With key inputs from Abhinandan Sekhri.
Do you know what it’s like to have an inspector of India’s Income Tax department, Ministry of Finance walk into your office and ask to speak to the boss regarding a raid? I do.
It was just another day at the Newslaundry office – Ranjan and Abhinandan were trying to finish off with the Clothesline draft before Madhu arrived. I was finishing up the stories of the day and we were all wondering how the viewer-funded model of news which we’re attempting will pan out and whether we’ll survive the next year or go completely broke. It was then that this beefed-up dude walked into the Newslaundry office and introduced himself as an inspector from the Income Tax department of the Ministry of Finance. We promptly showed him to Abhinandan’s room.
As Abhinandan hammered away at his keyboard, the rather polite muscular gent walked into his room and introduced himself again. Abhinandan’s thoughts were “Dear God! The trolls on my Twitter timeline weren’t kidding when they said let our Government come and we’ll show you. But really? Income Tax department? Income toh hai nahi, IT raid pehle aa gayi. They wont find anything on us with this strategy”.
But the inspector (name withheld for confidentiality reasons) informed Abhinandan that a raid would be conducted on our neighbour’s premises shortly and the law required the officers to have two neutral witnesses who can vouch that no vandalism, intimidation or illegality had taken place. Abhinandan The Curious of course asked what the raid was regarding. The very forthcoming inspector informed him that it involved a company called Alchemist. Abhinandan then asked whether this is the Tehelka magazine Alchemist and whether this was related to Tarun Tejpal. The inspector smiled and said as politely as possible that he wasn’t there to give us details of the case. He just needs two witnesses to accompany the IT team. Can we spare two people or not? When Abhinandan asked to see some sort of identification, the officer pulled out an ID card with his designation and the Ministry of Finance seal. (I suspect even if he had pulled out a Landmark shopping membership card Abhinandan would not have known the difference.)
Since we at Newslaundry are the law-abiding type and our motto is “Newslaundry – kanoon ki madad karna humara shauk hi nahi, humara farz bhi hai”, we instantly agreed to join hands with the long hand of the law. Ok, that’s not really our motto, our motto is Sabki Dhulai but we are always eager and keen to help out any law enforcement agency in any way we can, especially if we can get a story out of it. Ranjan put the Clothesline script aside and volunteered to be a witness with me, while casually asking whether we’ll get to kick open doors and say – “Don’t move. The police have you surrounded”. Abhinandan winced and hoped the officer from the Ministry of Finance had not heard that last question or would take us in as a favour to Abhinandan. The officer didn’t react and we followed him out – and the “raid” began.
The raid was on an address two floors above us – occupied by journalist-turned-Congress-turned-BJP-politician, Aijaz Ilmi. Yes, Shazia Ilmi’s brother.
And since we don’t believe in sensationalising news (we think at least), it must be made clear right at the outset that the raid had nothing to with either Ilmi sibling. At least not directly. So what prompted the IT department to raid his house, you ask? We’ll tell you, it’s got a media angle. Talk about choosing the right witnesses. The Ministry of Finance is cool like that.
The IT raid was officially on a company called Alchemist Group. Alchemist Group is owned by Kanwar Deep Singh, who’s a Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP. Aijaz Ilmi’s estranged wife, Kajal Aijaz, is a Group Director at Alchemist Private Limited. According to the company’s website, Kajal works on behalf of the Chairman’s (KD Singh) office and oversees the real estate business of the group. She is also in charge of all government and media relations. In addition, she is also on the board of the company. Big fry, in short.
Kanwar Deep Singh also owns the Republic Of Chicken poultry retail brand – which is why he’s fondly known as the Chicken King in some circles. Beside his avian interest, Singh owns another company – Royal Building And Infrastructures Private Limited. Royal Building And Infrastructures Private Limited holds 65.75 per cent of the shares of another company called Anant Media Private Limited. Singh, ever since a certain incident in November, has consistently claimed to have sold his shares in Anant Media – but there’s no documentary proof corroborating that. A plot within a plot!
Anant Media Private Limited as you may know publishes the Left liberal Naxal-supporting sickular manifesto of the country, Tehelka (As Advani would say, we were asked to bend but we are crawling).
This, as Madhu stated, was a story falling in our laps and hitting us between the eyes. Yes, we like mixed metaphors.
Now to cut to the chase, the raid was futile. They didn’t find anything or at least that’s what I gathered by asking around while being a neutral witness. “We didn’t find anything – as it is the raid was not against Mr Ilmi”, said the IT official leading the raid.
Amidst all of this, Aijaz Ilmi’s hospitality deserves special mention. It takes some patience to show your visitors old photographs of your journalistic exploits when your house is being raided. Ilmi also kept repeating, ad nauseam, till I was slightly nauseous – “you know, the raid isn’t against me”. But Mr Ilmi, we never said it was. What we did notice was a framed picture of Sheila Dikshit, and a brochure with a picture of Ilmi and Rajnath Singh shaking hands. Definitely the right time to wear your allegiance to the BJP, we’d say.
Other officials involved in the exercise told us that similar raids (investigating the Alchemist Group) were simultaneously taking place at more than 20 locations across the country, primarily in Chandigarh and Delhi. According to the officials, Kajal Aijaz was found in her Vasant Vihar residence. They, however, refused to reveal any more information and said that they were not “authorised to speak to the media at this point of time”.
Perhaps, a can of worms is waiting to open up. We’re waiting. And respected Ministry of Finance and Income Tax officers, we are available to tag along as neutral witnesses for all future raids – kyunki kanoon ki madad karna Newslaundry ka shauk hi nahi, humara farz bhi hai.