Tehelka promoters ‘vindicated’ by official papers

First Global, the brokerage promoted by Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra which had a 14.50 per cent stake in the webzine turned magazine Tehelka, has scored a major victory with official documents reportedly showing that the firm had been harassed by market regulators on trumped-up charges, after the then BJP-led government had been shamed by a Tehelka expose that caught the BJP president taking a cash bribe on camera.

According to a story in Business Standard, official documents obtained from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that First Global had no “advance knowledge” of the stock market crash of March 2001 following the Tehelka story.

Titled “Operation Westend“, the investigation by journalists Aniruddha Bahal and Matthew Samuel resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes, and plenty of egg on the BJP’s face.

But it also resulted in a massive witchhunt against the webzine and its promoters.

Documents obtained under RTI show that the brokerage—first Asian firm outside of Japan to become a member of the London Stock Exchange —had no role in hammering down the stock markets. In fact, it did not figure in the list of the top-50 sellers from mid-February to mid-March 2001.

But, because of its links to Tehelka, First Global was stripped off its registration; Shankar Sharma and his wife and partner Devina (a former Business India journalist) were arrested as they were about to board a flight to London (Shankar was arrested two more times); and hundreds of cases were lodged against the duo in an extraordinary act of political vendetta that eventually resulted in the closure of Tehelka online before its resurrection as an offline magazine.

First Global, which “paid more taxes than companies like Proctor & Gamble, Ranbaxy, and Titan“, was also forced to shut shop.

The assault on Tehelka resulting in its closure, was one of two standout cases of media harassment by the former BJP government, whose prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was recently decorated by India’s leading English language broadcaster NDTV with a “lifetime achievement” award.

“Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister,” read the citation. Advani is also credited for his Emergency era comment on the Indian press: “When you were only asked to bend, many of you chose to crawl.”

Photograph: courtesy rediff.com


  1. Mysore Peshva

    You have committed a fallacy.

    In order to successfully conclude that any “massive witchhunt” occurred, you must prove two propositions:

    First, that First Global had no advance knowledge of the stock market crash. And second, that the “market regulators” were, at the time of the interrogations of Sharma and Mehra, already aware of that fact.

    You have failed to show evidence for the second premise. So your conclusion, that First Global was harassed by the regulators, is fallacious.

    This is not to say that harassment did not occur. I am only saying that you have not showed it occurred.

    As an aside let me say this much: I hold no brief for any government, but Tehelka has little credibility when it covers politics.

    Tehelka’s anti-BJP bias is a disgrace to India’s media — if Tehelka is honest they must publicly announce an editorial policy which either opposes the BJP or endorses some other party. (Tehelka’s bias reminds me of America’s Fox News, whose anchors all rail against Democrats in a backdrop of continuous claims of being “fair and balanced.”)

    India’s Constitution protects Tehelka’s freedom of expression — they are free to endorse any party or declare an antipathy for any other. But nothing gives them the right to deceive readers by claiming to be “free, fair, fearless” while showing a consistent, mean, bias against one party.

    Besides, Tehelka’s conduct in the leopard poaching case is sans decency — Tehelka abused wildlife laws, animal rights, and basic decency just to sneak a story to its readers. Shame!

  2. jiva cohen

    Madhu Trehan hits back at Karan Thapar! Take a look

    March 01, 2009
    First Published: 00:22 IST(1/3/2009)
    Last Updated: 00:23 IST(1/3/2009)


    You write a book. You get some good reviews and some bad. It’s part of the game. Then comes Karan Thapar’s ‘column’ (I’m terribly sorry, Madhu, Sunday Sentiments, Feb 15). A piece that was personal, obviously motivated, filled with epithets. So Thapar says that you shouldn’t read my book. Fair enough. But Thapar says he hasn’t read my book.
    Could it then be that a friend of Thapar’s has read my book and told him that nobody should read it? It could be. What could it be that Thapar’s friend does not want anyone to read?

    How did the story about the sex workers find its way into the press? Who does it serve to bury the statement of the then advocate general of Maharashtra Goolam Vahanvati’s that he refused to appear for the SEBI because it was against his conscience? Who gave me the phone number of Beni Chatterji, the Mumbai lawyer who was arguing cases against First Global?

    Why should this person have it in the first place?

    Why should readers trust an unreviewed book review written by a clone of ‘BBC Hard Talk’ who seems to believe that being nasty gives him an USP? But where are his favourites ‘Pertie’ and ‘Mummy’ that he bangs on about? Time to bring them out of the closet.

    Here’s Pertie and KaTy playing ‘Prism Me a Lie: Tell Me a Truth.’ KaTy prisms Pertie a lie, Pertie bounces back with the truth.

    Pertie: Remember that last Diwali party you went to? Didn’t you tell me you asked Madhu Trehan to promise to come on your show after she talked about her book?

    KaTy: Yes and she looked pretty frightened.

    Pertie: But why is the book in your column? You called it a dud. Why not just ignore it if it is so bad?

    KaTy: [screaming] Because it’s been a No. 1 on the bestseller list for the last two weeks. Because Vir Sanghvi wrote, Madhu “…tried to use Tehelka to understand how the Indian media, and perhaps even Indian society, function”. Raja Menon in Outlook called it “blazingly honest and idealistic”. It must not be read, specially those chapters on you-know-who! So I honoured my commitment.

    Pertie: To whom? Wasn’t your comm…

    KaTy: Comb out? Yes, my comb out was done at the beauty salon yesterday.

    Pertie: You keep interr…

    KaTy: Internalise? Of course I have to internalise my motives.

    Pertie: You never let me fin…

    KaTy: Finagled? So what if I finagled Madhu?

    Pertie: But you told her to flag portions for you to read for the interview because you have no time to read.

    KaTy: How do you expect me to put a fix on what a dud the book is in an interview? It had to be done hit-and-run. No chance for her to respond.

    Pertie: What are you going to do when you meet her?

    KaTy: I will make a graceful exit like this…[KaTy exits with a swish and a grand jeté out of the room]

    Mummy: He has left without his baba suit. How will anyone take him seriously if he doesn’t wear his checked suit, yellow
    striped shirt and yellow polka dot tie?

    To be dragged into sleaze has to be a low point in my nearly 40-year journalistic career. Thapar cut large portions of a paragraph and chose only what suited his assignment. He gives himself the opportunity to announce the allegation, that I did “blur criticism and paper-over Tehelka’s faults”. I had also written (which Thapar cut out): “This was a serious breach of fair journalism. Tehelka said they wanted the public to know about the corrupt system. The public was equally entitled to learn that there are honest officers.”

    In Chapter 24 ‘Ethics and Journalism — Not So Fine a Balance’, I analyse in detail the state of journalism and, if anything, Tehelka and other journalists have reason to be upset with me. Those with an agenda find it easy to plant any kind of story. This cannot happen without the cooperation of taxi journalists who damage the credibility of the profession.

    I am privileged that I have been given a chance to respond to Thapar. I got an email from Thapar after the newspaper had gone to print, warning me as he ostensibly claimed, “in all fairness” what was to appear the next day. He also ostentatiously added, “Once again, my most sincere apologies.”

    If you demean the profession by misusing it to carry out someone else’s agenda, I guess he is right to be ashamed. Did Thapar have any idea that my publisher Pramod Kapoor, Kiran Bedi (who conducted a debate at my book launch) and I all received a ranting email, which is strikingly similar to his piece? Since I was out of the country and did not read Thapar’s ‘warning’ email, a friend sent me an sms that morning: “It is better to have a thousand enemies than have a friend like Karan Thapar.”

    Wonderful to be liberated from that burden.

    (Madhu Trehan is the author of Tehelka as Metaphor: Prism Me a Lie; Tell Me a Truth (Roli))

    © Copyright 2007 Hindustan Times

  3. […] – Tehelka promoters ‘vindicated’ by official papers – Churmuri Google, Policy Tags: Bangladesh, Censorship, Google, Policy, YouTube […]

  4. Puzzled Critic

    Wonder what Sucheta Dalal now has to say! Will she update
    her comments on http://www.rediff.com/money/2001/mar/29dalal.htm

  5. […] Sharma, an earlier Tehelka promoter, too had run into problems with SEBI and faced charges of manipulating the market with advance knowledge of Operation Westend, a sting […]

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