Why the idea of Tehelka is dead and buried

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 28, 2013 04:49 hrs

It is amazing to note how a lot of people have suddenly discovered the Tehelka head honcho Tarun Tejpal to be a crusader, great writer and fearless journalist while the magazine to be of the highest quality around.

Some are advocating that the man (Tejpal) be separated from the product (Tehelka) arguing that the latter should not suffer because of the former.

But if the most important person in the organization (Tejpal) is accused of sexual assault and if the second most important (Shoma Chaudhury) is accused of a cover-up, then how do you separate the two?

What else is the institution made up of? It’s the journalists who are working there and who are the only bright spots in the sordid saga, since they seem genuinely disgusted with the way things have unfolded. So if they start quitting (half a dozen by the last count) then what institution are you talking about?

A look at the things wrong with Tehelka in the first place before this so called “untoward incident” took place...

It’s a honey-trap, not a sting:

Bofors is a Congress scam brand name that has become a legend. 2G and Coalgate are scams are in the magnitude of 1 lakh crore+. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a financial wizard who couldn’t even see the former scam happening in front of his own eyes, he was Coal Minister in the latter.

If you are asked to name a mega scam in the 1998-2004 NDA government, then chances are that you will immediately think of Operation West End.
Think over it. The defence procurement system was set up by the Congress from 1947 onwards.AB Vajpayee took over as PM in 1998. The government fell in 1999 and was re-elected in the same year and just two years later in 2001, Operation West End hit the nation.

There was no scam in the first place, it was a honey-trap which showed Army officers in bad light and also used prostitutes.In all Tehelka accepted that they paid Rs 15 lakh as bribes!

It’s ironic. The Congress builds up a system and the BJP takes the fall.

In many countries, the stinging journalists would have been arrested and still cooling their heels in jail today.

Clear bias:

From 2001-10, Tehelka could argue that the BJP couldn’t handle defence deals and Godhra and there weren’t that many scams in UPA1. They could have still claimed to be a fair organization with “incidentally” more stories against the BJP.

But that theory totally collapsed from 2010-13:UPA2 has been plagued by so many scams that it makes your head spin. But what has Tehelka been busy doing? It has been launching one vicious attack after another against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. So much for neutrality!

Union Minister Kapil Sibal may not be the uncle of Tejpal, however he admits to donating money to Tehelka! Think it over. A Congress minister in the past donated Rs 5 lakh to a magazine that is known for its bias against the BJP. That’s the real story.

While Sibal claims that he does not hold shares in Tehelka, websites claim that he holds equity shares in Anant Media Pvt Ltd, which controls Tehelka. The truth should be out soon.

Tejpal was also taking up a high-profile post in Prasar Bharati and I&B Minister was muted in his criticism when the scandal broke out.

Leadership issues:

When Tehelka was launched, it gained a lot of talent at the senior level. But as time passed, the top was only occupied by Tejpal and Shoma. In fact former employee Hartosh Bal told a news website that,“It (Tehelka) eventually became a shrine to the cult of Tarun with Shoma (Chaudhury) as its high priestess.”

The THiNK paradox:

It is ironic that an organization which keeps talking of being pro-poor and standing for the underdog should launch such a lavish high-profile corporate sponsored event and that too in a tourism hotspot like Goa.

News reports have also emerged of how Tejpal and Shoma were the owners of the entity that managed THiNK. Things seem to be really murky.
Another elitist club was in the offing called PRUFROCK. An investor in that was the late Ponty Chadha. For the uninitiated, Ponty was accused of being at the receiving end of favouritism from more than one CM.

He held the liquor monopoly in Uttar Pradesh and faced criminal and tax probes. He died in a high-profile shootout with his brother!


While no-one used to speak of the exact funding of Tehelka, now newspapers are buzzing with stories of how all was not well with the finances and ownership of Tehelka. Clarity will emerge in the coming months and it does not at all look pretty at this stage.

Tehelka did some great stories when it was launched, apart from the stings. Then the standard plummeted. Now ex-employees are writing all over of how certain stories were spiked and how they saw no other reason but to quit.

It all makes sense.

Post script...

If Shoma had blasted Tejpal at the very beginning and then gone to the police in total solidarity with the victim, then she could have taken the high ground.She could have launched the second phase of Tehelka where they could have gone with a tagline “We practice what we preach.”

However both Tejpal and Shoma seem to be going from one absurdity to another.

Tehelka may or may not continue after this, but the idea of Tehelka is not only dead, but it is buried too.

This article was written just before Shoma quit Tehelka, but that appears to be the final nail in the coffin.

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. 

He blogs here.

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