Country Do You Want, Mr Chandan Mitra?
Outlook publisher Mahesh Peri lambasts the Pioneer editor’s
take on Tehelka’s Gujarat exposé
THE PUBLISHER OF a large magazine is a blessing as well as a curse. You
are in an enviable position to be a social change agent. However, you
are upposed to treat all other media — including good journalism
— as competition and treat them with suspicion.
Post the sting, planned and executed at TEHELKA’s offices and later
aired on Aaj Tak and Headlines Today as a joint operation, many media-watchers
have asked me a very common but sinister question: “Why now? Don’t
you think it is motivated?” Every questioner was looking at an answer
that wanted me to ignore the content and focus on the motives behind the
operation. And motives, we know, can always be insinuated, even imputed.
I have known Tarun and Aniruddha Bahal (now operating CobraPost, which
has aired many exposés on many other channels), the founders of
TEHELKA, for long. As their publisher when they were at Outlook,
I used to be both excited and fearful of their exploits, but never saw
any reason to doubt their motives. At Outlook, we believe in
following a story and putting it in the public domain, without bothering
about the after-effects.
Even at the cost of sounding immodest, I implicitly assume that the people
groomed at Outlook continue to follow the same philosophy. And, even if
I hadn’t ever known Tarun or TEHELKA, I would still go with the
contents of the sting and not look for excuses to rubbish the operation.
Lastly, if they have tried to recover some of their costs by selling it
to any television channel, and that too a channel as big as Aaj Tak, I
don’t have a problem. TEHELKA is a commercial enterprise whose survival
depends as much on making their work viable as on credible journalism.
And let’s remember the power of television to reach a larger number
However, the response that the sting has evoked from some among us is
both shameful and dangerous. And when it comes from leaders — the
so-called intellectuals and especially editors who are supposed to mould
public opinion — it is despicable. I have read Chandan Mitra (in
the latest issue of Outlook) and I am constrained to say that I am happy
not to have ever known or met him. I think I am freer than him because
I can see, hear and process everything that is said
on camera not through the prism of my own magazine, organisation or people.
Mr Mitra wants you to investigate Godhra and the 1984 riots before the
current operation is taken at face value. Just because the infamous Delhi
schoolteacher sting was a contrived operation, he would have you rubbish
this sting as well. He wants you to justify the timing of the operation
before the contents are accepted at face value.
It doesn’t end there. Elected representatives and public officials
seem to be excused on the grounds of being “braggarts” (and
no, I will not say anything about his research at Oxford University) —
“small-time, small town politicians who are known to exaggerate
their importance given half a chance”. Mitra seemed more bothered
about the money Aaj Tak paid TEHELKA and the money made by mobile phone
operators than by the contents of the sting operation.
Have we as a country fallen to such a state that murders, rapes, wrenching
the foetus out of a pregnant woman, hacking a person bit by bit and then
burning him alive have all become part of “bragging”? If this
is the country that Mr Mitra thinks he represents as a parliamentarian,
then our leaders have failed us in creating a civil society and on that
charge alone, they must be driven away.
Have we fallen to such a state that every political party in this country
— the stung included — would benefit out of a systematic dehumanising
of our collective conscience? Can’t we as a country prevent people
from benefiting from mass rapes and murders? Do we need to see even the
most despicable things that happen around us through a prism of caste,
creed, religion, political parties, competition, business, sex, region,
and so on?
The political compulsions are such that the stung party that should be
ashamed seems smug and even jubilant whereas the Opposition Congress,
that should have been creating a hue and cry, looks visibly shaken and
most unhappy. A day after the contents were aired, we had a Union minister
belonging to the Congress claiming the sting to be a BJP operation to
“encash on the sentiments of the people through an overexposed Godhra
Both the BJP and the Congress are spreading the word about the sting operation
having been done at the other party’s behest. No one wants to take
the issue further; it is vote bank politics at the worst. Even the statesman
that our prime minister is supposed to be has not uttered a single word
condemning what the exposé has revealed.
Under the Press and Registration of Books Act (which regulates the publishing
industry in India), as a publisher you are responsible for everything
that is printed in your publication. At the same time, following the basic
tenets of editorial freedom, I get to know about all the stories published
in Outlook along with millions of our readers. And no matter what the
laws say, that is how it ought to be and I am proud to be working in such
Being a publisher with tens of cases filed by Raja Bhayyas and Narendra
Modis, I have become immune to cases filed by certain kinds of people,
especially politicians. So perhaps I should not be too concerned by their
reactions to the TEHELKA exposé. But when I see people becoming
immune to tragedy, death and human suffering, I think it is time for the
average Indian to speak out