Aniruddha Bahal is a journalist, author, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Cobrapost, a news website that’s known for its sting operations. He is also the co-founder of Tehelka, which conducted Operation West End, a sting operation in 2001 that exposed corruption in the Indian defence establishment. Yesterday, Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitly and two others were sentenced to four years in prison in the corruption case.
In this interview, Aniruddha talks to Newslaundry’s Abhinandan Sekhri about Operation West End, its repercussions, and the role of the state and the judiciary.
When asked about changes in the system since the sting operation, Aniruddha says that vulnerabilities and the scale of corruption in the defence establishment are “very much the same”. Considering Operation West End took place 19 years ago, he says, before Bofors and Rafale, barely anything has improved.
What were the immediate repercussions? Aniruddha remembers the name-calling and slander at the time that’s now become commonplace for journalists. Though it took time for justice to be delivered, he says journalists should not become cynical, because if this happens, “it will be the end of probing”.
Operation West End was the first instance of a piece of investigative journalism being used in a court of law, with a commission of inquiry set up to verify its accuracy. Aniruddha recalls being arrested and how Tehelka was hounded by the establishment, but he believes that’s the “nature of the beast” that is the state. If you rile up powerful people, he points out, there will be pushback.
Aniruddha remembers the help they received from the legal community, adding, “Without their help and cooperation, the legal costs would have been unsustainable.” He also tells Abhinandan that the sting greatly helped in reducing the “grey area” in the interactions of the media and the judiciary.
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