Cash for Vote – Tehelka Story

After the political storm kicked in by the controversial WikiLeaks Cable, another equally sensational story by Tehelka has given a new twist to the whole controversy.

As per Tehelka –

“Tehelka set out to nail the UPA government on these counts. But in the course of its investigation, it stumbled upon a shocking truth that has turned the whole story on its head. It is a truth that has not been told before. The government is still guilty of a venal cover-up. But the nature of the crime has shifted drastically. It appears the accuser—the BJP—is itself guilty of immense wrongdoing. In fact, the story of the 2008 cash-for-votes scandal is the story of a trap, a trip, and a cover-up. And none of the political parties involved come out looking good, or justified in assuming high moral ground.”

Tehelka claims that BJP is guilty of trying to set-up a trap by offering three of its MPs for sale to lure buyers from the UPA Camp. As per Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary the sting operation was more of an entrapment than an exposé. She made a clear distinction between entrapment by media and that by a political party on the ground that in this particular instance, BJP was hoping to get political benefit. According to her, BJP MPs had frantically tried to approach the potential buyers and Amar Singh fell for this trap. She has also accused the BJP of conspiring to destabilize the then UPA Government.

The Tehelka story came as a big relief for the Congress which was quick to build up its defense almost entirely on the same lines by blaming the BJP of stage managing the sting operation to destabilize the government.

Two issues raised by Tehelka and carried forward by Congress have become the topic of big debate today which are – (a) Is the BJP guilty of entrapment and (b) Is the BJP guilty of trying to destabilize the government.

Tehelka has been careful in not terming the so called entrapment something that is illegal or criminal. It can hardly afford to do so having built its clientage entirely on the basis of such sting operations. Tehelka is only saying that the entrapment was not morally right for the BJP because it stood to gain political mileage from it. But what about Tehelka which  has gained huge commercial mileage by conducting similar sting operations. Why is it is appropriate to gain commercial benefits from sting operations but not political? The simple question is – is it illegal to carry out a sting operation that includes entrapment of any type. We must not forget that even the law enforcement agencies carry out sting operations that include entrapment to catch prostitution rackets and corruption cases. If sting operation with entrapment is illegal, then all sting operations of the past, including those carried out by Tehelka and law enforcement agencies, should be investigated and the persons behind them should be punished. On the other hand, if it is legal, then there cannot be any charge against the BJP.

The other charge is that of conspiring to destabilize the government. This is at best laughable. It is the right of an opposition party to try and destabilize or in fact dethrone the government whenever there is a suitable opportunity. In fact, the No Confidence Motion introduced by the BJP in the parliament was exactly for this purpose. Once again, there is nothing illegal if the principal opposition party was trying to destabilize the then UPA Government and the ruling party should not cry foul on this. Does the Congress expect the BJP to work for the stability of its government?

Not just the Tehelka story but the timing of its publication raises serious doubts about the real motive behind it. The WikiLeaks Cable story was published in the Hindu on the 17th March raising the political storm immediately as the BJP and Left demanded a discussion in the parliament on this issue. The UPA government initially tried to avoid an immediate discussion by requesting the opposition to first pass the finance bill. Finally the government agreed for a debate in the parliament on the on 23rd March. Tehelka Story was published on the same day and immediately lapped up by the Congress to build its defenses. Kapil Sibbal read out extensively from the story and P Chidambaram was quick to declare widening of the scope of hitherto dormant probe by the Delhi Police of the Cash for Vote scam.

Tehelka claims to be in the exclusive possession of at least 10 telephonic recordings of the BJP MP Ashok Argal and middleman Suhail Hindustani actively soliciting a buyer from the UPA camp.

The big question is who had originally recorded these telephonic conversations? No one but the government of the day has the authority to tape telephone conversations of anyone. Was the UPA Government recording BJP MPs phones? Strangely only one-sided account of the telephone conversation is given. If the complete conversation is available why was it not published. Tehelka may claim that only one side of the conversation is available. How is it possible? It is possible only if someone present at Argal’s residence was recording the conversations externally. If it is so, who was it? It can’t be a BJP person. Then, was it someone from the CNN IBN team? But, as per the Tehelka story, CBN INN team was busy bugging the room while Sohail Hindustani was outside the house allegedly soliciting buyers. To record all the 10 conversation, someone would have had to constantly follow both Argal and Sohail with mikes which would have looked extremely odd and would have immediately raised doubt.

Someone needs to find out whether the UPA Government had taped the telephones of BJP MPs in 2008 and provided these recordings to Tehelka.

Timing wise, the Tehelka investigation could not have started before the publishing of WikiLeaks Cable i.e. 17th March. It is surprising that within 5 days, Tehelka managed to find out which no one could for the last two years including the Parliamentary Committee set up to probe the scam and the Delhi Police. What was the big hurry to publish the story on the same day when the debate was scheduled in the parliament? Is it really possible to complete such a complex investigation within less than 5 days and unearth such clinching evidence which was not in the knowledge of anyone for the last two years?

Tehelka has always been looked at with suspicion for its bias towards the Congress Party and Tehelka’s story on Cash for Vote only strengthens such suspicion.

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