Dainik Bhaskar Digital, reporter booked as sting operation alleges fraud ring

The reporter had posed as a job aspirant and spoken to two alleged middlemen.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
Dainik Bhaskar's headline with an illustration that says 'defamation'.
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A day after a Dainik Bhaskar Digital sting operation tried to uncover an alleged fraud racket offering jobs for cash in Uttar Pradesh, the reporter as well as the news outlet have been booked for alleged defamation and criminal conspiracy.

Lucknow correspondent Rajesh Sahu posed as a job aspirant and spoke to two alleged middlemen, who were offering jobs in the UP police for money, as well as one “student” who was part of a WhatsApp group on which jobs were allegedly offered.

But a day after the report was published, Abhijeet Vishen – who leads an obscure Hindutva outfit called the Rashtriya Raksha Vahini and was named as one of the two alleged middlemen by Sahu – filed a police complaint at Lucknow’s Indira Nagar police station. 

An FIR naming Sahu and Dainik Bhaskar Digital, which is part of the Dainik Bhaskar Group, was lodged under IPC sections 419, 420, 504 and 506 of IPC and section 66 of the IT Act. 

The sting operation suggested a job scam based on claims by two “middlemen”. However, it did not offer evidence that jobs were actually being granted for cash through this “ring”, or that any transaction of money had taken place.

The report was headlined “‘Give Rs 8 lakh...get selected in UP police’: An investigation into fraud in Lucknow, payment in 2 installments; middlemen claim links to big politicians”.

The sting

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had in December announced over 60,000 police jobs for which exams are scheduled next month. 

And Sahu’s report, which quoted Abhijeet Vishen and another “middleman” identified as Ashutosh Gupta, noted that the former posted photographs with several top BJP leaders on social media.

It claimed that Abhijeet’s WhatsApp account was named as Vikki, and he was reaching out to candidates appearing for the police recruitment examination through a WhatsApp group called UPP Target 2024. A purported WhatsApp message by Vikki on the group showed him promising jobs for a sum of Rs 8 lakh. 

The reporter was not part of this group but was given updates about the said group for a “week” by another person, who was identified as a “student”. The reporter then pretended to be a job aspirant and reached out to Abhijeet, who first called him to the BJP office in Lucknow but subsequently cancelled the plan. The report claimed that Sahu was then contacted by Vikki’s aide, Ashutosh, who claimed that many vacancies are “filled just like this”.

The reporter also reached out to the UP Police Recruitment and Promotion Board, who said the recruitment was being conducted with transparency and there was no information about any fraud.

“The question now is if there is no setting in these examinations. We get the answer after looking at past examinations, where arrests have happened in large numbers,” read the report. 

The denial

In the FIR, Vishen denied all the allegations and claimed there is “no concrete evidence” to prove the report’s allegations. Vishen claimed that the day the report was published, Dainik Bhaskar Digital’s news editor Gaurav Pandey invited him to the office. Vishen claimed that he had told Pandey to “either remove his name from the story or call Sahu”, after which his name was changed to “Abhijeet Singh”.

An updated version of the report now mentions him as just Abhijeet.

Vishen held a press conference on Wednesday seeking Sahu’s expulsion from the media outlet. 

Sahu, meanwhile, has submitted a rejoinder, claiming that he stood by the facts in the report but accepting that Vishen’s name had been changed.

“Our intention is not to tarnish anyone’s image. We did this sting neither at anyone’s behest nor as part of any conspiracy. Our effort was to expose this fraud being done in the name of police recruitment and arrest the accused. The mutual connections between Vikki and Ashu and their relationship with those whose names are being taken should be investigated. Action should be taken against these accused who are providing jobs in exchange for money,” it read.

Speaking to Newslaundry, Sahu said, “Vishen filed the FIR even after his name was changed because he wants the story to be deleted and I should be fired. But I stand by the facts that I have reported. I can’t comment on why my editors changed the name in the story.”

Newslaundry reached out to Pandey, who said he was busy and would talk later. We have sent him a questionnaire. This report will be updated if a response is received. 

Sting operation as a way of breaking stories remains a contested idea, dividing news professionals about its efficacy and ethics. For those who support it, it’s a necessary evil in public interest, designed to expose those in power. But every sting operation warrants crucial questions for the media outlet’s editor and reporter. 

Read this piece for more.

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