High ambition, excessive greed, pomposity, incestuous relationship with power brokers and desire to be seen among the galaxy of elites –finally proved to be a nail in the coffin of founder and editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Jeet Tejpal
The man who shot to fame for hard-hitting reportage by taking the lid off the can of scams, succumbed to his carnal desires. The alleged sexual assault of a junior journalist of Tehelka by Tejpal in Goa, unmasked the face behind his cautiously cultivated image of an intellectual, accomplished author, a crusader against corruption and a flag-bearer of secular journalism. A pioneer of sting operations, has himself got stung by the crime (raping woman) against which Tehelka did a special story (Nov 30) prior to this incident.
Along with the charge of rape, followed a course of events—from stating it as ‘a bad lapse of judgement and recusing himself for six months’ to slandering, character assassination and intimidation of the young victim, from murkier deals and fund flows in Tehelka and allied organisations, to suddenly claiming to be “innocent and alleging that the episode was a BJP conspiracy while seeking bail” — one is bound to think whether Tejpal is a case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde!
According to many veterans in journalism, Tejpal has done enormous damage to the cause of genuine secularism, and the cause of journalism. “Investigative journalism is important for India, but the Tehelka brand of sting journalism is not. It deserves to die,” writes editor-in-chief of First Post, R Jagannathan.
Veteran journalist Ajoy Bose remarked on a TV channel, “Tejpal’s crime is against journalism and he has brought great shame to Indian journalism”.
“I witnessed stories…being killed after advertisers came and directly spoke to Tarun. And attempts made to slant political coverage not out of commitment to a certain set of values, but out of an obligation to a particular political party,” former Tehelka chief of bureau, Hartosh Bal said in an interview to First Post.
Crooked economics of Tejpal and Tehelka
Tarun Tejpal who started with Indian Express in early 1980s, gradually earned the tag of a firebrand journalist through sting operations. But, apparently his mission got lost in the labyrinth of power and he emerged as an astute businessman. Despite having launched a number of companies and incurring total accumulated losses of Rs 13 crore, how and why investors invested in his ventures remain a mystery. According to chartered accountants and financial experts, the losses shown in the books of accounts are “an eyewash”. According to an investigation officer at Central Board of Direct Taxes, “Many of these companies existing only on papers, are used to convert black money into white like in tax havens”.
p First venture: Tehelka Magazine – Tarun’s flagship firm Anant Media Pvt Ltd. According to the Registrar of Companies, the ownership of the company belongs 65.75% to Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament KD Singh’s Royal Building & Infrastructure, 19.25% Tarun Tejpal, 5.87% Weldon Polymers and 9.13% various people (including his family members). To improve the financial health of loss-making Tehelka, Singh’s company Alchemist group provided financial backing.
p Think Works Pvt Ltd: Organises Think Fest in Goa is a profitable venture in which Tejpal owns 80% share and 10% each by his sister Neena Tejpal Sharma and Tehelka’s managing director Shoma Chaudhury. In 2012-13, the company made Rs 1.99 crore profit.
p Tarun’s stake in his other companies: Chestnut Heights Pvt Ltd – profit-making hospitality group with hotels & resorts (25%); Thriving Arts Pvt Ltd – holding company for a club Prufrock (72%); Amaraman India Pvt Ltd (70%); AOD Lodges Pvt Ltd (50%); Tehelka.com (1.99%) and Udder Art Pvt Ltd (0.02%). Some of these companies exist on paper only and in some his sister is also a stakeholder.
p Tarun joined hands with liquor baron Ponty Chadha, who got killed last year for his elitist club ‘Prufrock’—to provide vibrant cultural space to an eclectic community of select urban Indians. It’s proposed to come up at the upscale M-Block Market, GK-II.
p By off-loading of shares, Tarun’s wife Geetan Batra, his parents, brother and sister – all allegedly made crores of rupees. And, in Anant Media after a few years, some of the investors disappeared.
p Several celebrities including Aamir Khan, Nandita Das etc donated Rs 1 lakh each to Tehelka during its inception. Law minister Kapil Sibal said he donated Rs 5 lakh and claimed he owns no Tehelka share.
Upwardly mobile Shoma Chaudhury
The managing editor, who has finally resigned, was editor (Features) and within less than a decade became managing editor, rather de-facto head of Tehelka. Her arrogance and authoritarian attitude surfaced when she tried to brush off the victim’s plea made to her and questioned the veracity of the victim’s complaint. “Shoma failed in all her duties and tried to give a signal to the victim that if the top boss does this, he can get away with,” remarked lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover on a news channel.
“Tejpal and his collaborator Shoma Chaudhury deserves to be in jail,” quipped Dr Subramanian Swamy, senior BJP leader.
(The writer is an independent New Delhi-based journalist)