Shoma Choudhury, Executive Editor of Tehelka, responds
You have raised two issues:
The first is about Siddharth Gautam saying he did not give his account to Tehelka on record. Our response is that we respect the courage it has taken for Gautam to speak the truth and we respect the pressure he feels. He is a former employee of CNN-IBN and is currently employed by another TV network. One can easily understand the pressure on him from different quarters. We do not want to mount more pressure on him at this stage by contradicting his position. Our story had once again revived the criminal investigation which had otherwise run aground. Even as we write to you Gautam’s investigation is being recorded by the Delhi police. The moot point is that he has stood by the content of the story as printed by Tehelka. And now subsequent to our expose it’s important that Gautam narrate the complete facts before the police so that the nation gets to know the full truth of the controversial sting operation.
On the second, more important, point:
According to Siddharth Gautam, and as we have reported in our story, the IBN team, the BJP MPs, Sudheendra Kulkarni and Suhail Hindustani were together at all times, acting us a unit, during the course of the investigation. On that crucial morning of 22 July, Gautam told us he and his team and Kulkarni, the BJP MPs and Suhail Hindustani met at Argal’s house as planned the night before. They all got into two cars at Argals’ house – Hindustani and the two BJP MPs in the white zen and the IBN team in their own vehicle. The IBN cameraman was in the front seat of the car. Gautam told us they shot the journey of BJP MPs and Hindustani right from the time they started from Argal’s house and continued to shoot them on open camera through the entire drive going to Amar Singh’s house and entering it. He says the Zen was not out of his sight for a moment.
This was a very crucial piece of footage because it conclusively proved and closed the loop about the two BJP MPs having met Amar Singh as Reoti Raman Singh had urged them to do the night before.
However, this footage was neither broadcast in CNN’s own program nor given to the Parliament panel. (You can read the list of footage shared by CNN with the parliamentary panel in our story and also in the panel’s report).
You need to couple this with another strange fact: When CNN-IBN broadcast its sting three weeks after the event, they only showed a clip of the white zen pulling up at Amar Singh’s gate, Hindustani getting out and going in, and then the car going in a little later. At this point, Rajdeep asked his reporter, “Gautam, could you see the men sitting at the backseat of the white zen? Could you make out who they were?” Gautam answered, “No, Rajdeep, we could not see who they were as the windows were tinted. We could only see Suhail Hindustani.” (Disturbingly, Gautam told us that he was tutored to say this by the channel). This was a cynical narration of half-truths by the channel and this simple denial of his own story ended up providing Amar Singh with as escape route. It broke the logical cycle of the story. The natural inference drawn from it was, if the reporter did not know if it was indeed the BJP MPs sitting in the back seat of the car, how could he claim that they met Amar Singh or that SP man, Sanjeev Saxena who came to pay them off at Argal’s house soon after they left Amar Singh’s residence was doing so on Amar Singh’s instructions?
The sequence Gautam says they shot on open camera – of the BJP men and Hindustani starting from Argal’s house and driving non-stop to Amar Singh’s residence was therefore a really clinching and crucial bit of footage and evidence. Why did the channel not broadcast it or share it with the panel. One can only assume they held it back.
Why did the channel not say that its team was with the two MPs all the time including immediately before and after their visit to Singh’s house?
Why did the channel insist that its sting was “inconclusive”, when at least the cycle of Raman Singh’s visit to the BJP Mps the night before, urging them to go meet Amar Singh, the BJP MPs visit to Amar Singh’s house on July 22 and Sanjeev Saxena’s pay-off a little later all fitted perfectly and, at least in journalistic terms, seemed a sound and strong evidence against Amar Singh.
(This is separate from the BJP’s motives in asking for the sting, or of them having solicited bribes rather than vice versa.)