In the early 1980s, the Indian Express launched a campaign against the corruption of the then Chief Minister AR Antulay. That became known as the Cement Scam. It eventually led to the resignation of Antulay and had Prime Minister Indira Gandhi squirming in her seat. Owner Ramnath Goenka was under so much pressure after that expose that he had to sack editor Arun Shourie in the end.
After a few years, stringer Chitra Subramaniam came across the scam of the century when she exposed the wrongdoings in the Bofors deal. The Hindu newspaper carried that in great detail and it led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989. Bofors became a big brand and the Congress is yet to get a majority in Parliament on its own after that. Such was the powers of Bofors.
India liberalized in 1991 and it is now evident that thousands of scams of all sizes have emerged and investigative reporters can literally expose a scam a day if they want to. However none of them have been able to do a Bofors size campaign on their own and it is the non-journalists who are hogging all the limelight.
Take the sensational 2G case. It was an NGO which filed a complaint with the CVC over the issue and Janata party president Subramanian Swamy who pursued the case through the courts. The Supreme Court pulled up the CBI over the investigation and it was the CAG which put the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore.
It was due to the efforts of all these parties that the scandal came to the public eye and politicians like A Raja and Kanimozhi went to jail. The investigative journalism did not come from the media.
Later someone presented the Radia Tapes on a platter to many media houses and most of them either chose to ignore it or sat on it indefinitely. It was finally only after much afterthought that Open and Outlook took up the story.
The same thing happened with Coalgate. While coal scams have been raging for ages with fragmented reports coming here and there in the media, it was again the CAG which put the figure of Rs 1.86 lakh crore and made it a burning issue.
Robert Vadra married Priyanka Gandhi in 1997. There had been many whispers in the corridors of power about Vadra’s growing wealth but no-one bothered to do anything in detail about it. Last year the Economic Times just touched upon the story with no follow-ups.
It was Arvind Kejriwal who came out with a big press conference and put it firmly in the limelight and had Congress spokespersons running for cover. It is funny that only after Kejriwal raised the issue did all the media houses cover it in such great detail and start asking all the uncomfortable questions.
Even bureaucrat Ashok Khemka came out approached all the news channels and took forward the story.
When it came to the Salman Khurshid affair, even though the India Today group came out with a rare expose, it was Kejriwal who walked away with all the credit.
Another fact of Indian politics is how at one level all the parties get together and loot the nation. Kejriwal showed up the understanding in the Vadra affair and went one step further by targeting BJP President Nitin Gadkari.
While Kejriwal may not have established the criminality in Gadkari’s business empire, he showed how he increased his wealth with a little help from the rival NCP.
In the first case he showed up the politician-land-corporate nexus and broke the code whereby politicians do not target the families of rival politicians.
In the second case he showed up the nexus that exists between all parties. Both these breaches should ideally come from traditional media.
It’s been more than 10 years since we had Operation Westend by Tehelka which exposed the defence deals and also the cricket-match fixing saga.
In the infamous cash-for-votes scam, the CNN-IBN meekly handed over the tapes to the government thereby killing the whole scandal.
In the irrigation scam, instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of it all, most of the media got side-tracked by the so-called uncle-nephew Sharad-Ajit Pawar rift.
While newspapers, magazines and TV channels come out with exposes in detail from time to time, they are falling greatly behind the likes of politician Swamy and activist Kejriwal. In fact, Swamy has also made allegations against Congress President Sonia Gandhi, but the media has decided to totally ignore all that. That’s another big story waiting to happen.
The media is also largely pro-establishment and does not enjoy rocking the boat too much. So while traditional investigative journalism has taken a back seat, it is the court battles of Swamy and the "activist investigations" of Kejriwal which have come to the forefront.
Also see: Seven lows of the Salman Khurshid press conference...
Strange are the ways of the Nobel Peace Prize
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/