The write way

Wednesday night saw an unlikely gathering of people at the likely setting of Olive Bar and Kitchen at Mahalaxmi Racecourse to listen to veteran journalist Madhu Trehan...

Written by Nikhil Roshan | Published: February 28, 2009 1:55:16 am

Madhu Trehan makes an appeal for free and fair journalism via her book on Tehelka’s operations

Wednesday night saw an unlikely gathering of people at the likely setting of Olive Bar and Kitchen at Mahalaxmi Racecourse to listen to veteran journalist Madhu Trehan as she read out from her new book Prism Me a Lie,Tell me a Truth – Tehelka as Metaphor. Trehan was commissioned in 2002 by Roli Books to write a book on a happening that became a landmark in the history of journalist practice in India — Tehelka magazine’s Operation West End which uncovered malpractices and siphoning of hundreds of crores worth of funds during defense procurements in 2001. After six years of painstaking research and going through piles of charge-sheets,interrogation records and 40 exhausting interviews,Trehan is finally out with her 587-page book.

“When I began researching,I thought I could finish the book in six months. But when I got into it,I realised just how much there was to look into,” she explains. Her interesting audience comprises Adi Godrej,Tavleen Singh,Queenie Dhody and Rahul Bose among others.

The saga narrated is one of a near Kafkaesque nightmare. Using spy-cams,disguised as arms dealers,Tehelka journalists uncovered a fraud much like the Fodder Scam or the Bofors Scandal. But the then-ruling NDA government,caught on the wrong foot,quickly turned its wrath on Tehelka. What followed were exhausting interrogations and court hearings of Tehelka’s journalists and the subsequent imprisonment of the magazine’s funder Shankar Sharma,for alleged I-T irregularities.

The reading was to serve as a catalyst for a debate on whether the honest can prosper in this country. Another veteran,Tavleen Singh,compered a debate of voices that largely blamed poverty,bureaucratic red-tapism and the lack of citizen’s participation to change things. Trehan takes liberties in her book to paint the bleakness of ‘surviving’ in India through metaphors such as the title of one of her final chapters, Insectpur. But Trehan has seen the changing landscape of the Indian media up-close — starting the India Today magazine in 1975,producing and anchoring the TV news show Newstrack in 1986 and starting in 2000 — and isn’t without hope. “I believe in the practice of constant questioning. As far as India is concerned,we’re in a good place right now. My appeal is for unbiased and free journalism. We as journalists have to stop being branded and a reader should be able to refrain from interpretation as to which political party or industry a journalist is aligned to,” she says.

Her own criticism of discrepancies in Tehelka’s findings through the sting operation,though included in the final chapter of the book,has been found insufficient by some critics. “I have also faced flak for this book. Many alleged that the Tehelka investigation was planted. Now they aim the same criticism at me. Anyway,when one takes on such a task,one has to be prepared for the repercussions.”

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