepared for Mathew to end the interview and it had barely begun. But, Mathew hung up the phone and carried on calmly, telling me that he had been told not to talk to me. Tarun repeatedly said in his cross-examination that he did not know the details of the sting operation, but everybody found that difficult to believe. Tarun became the public face of Tehelka after the story broke because Aniruddha was considered too gauche for press conferences and Mathew would have simply befuddled everybody.

Tarun got all the media coverage, sometimes to Aniruddha’s umbrage. Tarun became famous as a crack investigative journalist although he had done no investigating. It was Mathew Samuel who was the core of the investigative journalistic siege carried out by Tehelka, along with Aniruddha. Or, as Samuel said, Aniruddha was ‘guaaaiding’ him. Samuel is responsible for permanently changing the paradigms of pursuit in journalism in India, yet no one has heard him speak publicly. His photograph has never been published. He didn’t give interviews. (Subsequently, he gave one to Newslaundry a year ago.) The few he gave in Kerala after the Tehelka story broke were to the Malayalam press, after which he was instructed by Aniruddha to zip it up and he did. Samuel agreed to an interview with me, explaining: ‘Because of your work. You not scared of anybody.’

On the morning of 13 March 2001, journalists all over Delhi began receiving calls from Tehelka, inviting them to come to a press conference at Imperial Hotel at 2.30 pm I received a call from Shoma Choudhary, then Tehelka’s Literary Editor. My response to her was: ‘Okay, I’ll send someone.’ Shoma: ‘No, Madhu. For this, I think, you better come yourself.’ When I arrived at the Imperial ballroom, Tarun, with his brother Minty Tejpal, was standing at the top of the stairs. Minty first and then Tarun echoing his words, said, ‘The government is going to fall. The government is going to fall.’ They were tense, but it was a happy tension. How could he have guessed he was counting governments before they hatched?

As the tapes were screened, cellphones began ringing. When names were mentioned, journalists watching the tapes, called people they knew and warned them they were on the tapes or had been mentioned. Jaya Jaitly was ordering her daughter’s wedding invitation card when she received a phone call that stunned her. Jaya couldn’t even remember this meeting with Mathew Samuel. In a state of alarm, she rushed back to the defence minister’s home, 3 Krishna Menon Marg. Army officers on the tapes began getting phone calls. At Army Headquarters, senior brass huddled into one office to watch the Zee telecast of

Operation West End. There they saw army officers drinking, shooting the breeze, pouring out classified information, handing over documents, and accepting bribes. Bangaru Laxman, the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was on tape, accepting money from Mathew Samuel on 5 January, 2001 without so much as glancing up at him. The tapes also showed Jaya Jaitly, president of the Samata Party, on 28 December, 2000, being offered a packet at the defence minister’s house. She did not, at any point, refuse the money. She did not touch the packet herself but a man standing next to her accepted it. Jaya gave instructions to her colleague on where the money should be sent and explained how it would be used.

Perhaps the juiciest and potentially damning tapes, if you believe the guy, are those with RK Jain, who was the Samata Party treasurer since 1998. The Tehelka operatives did not need anyone to introduce them to RK Jain. Hearing a lot of rattling about Jain as the acting briefcase man for George Fernandes, the Tehelka journalists went directly to a highly accessible Jain. He was no slouch in the gossip department. Jain talked about deals, meetings with Russians and others, percentages, specific defence supplies, technical information in great detail. Even if you dismiss his gossip about Jaya, how can one explain his knowledge and mass of information in depth and extent of the arms deals if he wasn’t involved? Jaya Jaitly’s fury directed towards R.K. Jain is highly understandable: he was after all someone who she naturally felt was beholden to her and Fernandes for his position in the Samata Party. The treasurer of her own party spraying names, describing deals in such
sequential chronology, and making Jaya into a greedy, money-grabbing manipulator with cringe-generating innuendoes.

In one of the numerous interviews with Jaya Jaitly, she said to me, “Jain found out, but Jain is an idiot. He didn’t do anything about it. He didn’t tell us even. If he had found out something so great, wouldn’t he have come and said? ‘Oh ho, logo ne hamseh baat kiyah aur aap keh paas ana chahteh thé, ya defence deal keh baat kar rahey [oh ho, people have talked to us and they want to come to you; they were talking about this defence deal.] Something he would have said.” Which begs the question, was Jain supposed to talk to Jaya Jaitly about discussions relating to defence deals? What action would Jaya have taken if she had been informed that they had recorded her on camera accepting money?

There was no way in which Jain could have figured the extent of the footage and who they had taped. How could Jain have known that Tehelka had recorded Jaya Jaitly on in the defence minister’s official residence?

Jaya Jaitly spent time in the Commission of Inquiry explaining that the Tehelka reporters were liars. Of course they were. They invented an arms dealing company, West End. They lied about who they were. They did not tell Jaya or anyone else they stung that they were Tehelka reporters surreptitiously taping them. But pointing out that they had lied to her did not make their recordings a lie. Those were there for all to see. And, now, pointing out that Tarun Tejpal is not as upright as people believed, does not make all those who accepted money from West End ‘representatives’ suddenly innocent.

The facts: Samuel was in Jaya’s room. A packet of money was offered. Jaya did not refuse it. It did happen in the defence minister’s home. Jaya did not check Samuel’s credentials. Jaya did spend some time explaining how the money would be used. Jaya did give a long lecture on how decisions are only taken in the nation’s interest, adding that the price and quality have to be right. This is all on tape. Jaya was correct in saying that she did not physically touch the money at all. The money was clearly for the Party. She said that if somebody was not given even a fair chance, she could send word down to the ministry. That’s it. To me she did not seem as guilty as she herself made it seem in her defence.

So why rake it all up again because Tarun Tejpal has been accused of sexual assault? Obviously, it is not enough to be honest; one must ensure that one is perceived to be so. If Jaya Jaitly blames Tarun Tejpal for her disrepute, then let her just gloat in schadenfreude. Jaya’s personal perspective may be true, but describing him in vicious adjectives hardly brings any credibility to her own actions.

There are glaring inaccuracies (which in Jaya’s language would be called lies) in Jaya’s article. Yes, Kumar Badal, a Tehelka reporter did spend a horrendous 6 months and 2 weeks in jail but on clearly trumped up charges of poaching. Jaya has stated that the Congress government “protected their financier from a simple inquiry”, is a vile travesty of truth. The financier, Shankar Sharma spent nine weeks in jail on trumped up charges. All of Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra’s branch offices closed down, their properties were attached, their home and offices were raided 26 times, their computer hard disks and servers were seized. They were banned from trading on the stock exchange, which was their livelihood, their bank accounts were frozen. They were physically detained three times, Shankar went to jail for nine weeks without bail under a law that had been repealed a year and a half earlier by Parliament, and within the year, they received over 300 summons for personal appearances from various departments and agencies of the government. The Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Excise Department, the Department of Company Affairs, and the Reserve Bank of India all investigated Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra. The Income Tax Department raided them 15 times. Twenty-two were cases filed against them under the Companies Act, plus one FERA case and five FERA civil proceedings. Shankar’s passport was confiscated and it took him a year to retrieve it. Devina got a stay order against her passport being impounded, which required yet more appearances in court. It has taken them 10 years to put their business together again and some of the cases against them are still going on; one as ridiculous as not having their office sign up because the walls were being painted. They got caught in what I called in my book the Secret Auto Destruct System. As Devina Mehra said, “Any time somebody wants you inside [jail], you can be inside. The only reason you are walking around free, it’s because nobody wants you inside.” It was the government that Jaya Jaitly’s party was part of that extracted revenge in the worst possible manner.

The article by Jaya Jaitly displays only her hysteria not her innocence. The finger she points only points back to her. Tarun Tejpal’s personality, character, functioning, actions, mistakes, however objectionable, do not make all those caught on the Operation West End tapes innocent. To take advantage of Tarun Tejpal’s notoriety only exposes the worst kind of opportunism.

Madhu Trehan is the Editor-in-Chief, www.newslaundry.com and author of Prism Me a Lie Tell Me A Truth, Tehelka As a Metaphor


Updated Date: Dec 12, 2013 11:10 AM

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