Jawed Naqvi


LET’S not get distracted. Tehelka’s editor Tarun Tejpal used his position of power to force himself on a junior colleague who was his daughter’s age.


He contests the charge of rape but he did confess in a letter of apology to an error of judgement in seeking ‘liaison’ with the woman in question.


So we shall leave it to the courts to judge what exactly happened in the lift of a five-star hotel in Goa earlier this month, not once but twice on consecutive days. Hotel cameras are said to have recorded some moments of the two incidents.


Now Tejpal has tamely accused the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of maligning him. It is true that the BJP is exulting. It was at the receiving end of several sharp and far-reaching exposés carried out by Tehelka in its heyday of quality journalism.


News is also surfacing that in 2009, if not more frequently, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi obsessively stalked a vulnerable woman with the full might of the state apparatus with which he would on leaner days hunt alleged Muslim terrorists.


Modi’s defenders allege that the story, insinuating a sex scandal, was planted by the rival Congress party to stall his advance on the prime minister’s office in next year’s race.


News reports have described in detail the rise of the woman’s ordinary family businesses into a small empire soon after she began meeting Modi.


Why he started stalking the woman he had befriended could become the subject of salacious novels and movie plots. The chief minister has, meanwhile, set up a committee to probe the charges in the affair.


There are compelling issues here, but they threaten to distract us into making a wrong call or draw a politically unsound judgement. Let me illustrate the point with the help of a respected political activist who is also a well-known writer.


She was opposed to and still is against the construction of the string of small and large dams thawould mostly benefit a pro-elite development of Gujarat. Her argument was that big dams were potentially disastrous for the environment and fatal for the poor inhabitants whose land and habitat they threatened to submerge.


The corporate-funded media, as is its wont, asked her nothing about the dams at the press conference. Instead, they pilloried her about her private life, as if it’s any of their business.


“Look. It’s ok if you think I am a woman of loose character,” she shot back. “It’s all right also if you think I am coveting someone’s land and habitat. But even if you are right, which you are not, it still doesn’t justify the building of dams on the Narmada.”


The withering repartee quite probably holds the answer to some questions confronting us about Messrs Modi and Tejpal.


Mr Tejpal’s sexual pursuits may sooner or later find him in jail. And he deserves to spend the rest of his life there if the woman’s charges are proved right, which provisionally seems to be the way it all happened. That still would not take away anything from Tehelka’s priceless history of investigative journalism, which Tejpal led with merit. If there is a decline in his canons of journalism, the compromise is elsewhere, possibly in the fact that he is increasingly getting support from the very business lobbies he once vehemently opposed.


An excerpt from Tejpal’s second novel should give a nice glimpse of his thinking on these issues. In the The Story of My Assassins, he wrote: “Power is the engine of the world, and sex and money its oil and lubricants,” he wrote. He likened religion to a goli, a multi-flavoured pill, invented by those who have power, money and sex, to give to those who have none!


“Love is another great goli. Some days we too swallow these golis. They feel good, like a joint, a temporary high! But they are not the reality. The reality is power, money, sex! And yes, there’s another goli — morality!”


Yet, despite all of Tejpal’s inanities the old Tehelka and its exposés will remain a legend to savour. On the other hand, if Modi gets off the hook in the stalking saga — and it will not be surprising if he does with the help of a fawning corporate media — it will still not absolve him of the other serious charges, most notably that of supervising a brutal pogrom against Gujarat’s Muslims 10 years ago.


The fact is that Modi poses a real and present danger to India’s fragile democracy. And that dange cannot be fought with the help of sex exposés, or shall we say not by sex exposés alone. If anything, India needs a nationwide political mobilisation to underscore the threat the country faces. We can’t see one on the horizon.


To fathom the present threat we need to closely focus on the secret alliance cemented over the years between religious revivalism and the future corporate agenda, something Tehelka exposés had forewarned us of.


The way Modi is going about distributing burqas and skull caps to woo Muslims to his rallies, it seems that animosity towards the Muslims may have become an obstruction to his political purposes for the future. Targeting them in Muzaffaranagar and elsewhere will remain a part of the only mobilisation the BJP and Modi know — the communal mobilisation.


Muslims could be a means but not the object of Modi’s future hate mongering. Jailed as a suspected Maoist conduit she was tortured with stones shoved in her private parts.


The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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