News Operation Duryodhana: Cover Story

Operation Duryodhana: Cover Story

A COBRAPOST-AAJ TAK Investigation reveals the tale of eleven MPs accepting money for asking questions in the Indian Parliament. A detailed version of the story telecast on AAJ TAK news channel.


Cobrapost - August 28, 2005


A COBRAPOST-AAJ TAK investigation entitled Operation Duryodhana unearths 11 members of the Parliament accepting cash for asking questions in the Indian Parliament. Spread over eight months, Operation Duryodhana logged more than 56 video and 70 audiotapes besides recording more than 900 phone calls.

Posing as representatives of a fictitious lobbying organisation called the North Indian Small Manufacturer’s Assosciation (NISMA), journalists Aniruddha Bahal and Suhasini Raj penetrated the nexus operating between MPs and their middlemen and succeeded in having MPs, across party lines, submit more than 60 questions in the rigorous question balloting system of the Indian Parliament, out of which 25 (at last count) were selected. Sometimes, the same set of questions were put in by more than one MP.

Names of MPs taking cash for asking questions in the Indian Parliament are:

Anna Saheb M.K. Patil (BJP, Erandol, Maharastra)---------Rs 45,000
Manoj Kumar (RJD, Palamau, Jharkhand)------------------Rs 110,000
Narendra Kumar Kushwaha (BSP, Mirzapur, UP) --------Rs 55,000
Y.G. Mahajan (BJP, Jalgaon Maharsahtra)-------------------Rs 35,000
Suresh Chandel (BJP, Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh)------Rs 30,000
Lal Chandra Kol (BSP, Robertsganj, UP)-------------------Rs 35,000
Chhatrapal Singh Lodha, Rajya Sabha (BJP, Orissa)------Rs 15,000
Pradeep Gandhi (BJP, Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh)--------Rs 55,000
Raja Ram Pal (BSP, Bilhaur, Uttar Pradesh)----------------Rs 35,000
Chandra Pratap Singh (BJP, Sidhi, Uttar Pradesh) -------- Rs 35,000
Ramsevak Singh (Congress, Gwalior Madhya Pradesh)---Rs 50,000

While the bulk of the questions given to the MPs related to the welfare of the Small Scale Industrial (SSI) units, there were several public interest questions also handed over to them, for instance, on non-performing assets, the SEBI inquiry into the 2004 stock market crash and a few others. For submitting all these questions MPs took money ranging between Rs 15,000 and Rs 110,000. Several MPs also wanted an “annual fee” of Rs 5-6 lakh from NISMA for the organisation to put in as many proxy questions as it wanted, through the MPs concerned, in the Indian Parliament.

Says Aniruddha Bahal, editor of Cobrapost.com, and the journalist who headed the investigation: “The Parliament is the living symbol of Indian democracy. It is where the people speak through their elected representatives and become participants in governance. It is where the nation, in its multiple voices, debates and argues the public cause. It continues to have outstanding legislators, and evokes the spirit of the much admired Indian democracy. Its members have to follow the code of conduct set by the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, and they are always under public and media scrutiny. We found during the course of our investigation that this sacred institution was being undermined by a few. While, the majority of Indian parliamentarians raise issues and questions purely on the basis of public interest there are a few who set a price on this public duty of theirs. For us at Cobrapost.com it was an astonishing revelation. The COBRAPOST team has the deepest respect for the institution of parliament and with this investigation it is our endeavour to strengthen it further.”

Besides taking cash for asking questions in the Indian parliament, some MPs were also open to the idea, and quoted their price to the reporters, for organising a petition, espousing NISMA’s cause, to be submitted in the parliament. The price ranged between a few lakh to Rs 10 lakhs.

While BJP MP Anna Saheb M.K. Patil took a total of Rs 45,000 in three instalments from NISMA, of the several questions given to him for submission in the Lok Sabha, three questions managed to get selected in the Parliament’s rigourous balloting procedure. Patil also hands over “19” blank and signed forms to NISMA for submitting whatever questions they wanted. At a price of Rs 6 lakh a year (Rs 50,000 per month), Patil was willing to put in as many questions as NISMA wanted the whole year round. He also sought Rs 10-15 lakh as expenditure for fighting the next Lok Sabha elections. One of the questions submitted in the Lok Sabha, on one of Patil’s blank form given to NISMA, is this:
Whether the government has given sanction for the seed trial of Salinger Cotton of Monsanto? If so, how many applications are pending for seed trials as of Oct 1, 2005?Is cotton the only cash crop being looked at for genetically altered seeds? If so, has a report been prepared on Catch 22 cotton so far?
Details of Patil’s tabled questions in the Lok Sabha:

Starred question no 21

To be answered on 26-07-05

Dereservation of manufacturing items

Unstarred question no 294

To be answered on 26-07-05

Scheme on Performance and credit rating of Small Scale Industries

Unstarred question no 1928

To be answered on 06-12-05

SSI export to SAARC countries.

BSP MP Lal Chandra Kol takes Rs 35,000 from NISMA for putting in questions in the Lok Sabha. One question of his ends up being tabled in the Parliament.

Details of Kol’s tabled question:

Unstarred question no 1928

To be answered on 06-12-05

SSI Export to SAARC countries

Out of the many questions given to BJP MP Y.G. Mahajan, eight manage to get tabled in the Parliament. The MP from Jalgaon accepts Rs 35,000 from NISMA in two instalments.
Details of Mahajan’s tabled questions:

Unstarred question no 243

To be answered on 26-07-05

Achievements of IIDs for SSIs

Unstarred question no 289

To be answered on Tuesday, July 26th 2005

Growth Centres/ Industrial Growth Centres

 

Unstarred question no 3219

To be answered on 16-08-2005

Harassment of SSI industrialists.

Unstarred question no 3184

To be answered on 16-08-2005

GATT effects on SSIs

Unstarred question no 2508
To be answered on 09-08-05
Geographical Landmark ( Registration and Conservation) Act, 1999.

Unstarred question no 1580

To be answered on 02-12-05

On production of silk

Unstarred question no 1498

To be answered on 02-12-05

Infrastructure facilities for Handloom sector

Unstarred question no 927

To be answered on 29-11-05

SICA Act 1985

BSP MP Narendra Kushwaha, on the other hand, takes Rs 55,000 from NISMA and, five of the questions given to him by NISMA have managed to get tabled in the Parliament. Kushwaha demands Rs 5 lakh from NISMA for putting in questions on NISMA’s behalf the whole year round.

Details of Kushwaha’s tabled questions:

Unstarred question no 1580

To be answered on 02-12-05

On Production of Silk

Unstarred question no 1498

To be answered on 02-12-05

Infrastructure facilities for Handloom sector

Unstarred question no 927

To be answered on 29-11-05

SICA Act 1985

Unstarred question no 1928

To be answered on 06-12-05

SSI Export to SAARC countries

Unstarred question no 1084

To be answered on 30-11-05

Easing Visa norms for Pak nationals

RJD MP Manoj Kumar takes Rs 110,000 from NISMA and three of the questions given to him manage to make it through the question selection procedure of the Parliament.
Details of Manoj Kumar’s tabled questions:

Unstarred question no 887

To be answered on 29-07-05

Foreign banks

Unstarred question no 2508

To be answered on 09-08-05

Geographical Landmark ( Registration and Conservation) Act, 1999.

Unstarred question no 3998

To be answered on 23-08-05

Easy loan disbursal for SSIs

And of the few questions given to BJP MP Suresh Chandel, one gets tabled in the Lok Sabha. Chandel accepts Rs 30,000 from the NISMA team in two instalments. He also promises help to NISMA in creating a lobby in Parliament to further the organisation’s interests.

Details of Chandel’s tabled question:

Unstarred question no 3184

To be answered on 16-08-2005

GATT effects on SSIs

The lone Rajya Sabha member in Operation Duryodhana was Dr Chhatrapal Singh Lodha, a BJP nominee from Orissa. Four of NISMA’s questions, submitted in the Rajya Sabha through Lodha, figure in the unstarred list of questions of the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

Details of Lodha’s tabled questions:

Unstarred Question no 956

To be answered on 3rd Aug 05

Target Plus Scheme

Unstarred Question no 1754

To be answered on 10th August 05

Bio-piracy of traditional Indian medicine

Unstarred question no 1247

To be answered on 04-08-05

Regulatory framework for SSIs

Unstarred Question no 3262

To be answered on 25-08-05

Timely payments to SSIs

Raja Ram Pal, BSP MP from Bilhaur, Uttar Pradesh, took Rs 35, 000, from NISMA. No question of his has so far been tabled in the Parliament. The MP demands Rs 40,000 per month for submitting NISMA’s questions in the Lok Sabha. He also agrees to organise a petition for NISMA across party lines in case the price is right. He was given several questions by the COBRAPOST team.
Details of the questions given to Raja Ram Pal:

  1. On the action taken report on the non performing assets of the banks;
    2.The steps taken for simplification of visa procedures by India for SSI owners in Pakistan to facilitate trade between the two countries.
    3.On the amount of trade generated between India and Pakistan.
    4. Record of trade generated within SAARC countries.
    5. On the induction of the Yossarian Electro Diesel engine of Germany and whether the Government was aware of the Tom Wolfe committee's report resulting in halting its induction in the Euro rail system.
  2. Pradeep Gandhi a BJP MP from Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh received Rs 55,000 from the COBRAPOST team over several meetings. Five questions were given to him, but none managed to get tabled in the Lok Sabha. Gandhi asks for Rs 50,000 per month or Rs 6 lakh per year to submit as many questions for NISMA as the organisation wants. But, the cover of the Cobrapost team breaks with respect to Gandhi sometime in November. The MP even checks the bags of the team at the last meeting.Details of questions given to Pradeep Gandhi.
    1 On the SEBI inquiry into the stock market scam of 2004;
    The rationale behind increasing the investment limit and the omission of the word 'tiny' and other features from the SME Bill of 2002 , yet to be passed.
    3 On the trade relations between India, Pakistan and other SAARC countries and the steps taken to ease visa formalities between them.
    4 The reason for allowing BCCI certain benefits and concessions which has led to the autocratic nature of the body.
    5 On the rationale behind merging and grouping small industries with medium.
    Chandra Pratap Singh, a BJP MP from Sidhi in Madhya Pradesh, accepts Rs 35,000 from the COBRAPOST team in lieu of questions to be submitted in the Parliament. He was handed about eight questions, but none of them got tabled in the Parliament.
    Details of some of the questions given to Chandra Pratap Singh
    1. The impact of VAT on the Indian pharmaceutical industry
    2. Statistics of money coming in through the FCRA route
    3 Monitoring of health care in the private sector.
    4 Status of NRI and FII investors in the Indian small scale sector.
    5. Whether the Railway Ministry has placed any order for purchase of the Yossarian Electro Diesel engine from Germany? Is the ministry aware that the Tom Wolfe Committee report in Germany has halted its induction into the Euro Rail system?
    Congress MP Ramsevak Singh received a total of Rs 50,000 from the COBRAPOST team. None of the five questions given to the MP have been tabled till date.
    1.On the trade relations between India and Pakistan and other SAARC countries.
    2.Steps the government is taking to make timely payments to SSIs to save them from defaulting on loans.
    3. Promotion of SSIs in militancy hit areas like J&K.
    4.On the benefits, schemes and facilities for welfare of SSIs in small towns.
    5. On the various problems facing SSIs like dereservation, lack of bank credit, Inspector Raj etc
    Operation Duryodhana also unearths a slew of middlemen, who, for a commission, introduced us to several MPs, and some of whom even served as a money conduit between the MPs and NISMA. The middlemen also liaised between NISMA and the MPs in drafting and putting in questions in the Parliament. Many of them work as personal secretaries for the MPs.
    For reading the whole story please log on to WWW.COBRAPOST.com
    Date: 12/12/2005

How it Began

Establishing a pure journalistic motive is an important part of any investigation. In case of Operation Duryodhana it began, innocuously, with a column I wrote for The Hindustan Times on March 20, 2005 where I argued that using intrusive gadgetry like hidden cameras for stories could only be justified if the contours of the story were such that tremendous public interest would be served if the story got some technicolour buoyancy. Essentially, the burden of proof required would be of such magnitude that cinematic splendour would be almost like a legal imperative. I went onto express consternation at the “Casting Couch” series of India TV arguing that voyeuristic exercises like that would blur the public interest element and, amongst other things, give the Government “an excuse to step in and frame some guidelines” and even dilute “the ability of many journalists to pursue serious stories using hidden camera gear” where public interest was unquestionable. Thereafter, I went on to suggest some story ideas for India TV to pursue the first of which I produce, below:

If there is a dearth of ideas let me suggest some for India TV even at the risk of alerting potential subjects. I think, coming from the chatter that I hear, an undercover investigation into how questions really get asked in Parliament would yield rich dividends. It would be reminiscent of the mid-’90s The Sunday Times “Commons-cash-for-questions” sting in the UK. If it were upto me I would float a dummy company and approach MPs across party lines requesting them to ask questions regarding purported and maybe non-existent business rivals and get it all on tape. Apart from the seriousness of the matter it would generate a lot of humour. Imagine the comic spectacle of an MP asking something like: “Why was the Gorilla International Pvt Ltd blacklisted by the Railway Ministry in spite of having bid the lowest for Tsu-tsu diesel engines?”

By the time the Railway Ministry went out of whack figuring out the truth from its files you could perhaps get in ten more questions. I was alarmed when somebody told me recently that the going rate could be as low as Rs 5,000 for some MPs for asking questions. Now, I would have some real fun with something like that and only a moron would call it not in public interest.

On March 23, 2005 three days after the column appeared, I received a notice from the Lok Sabha Secretariat (Privileges and Ethics Branch) asking me to respond immediately to the allegation I had made (above) which, according to the member, who had raised the issue with the speaker, was “derogatory and scandalous in nature with the purported intent of lowering the image and esteem of the House as well as the honourable members. It is a serious breach of privilege, amounting to contempt of the House.”

 In my response to the notice I sent a letter to Speaker Somnath Chatterjee stating that I have “not commented upon actual happenings inside Parliament or suggested that any particular Member of Parliament was involved in any particular misdeed. A story idea on its own cannot perhaps be equated with an actual event.”

Thereafter, apprehensive of some sort of parliamentary contempt probe I thought it might be a good idea to go to the speaker (if so summoned) with a few cases of the malaise that I had talked about in my column. That is, in case I was served a breach of privilege notice. Thus began Operation Duryodhana, an undercover operation to show MPs taking cash for asking questions in the Indian Parliament. It began in quite a panic initially then, but as the threat of any probe diminished (I never heard from the speaker’s office again, which is not to say that I won’t in the future) Operation Duryodhana developed longevity that stretched from April to December. It burnt more than 56 video and 70 audio tapes and consumed many hundred phone calls. And eventually ended up converting what was just hearsay and rumour into pixellated truth of Dumbledore proportions.

Middlemen
Harish

The COBRAPOST-AAJTAK team meets Harish Badola for the first time on May 11 2005, at AB 88 Shahjahan Road, New Delhi, the residence of BJP MP Anna Saheb MK Patil. Middleman Chandrabhan Gupta arranges the meeting with Harish, who eventually introduces NISMA to three BJP MPs---Patil,
Chhatrapal Singh Lodha and Y.G. Mahajan. Had NISMA wanted Harish could have introduced more MPs.

Harish was once a staffer in the BJP office, which apparently explains his proximity to BJP parliamentarians. During the course of Operation Duryodhana, Harish is paid Rs 95,000, for his services. This includes his commission for introducing NISMA to various MPs, and a sum of Rs 25,000 that he didn’t pass on to BJP MP Lodha.

In the meetings with MPs where Harish took the reporter, he never allowed her to pay the MPs cash directly for submitting questions in the Parliament. After each meeting Harish would collect the money on their behalf as well as his commission. He would then take the questions from the reporter that NISMA wanted tabled in the Parliament, get them re-drafted and typed on proper forms, get them signed from various MPs and then, in some instances, even provide photostat copies of the questions thus submitted. Besides, of course, providing NISMA with some copies of questions and answers as and when they got selected in the Parliament’s balloting system.

Chotiwala

His name is M.K Tripathi, though better known as Chotiwala in North Avenue because of his rather huge ponytail. The most colourful of the middlemen, Chotiwala is the personal assistant to RJD MP Manoj Kumar. It was middleman Chandrabhan Gupta, who put the COBRAPOST-AAJTAK team across to Chotiwala. The team ended up talking to him over 80 times on phone, as also meeting him more than half a dozen times.

The one defining aspect of Chotiwala would be his greed. During the course of Operation Duryodhana, Chotiwala earns Rs 30,000 from NISMA as commission for introducing us to the RJD MP, drafting parliamentary questions, getting them translated and following up on the questions submitted by the MP in the Lok Sabha on NISMA’s behalf. He would harangue the reporter on phone for more money.
He also serves as the conduit for accepting Rs 100,000 on behalf of Manoj Kumar. Reluctant to allow direct access to the MP without his presence, as he feels NISMA might cut him off from his share of money. He also tries to insulate the MP from “tricky” situations. Once, in May, he lands up at Hotel Ashoka and grills the reporter to ascertain whether his benefactor is from the media as he and some

others come to suspect.

Chotiwala also has a flair for drama. Once he tells the reporter to use the word “packet” while referring to pay-off in front of the MP. His take on the media: “Aajkal ye jo TV media ne baat ko tape kar lena, baat ko badha-chadha ke prastut kar dena, galat ko sahi bataa dena…ye jo media ne tamasha kiya hai na, isse market kharab ho chuki hai… (These days the penchant of the TV media to talk and tape things, present it exaggeratedly, put wrong as right... all this has spoiled the whole market).”

Chandrabhan Gupta

The undercover reporter meets Chandrabhan Gupta for the first time on May 2005 at 14 North Avenue, the official residence of Lal Chandra Kol, a BSP MP from UP. Chandrabhan doubles up as a PA and a middlemen. In the first meeting, he introduces himself as the PA to the Robertsganj MP and as the investigations progress, he takes over as an intermediary introducing us not only to MPs, but middlemen as well.

Chandrabhan turns out to be the most productive middlemen in terms of taking the fictitious NISMA representatives to more politicians and middlemen. After introducing us to Lal Chandra, he takes the NISMA to "Baba Saheb" Chandra Pratap Singh, a BJP MP from Sidhi in Madhya Pradesh, and Narendra Kumar Kushwaha, another BSP legislator from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. Among the middlemen Chandrabhan gets to work for the NISMA include M.K. Tripathi alias Chotiwala Baba and Harish Badola, a Parliament staffer who in turn takes us to three other MPs.

He wants Rs 10,000 for a direct introduction to an MP and Rs 5,000 for every MP introduced by the middlemen the reporter met through him. However, he is paid only Rs 25,000. The middleman still expects another Rs 30,000 for his services.

If MP Kushwaha is to be believed, Chandrabhan also sold free air tickets meant for his employer, Lal Chandra, at one-fourth their market rates. MP Lal Chandra is said to have had a tiff with his assistant on this sale.

Dinesh

It was middleman Dinesh Chandra, a Parliament staffer, who actually sends the COBRAPOST-AAJTAK team to meet Ravinder and through him MP Raja Ram Pal. Dinesh is also instrumental in introducing the team to middlemen Vijay, Chandrabhan Gupta, Mohan Mani and Sudeep Mishra. Dinesh takes around Rs 75,000 for helping NISMA meet various MPs through these middlemen. In May, a dangerous rivalry

breaks out between him and Gupta as he finds Gupta trying to “appropriate” NISMA. It all but cracks NISMA’s cover. He too gets suspicious and doesn’t take calls for a long period. He also promises NISMA to help get funds, for an NGO doing Tsunami relief, from MPLAD scheme at of course a “commission” to the MP.

Dinesh has a memorable take on MPs: “…Kyonki member to itne hain ki aap unko paanch kilo basmati chawal de dijiye , who usme khush ho jaayega “(…There are so many members that even if you give them 5 kilos of Basmati rice they will be happy). He is equally scathing on the middlemen, his own tribe: “Aur jo kaam dus rupaye mein ho sakta hai, inhe chahe dus hazar de dijiye, usse bhi inka pet nahin bharta… (If you them Rs 10,000 for the work that can be done for in Rs 10 they are still not satisfied.”

Vijay

On May 2005, the middleman, Vijay, took the undercover team two MPs, Ramsevak Singh and Suresh Chandel. This turned out to be the first and only meeting with him.

Before meeting Ramsevak Singh, Vijay makes it clear to the undercover reporter not to pay the Congress legislator directly, he would instead collect the money on his behalf. After the reporter ends her meeting, she gives Vijay Rs 25,000 for the Gwalior MP. He is also paid Rs 10,000 for introducing the MP.

Later the same day, the middleman takes us to meet the BJP MP, Suresh Chandel at his residence. He does not accompany the reporter inside the MP’s house, but asks a local laundry woman to escort her into the house. After the meeting with Chandel, Vijay demands Rs 15,000 from the reporter, which she pays.

Sudeep Mishra

Sudeep Mishra was another middleman that the NISMA team met on May 25. Mishra is suspicious of the undercover reporter's antecedence from the beginning and he vents out his distrust on media. In fact, in one of the numerous phone calls he enquires: “Aap log sting operation wale to nahi ho kahin (Hope you are not conducting some sting operation).” As if in agreement with others of his ilk the middleman too insists NISMA will have no direct monetary deals with the MPs he gets on board. The pay-off would be channelled through him. He goes to the extent of forbidding the reporter even from orally confirming with the MPs about payments.

He takes her to meet an MP and after the meeting she doesn't pay any money to the legislator as she was

told. Mishra expects Rs 15,000 from the reporter for this introduction, but gets Rs 10,000 only.
Ravinder

The first time the COBRAPOST-AAJTAK team meets the middleman on April 26 2005, at 199 North Avenue, New Delhi, the residence of BSP MP Raja Ram Pal. Working as a private secretary to Ram Pal, Ravinder is like Man Friday for him as the MP doesn’t hesitate to do money talk with the reporter in his presence.

Ajay Singh

The NISMA team meets Ajay Singh for the first time on November 6, at the residence of Narendra Kumar Kushwaha. It was Ajay’s name and bank details that Kushwaha had given to the reporter on that day to issue a cheque of Rs 4,70,000 in his name for the services that the parliamentarian had offered. Ajay is not a middleman and claims to be an MBA from Banaras Hindu University and an Anti-AIDS worker. He too could not, however, hold himself from offering NISMA introductions to MPs. In a meeting with Ajay on November 25, the NISMA representative pays him Rs 10,000.

Operation Duryodhana

A COBRAPOST-AAJTAK investigation unearths 11 MPs accepting cash to table questions in the Indian Parliament.

By Aniruddha Bahal

If used rightly, tiny, lens bearing aperatures, can empower a citizenry by exposing democracy’s toxic acreage. Operation Duryodhana, a COBRAPOST-AAJ TAK investigation lasting nearly eight months
succeeded in capturing the acts of 10 Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha members as they accepted money from representatives of a fictitious body called the North Indian Small Manufacturers’ Assosciation (NISMA) for asking questions in the Indian Parliament. In all more than 60 questions were submitted by 11 MPs of which 25 questions (at last count) were tabled in the Parliament.

The MPs who took money for putting questions in the Indian Parliament are:

Narendra Kushwaha (BSP) Rs 55,000

Anna Saheb M.K. Patil (BJP) Rs 45,000

Dr Chhatrapal Singh Lodha (BJP) Rs 15,000

Y.G. Mahajan (BJP) Rs 35,000

Manoj Kumar (RJD) Rs 110,000

Suresh Chandel (BJP) Rs 30,000

Raja Ram Pal (BSP) Rs 35,000

Lal Chandra Kol (BJP) Rs 35,000

Pradeep Gandhi (BJP) Rs 55,000

Chandra Pratap Singh (BJP) Rs 35,000

Ramsevak Singh (Congress) Rs 50,000

The MPs submitted questions on NISMA’s behalf and some of them were selected—and their answers given—in the Parliament’s rigorous balloting system that reduces chances of questions being taken up to something akin to a raffle. Some of the questions were rewritten by the middlemen taking us to the MPs concerned before being put in Parliament, some came nearly verbatim and only certain sections of some were picked up by the Parliament staff. The COBRAPOST team also has in its possession many, original signed forms of MPs, blank as well as filled up, which weren’t submitted but set aside as evidence.

From the start it was my assessment that in order for a reportorial team to remain undercover for a long duration it would be prudent to have a woman reporter as the primary asset on the field. Their biggest advantage in undercover situations is that even in an extreme atmosphere of suspicion they have greater chances to evade a search for hidden camera equipment then men and for all the right reasons. Besides Suhasini Raj, the reporter, who was inserted in the field with an alias of “Namita Gokhale”, had a past selling insurance and was a fast talker. Never at a loss for words, she ended up doing an extraordinary job

on the field, surviving several anxious moments when many middlemen and even MPs got their antennae up. The fictitious front under whose umbrella the COBRAPOST team operated was NISMA, ostensibly an organization out of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, that lobbied and worked for the interests and welfare of Small Scale Industries (SSIs). That was, in a nutshell, our story. Even though on several occasions I was tempted to enter the field much earlier than I actually did, I held back realizing that it wouldn’t be prudent for there was a chance of somebody recognizing me. When I did eventually take the field with an alias of “Navratan Malhotra”, executive director of the ‘fictitious’ NISMA, I was armed with a ludicrous wig and even more ludicrous glasses.

The field atmosphere in May, when the initial contact was made with all the middlemen and MPs, was loaded, for the AAJ TAK episode concerning Tihar jail had just happened. And the infamous casting couch episode of India TV was still fresh in everybody’s minds and unlike the advantage that existed more than four years back while Tehelka was undercover with Operation Westend, people were now hugely aware of the existence of hidden cameras and initial meetings were rather awkward with middlemen taking precautions. All this resulted in a slow development of the story.

There were seven principal middlemen, namely, Harish Badola, Chandrabhan Gupta, M.K. Tripathi (alias Chotiwala), Mohan Mani, Dinesh Chandra, Ravinder Kumar, Vijay, and some others. While Harish was our conduit to three BJP MPs (Anna Saheb M.K. Patil, Y.G. Mahajan and Chhatrapal Singh Lodha), Gupta introduced us to three MPs (Lal Chandra Kol and Narendra Khushwaha of the BSP and Chandra Pratap Singh of the BJP), Mohan Mani lead us to one (BJP MP Pradeep Gandhi), Vijay took us to two MPs (Ramsevak Singh of the Congress and Suresh Chandel of the BJP), and Ravinder Kumar (BSP’s Raja Ram Pal) and Chotiwala (RJD’s Manoj Kumar) to one MP each. Dinesh was the middleman who sent us across to four other middlemen—Gupta, Vijay, Ravinder and Mohan. And it was Gupta who introduced us to Chotiwala and Harish. A dangerous rivalry broke out between Gupta and Dinesh in May when Dinesh came to know that Gupta was undercutting and double crossing him by introducing us to MPs without his knowledge putting the whole operation in peril. But more of that later.

After the first round of encounters finished by the last week of May, the COBRAPOST team went into a period of hibernation till the session of Parliament began in late July. One, because the team didn’t have any quality video equipment. Two, we wanted to see how many of the MPs actually put in the questions we gave them and how many of those submitted questions actually made it beyond the balloting process of the Parliament to eventually get selected. Three, things were heating up in North Avenue, where most of our middlemen and parliamentarians were situated, and the team wanted to retire from the scene for a few weeks to let things cool down.

To take you first through the case studies of the seven MPs (Kushwaha, Patil, Lodha, Mahajan, Manoj Kumar, Chandel and Lal Chandra) whose questions made it through the balloting process to get tabled in the Parliament and thereafter the remaining four (Ram Pal, Gandhi, C.P. Singh and Ramsevak), who took money but whose questions were filtered out of the question selection process.

Narendra Kushwaha

On May 9 the COBRAPOST met Narendra Kushwaha of the BSP. Arguably, the most colourful of all the MPs he has earned a reputation for his unpredictability and eccentricity that makes even middlemen wary of him. Gupta meets the reporter outside Khushwaha’s residence and tutors her on how to go about striking a deal with Khushwaha. Says Gupta: “Question de dena aur keh dena aapka sahyog chahte hain (Give him the question and say that we want your cooperation).” Gupta also tells us to give Rs 25,000 to Kushwaha and warns us that every MP we deal with through him has to be given the same amount or it could lead to complications later on. The reason he gave is that the MPs cross check the pay-offs with each other.

Khushwaha meets the reporter in the drawing room but leads her to his bedroom. When the reporter feels uncomfortable and suggests they shift back to the sitting room the MP acquiesces but asks her to come and sit close to him: “...hiyan baitho (sit next to me).” The question given to Khushwaha in this first meeting, for submitting in the Lok Sabha, is about the working of so-called five star hospitals and their rather exorbitant fee structure. Khushwaha is given Rs 25,000 in this meeting in a yellow envelope, which is kept in the table in front of him. Says Kushwaha, “Theek hai (Okay).” Many weeks later, Khushwaha blames the non-selection of the hospital question on it being too long: Says he: “…Wo type karke laya…bahut lamba tha (He had got it typed…It was too long).”

He also expresses displeasure at a particular MP getting more money for the same work and at one stage asks for the names of other MPs the NISMA is dealing with in regard to its petition. He also offers to get more MPs on board free of cost, saying lecherously, “Aapke paas deh hai na (You have your body to offer).”

In October, the MP calls to demand Rs 5 lakh for asking questions in the winter session. In Khushwaha’s words: “Paise dogi humko? Pura paanch lakh rupya. Hum utha den question is baar? (Will you give me money? A total of Rs 5 lakh. Tell me should I take up your questions this time around?).”

On November 6, Khushwaha also meets Malhotra and asks for Rs 5 lakh for putting in questions the whole year on NISMA’s behalf. Reiterates Khushwaha to the COBRAPOST team: “To is saal mein to aapko…maine kaha na ki paanch lakh dila do (For this year I have already told you get me Rs 5 lakh).” That day Khushwaha is paid Rs 30,000 in all. Rs 20,000 during the meeting with NISMA’s director and Rs 10,000 a few hours later. The balance of Rs 470,000 is agreed to be paid to him by cheque after TDS (tax deduction at source) even though Khushwaha prefers cash. Kushwaha wants the cheque in the name of his personal secretary Ajay Kumar Singh and has him furnish all details about his bank account number, etc. Kushwaha also takes Malhotra for talks to his bedroom and has him watch a CD of his speeches in the Lok Sabha. He accepts two more questions to be tabled in the winter session.

When accepting the sum of Rs 10,000, later, he gets upset for the amount is too small. Says he: “Arre yaar itna kam (So little, my friend).” He also asks for the cheque to be delivered soon. In his words: “Suniye cheque bahut jaldi banaiyega (Listen, make the cheque at the earliest).”

In the meeting with the NISMA’s director, Kushwaha is a goldmine of information. He tells us that commission for MPs in the MPLAD (Member of Parliament Local Area Development) scheme is around 10 per cent (each MP gets a sum of Rs 2 crore every year to spend in his constituency any which way he deems fit). Says Kushwaha, referring to the MPLAD scheme: “Kitna khate hain, khata hoga… dus per cent khate hain … bees hi lakh rupya na hua. Usme aapko sansadhan, gadi kitne rakhne hote hain MP ko (How much do they embezzle? Hardly 10 per cent. That comes to only Rs 20 lakh. So what? After all, an MP has to maintain all the paraphernalia, a retinue of cars, etc that go with his lifestyle).”
Kushwaha also tells us that middleman Gupta took a cut of Rs 5,000 even from the sum of Rs 25,000 paid to the MP in the first meeting and how Gupta also sold the free air tickets issued to his employer,

BSP MP Lal Chandra, on the black market.

Of course, throughout his interactions and conversations with the reporter he never loses an opportunity to make passes at her. Sample some phrases: “Arre tum to meri poori awaaz hi lekar chali gayi ho (You have taken away my voice)”, “Rukenge hamare yahaan (Will you stay at my place?)” and more.

Anna Saheb M.K. Patil

On May 11, COBRAPOST team met Patil through middleman Harish, a stenographer in the Parliament. Harish has strong connections with politicians, many of them relying on him for filing questions in the Parliament and other related work. Harish charges NISMA an introduction fee of Rs 5,000 for every MP that he takes us to. Later, he also charges us for drafting questions in the parliamentary format, translation, liaison with different MPs for getting them sign on question forms and submitting them in the Lok Sabha.

Patil, the BJP MP from Maharashtra, was minister of state for rural development in the NDA government. In his words he is a technocrat. An alumnus of IIT Kanpur (“Ist ranked”), he claims to be a sworn critic of political corruption. While initially Patil was given a tsunami related question, he soon takes to NISMA and ends up pocketing a total of Rs 45,000 for submitting questions on its behalf. One of the questions on whether certain items reserved for the small scale sector have been dereserved recently ends up appearing in the starred category (where the law-maker gets to ask the question orally to the minister concerned) and falls on July 26, the first day of the monsoon session. But, unfortunately, because of the clash between

Gurgaon police and the agitating workers of Hero Honda the Lok Sabha that day could not conduct its business. Patil even arranges a pass for “Namita Gokhale” to attend the particular Lok Sabha session besides asking her for more “research” notes on the topic to be able to make an impression in the House.

In the second meeting, Patil confirms the receipt of Rs 25,000 sent to him through Harish. He’s also paid another Rs 10,000 as reward for the appearance of one of the questions in the starred category. When asked whether the reward was right, Patil says: “It is not sufficient but somehow I am satisfied.” On the reporter asking him whether another sum of Rs 25,000 would be fine, he says: “Ya, ya, that would be fine.”

NISMA also hands over Patil a draft of the petition to be moved in Parliament. Eventually, Patil draws up a grand scheme on how to get the petition going and how he would lobby for NISMA’s interests. He promises to muster up support from a cross section of politicians and also spells out a strategy to influence various parliamentary committees. For all this help he spells out a budget of Rs 10 lakh. Patil doesn’t want to talk to his colleagues for a mere “Rs 25,000” for they would “laugh” at him. In Patil’s words: “At about…not less than 10 lakhs.”

On October 11, Patil accepts another Rs 10,000 from the reporter for raising questions in the winter session of the Lok Sabha. He accepts the money in a comic manner—asking the reporter to deposit the money “under the seat”. It’s also the first time that he agrees to accept payment from NISMA by cheque. Says Patil: “See, suppose I can give you the name of my relatives…and you draw the cheque.”

Later, in a meeting with NISMA’s Malhotra at a suite in Maurya Sheraton, Patil insists early on that “nowadays the work, either in Parliament or assemblies, ...cannot be done without a lobby”. With reference to big corporate goons, Patil says that it’s a “tragedy not that is…they are ruling the country.” The MP from Erandol talks about how the corporates can not only influence policy but “they can make any…any law or any sort of a legislation”. He has a memorable take on legislators: “…What is their party for them? Nothing. …Nothing. Money is the party.”

And, a few sentences later: “Nalayak hain saale sab. Corrupt hain sab (They are all good for nothing. They are all corrupt).”

In a “mutual relationships ka agreement” Patil asks for a monthly fee of Rs 50,000 for putting in as many questions as NISMA wants. Says Patil: “To mujhe lagta hai ki kam se kam chhe lakh rupye to saal mein aana chahiye (I think I should at least receive Rs 6 lakh a year).” A brief excerpt from the conversation:

Patil: Main... Kitna amount karenge. Aisa monthly basis pe (What amount will you pay me on monthly basis).

Reporter: Aap bataiye. Aap jo kahein (Tell me whatever you want).

Patil: Bhai dekho. Aapko bhi to helpful hona hai is sab se (You see it is all going to be helpful to you).

Reporter: Haan (Yes). What...What...What is the...Aapke samajh se kya (What do you think it should be)? Because Parliament is in session four - five months in a year.

Patil: Yes.

Reporter: Jo bhi hai (Whatever it is). But we will pay you throughout the year.

Patil: Yes.

Reporter: Haan (Yes). To (Then) that is the...Throughout the year.

Patil: Mutual nature.

Reporter: Mutual relationships.

Patil: Mutual relationships ka agreement.

Reporter: Haan (Yes).

Patil: To mujhe lagta hai ki kam se kam chhe lakh rupya to saal mein aana chahiye.(Then I think I should get at least six lakh rupees a year).

Reporter: Theek hai (Okay).

Patil: To 50 hazaar kam se kam hona chahiye.(Then it should at least be fifty thousand).

Reporter: Theek hai (Okay). Done sir. Usko ....that is not a problem. Because we want trusted people even if they are very small. 2 -3 trusted people. That is enough.

Patil: Yes, yes.

Patil also admits to spending Rs 1.5 crore in the last general elections and asks for help in the range of Rs 10-15 lakh for the next elections. Which NISMA promises to pay him by cheque after TDS. He too doesn’t want cash but a cheque in the name of a Maharashtra registered company with an account in Delhi.

Later on in the day, he also ends up signing 19 blank parliamentary forms used for submitting questions in the Lok Sabha, some of which we make good use of. The questions submitted on them by NISMA, with the help of Harish Badola, was for me the most satisfying part of Operation Duryodhana.

Excerpts from some of the questions:

Whether the Railway Ministry has placed any order for purchase of the Yossarian Electro Diesel engine from Germany? Is the ministry aware that the Tom Wolfe committee report in Germany has halted its induction into the Euro Rail system?

Whether the Government has given sanction for the seed trial of Salinger Cotton of Monsanto? If so, has a report been prepared on Catch 22 cotton so far?

Has the ministry lifted the 1962 ban it imposed on the book “For whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway and the 1975 ban on Ken Kesey’s book “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest” and Hunter Thomson’s book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”? If so, when were the bans removed?

Whether the government is aware that a domestic flying license has been denied to Cobra Cargo for starting operations in India? Since when has Semper Sursum Private Limited, the holding company of Cobra Cargo, applied for the domestic cargo license?

And now, that I have paid homage to Yossarian, I am a little upset that Major Major and Milo Mindbinder got left out. But I am happy that the Yossarian brand name has infiltrated the German market in spite of strong opposition from Tom Wolfe thanks to the foresightedness of the Indian parliamentarians. As for the Catch 22 and Salinger cotton strains I hope they are tremendously profitable for farmers and that the lifting of the bans on Hemingway, Thomson and Kesey, long due and deserved, will lead to a tremendous fillip to the publishing industry in general.

And as for Semper Sursum Private Limited I feel that the Union of India should promptly issue them a domestic cargo license, if that facility exists, so that Cobra Cargo can fly the books of Kesey, Thomson, Hemingway, Salinger, Wolfe and Joseph Heller all over India free of charge. Which undertaking Cobra Cargo has given to me personally.

As for the British authors, the motley bunch of Shakespeare, Kinglsey Amis, P.G. Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, and many others, who might be fuming at not having made it into the record books of the Indian Parliament, more specially because these American upstarts seem to have made it, I furnish my unqualified apologies and say that there are many mad Allahabadis around and it’s only a matter of time before this lopsidedness is rectified.

But to continue with the serious matter of Operation Duryodhana.

Significantly, in the course of the operation, the MPs had no qualms about taking money through the middlemen or in front of their secretaries. In many cases, it was their secretaries who were doubling up both as negotiators as well as conduits for the moolah. None of the 11 MPs showed any embarrassment in exposing themselves in front of their staff. Some, perhaps, even think that taking money through their staff or middleman gives them some kind of legal insularity. If nothing else, at least circumstances for a glib byte to the media: “It wasn’t me. It was my villainous secretary doing stuff behind my back.”

Y.G. Mahajan

It was, however, a conscious effort on the part of the COBRAPOST team to videotape cash accepting visuals with respect to every MP primarily as a legal imperative. In their absence, it becomes easier for politicians to unleash semantics that derail truth and fact.

On May 19, Harish takes us to meet the BJP MP from Maharashtra, Y.G. Mahajan. The Jalgaon legislator was the second one from Maharashtra to whom Harish introduced NISMA. Before the meeting, outside Mahajan’s house, the reporter proposes to Harish that Mahajan be paid directly by the NISMA representative for his efforts. However, Harish, would have none of it. Harish explains that the MP might get offended and not help us if we offered him money directly.

The first meeting with Mahajan was a brief affair as the MP had to go out for shopping. After an introduction by Harish, the reporter reads out a question to Mahajan on the safeguards of India’s biological wealth such as neem, bitter-gourd and jamun against bio-piracy by international companies. The reporter also apprises him about the case where an international company had patented the medicinal properties of neem as its own findings and that it took 10 years of intense litigation to finally revoke this patent. The MP hears NISMA out and promises his full cooperation. To recap in Mahajan’s words: “Aap material dete rahiye main uthate rahoonga,” (You keep on giving me material, I will keep on raising the issues).”

Mahajan soon departs. But outside the MP’s house, the reporter and the middleman begin a conversation on giving kickbacks to MPs. In this conversation Harish tries to convince the reporter that delivering money to the legislators was the job of the middleman and no MP would like to take the money upfront thereby increasing the risk of exposure to “sting operations”. So, Rs 25,000 due to Mahajan is handed over to Harish.

In the second meeting with Mahajan, the reporter decides to go alone without the middleman. In this meeting, the MP informs the reporter that a few questions have been tabled in the Lok Sabha on NISMA’s behalf. Though the COBRAPOST team had read out only one question on bio-piracy to Mahajan in the first meeting, the MP signed many more to increase their probability of being selected in the Parliament’s balloting procedure. Mahajan, in fact, had the highest strike rate with respect to questions being selected in the whole of Operation Duryodhana. Eight of NISMA’s questions put in by Mahajan actually got tabled.

The third visit to Mahajan’s residence takes place on October 27. The NISMA representative talks about the questions that Mahajan has asked on NISMA’s behalf in the Lok Sabha. For asking some more questions in the winter session the MP is given an advance of Rs 10,000 and another sum of Rs 15,000 is promised to him once the questions are tabled in the House. Mahajan accepts the money with glee but with a token gesture to social propriety. “Rehne do rehne do… Uski koi zaroorat nahi rehti Madam (Leave it, leave it, there is no need for this),” the MP cursorily utters at the offer of money, but is incapable of hiding his smile behind his bushy moustache.

Later, Harish tells us that Mahajan complained to him that the Rs 10,000 given to him in this meeting was too petty a sum. To recapitulate the middleman firsthand: “Wo mere se kah rahe the na… ki dus hi diye hain… unko bolo ki ye to kam hain (He was telling me that they have given me only ten thousand, tell them that it is less).”

For those of you wondering about the methodology of Operation Duryodhana in reaching out to MPs it will be pertinent to say that the COBRAPOST team essentially went where the middlemen took us. So the particular configuration of MPs that finally emerged had all to do with the particular middlemen that the team came into contact with. If it had been a different set of middlemen, the configuration of MPs would obviously have reflected that.

Also, while the COBRAPOST team made an effort through various middlemen to collect photostat copies of filled-up question forms submitted by various MPs in the Parliament, at the behest of NISMA, it wasn’t possible always to do so or to do so with respect to every MP. As for details (see boxes) regarding the questions given and tabled, on various occasions reliance has been placed upon the individual MPs or their middlemen confirming to the reporter that questions given by the NISMA have been submitted by them. If the MP or middleman concerned mislead the reporter for any reason the COBRAPOST team, in the absence of a copy, would have no way of knowing. Unless the Parliament keeps a record of questions submitted by various MPs.

Interestingly, at times, the middlemen would also get some MPs (those who had nothing to do with Operation Duryodhana) to sign and submit question-forms similar to the ones being submitted by any one of the 11 MPs. This was just to increase their chances of getting selected in the balloting procedure. Of course, those MPs did it either for the goodness of the cause of the SSIs or because of their personal relationship with the middlemen concerned.

Manoj Kumar

It was middleman Gupta who put us through to Chotiwala, personal secretary to the RJD MP, Manoj Kumar. With NISMA it is Chotiwala who acts as Manoj Kumar’s principal front man. He is reluctant to arrange a direct meeting with the MP on most occasions, fearing that it would lower his importance as well as chances of earning a fast buck. Even Manoj Kumar is not totally happy with him, thinking him inefficient and stubborn. After accepting Rs 25,000 from NISMA through Chotiwala, Manoj Kumar demands another Rs 75,000, ostensibly to arrange meetings of three other MPs with NISMA. Apart from Chotiwala, even the MP makes the demand on phone. The Rs 75,000 is given to him the next day at his residence. Chotiwala accepts the cash on his behalf after the MP is told that the money is being handed over to his secretary. At subsequent meetings Manoj Kumar reconfirms the receipt of Rs 1 lakh paid to him for asking questions in the Lok Sabha. Says Manoj Kumar: “Haan oo de diya hai (Yes he has given me).”

Of the many questions that he submits in Parliament on NISMA’s behalf three are selected in the monsoon session. It turns out, however, that the excuse of extracting a further Rs 75,000 from NISMA, to introduce more MPs to us so as to facilitate their lobbying needs, was just that: a clever ploy. He takes another Rs 10,000 as advance for submitting more questions in the winter session of the Lok Sabha and it remains to be seen whether they are selected. Demands on NISMA for more money for putting in these extra questions in the coming winter session have already been made.
In yet another meeting he likens the reporter to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity: “Aap jaise Lakshmi hain waise hi Lakshmi aate rahe (You are like Lakshmi, so let Lakshmi keep coming to me).”

But he also expresses misgivings in this meeting about scandals in general, which have apparently been fed to him by Chotiwala. Says Manoj Kumar: “Nahin oo bahut ashankit ho raha hai…aajkal itna scandal ho raha hai na….wahi jo scandal hota hai yahan…visual vagerah wo sab (No he is very suspicious …These days so many scandals are happening…where they take these visuals).” The reporter successfully deflates the situation saying that these were just canards being spread by

Chotiwala.

Suresh Chandel

It is middleman Vijay who takes us to Suresh Chandel, the BJP MP from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh. Vijay takes the reporter to the staircase leading to the MP’s house, thereafter she is escorted to the MP’s door by the local laundry woman.

Like in our earlier meeting with other MPs the team begins its tête-à-tête with Chandel with a brief introduction and then reads out the questions NISMA wants raised in the Lok Sabha. The question given to Chandel pertained to protection of SSIs in the post-GATT era. After listening to the questions Chandel assures that he will submit them in the Parliament. The MP accepts Rs 20,000 for the job. Incidentally, the little room that Chandel uses as his office in his residence has photographs of Swami Vivekananda, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Guru Golwalkar adorning the room and staring down on all visitors as indeed Chandel himself.

As the meeting comes to an end, the reporter comes out of his house only to find the laundry woman waiting there for her pound of flesh. The reporter brings her back to the MP, who agrees to pay her a tip for bringing us to him. Vijay also demands Rs 15,000 from us after the meeting. We pay him.
Our second meeting with Chandel was held on August 16 when the Monsoon session of Parliament was still in progress. In this meeting he confirms that the question NISMA gave him has been tabled in the Parliament. Chandel also nods in approval when asked whether the sum of Rs 20,000, which was paid to him in the first meeting, was enough. The MP also talks at length about the various parliamentary provisions he could avail of to raise issues pertaining to the SSIs. Says he: “To zero hour mein utha ke iska hungama kiya jaa sakta hai (We can raise the issue in the zero hour and create a furore).” A day later, Chandel calls the reporter to inform that he had received the answer to the question he had put on NISMA’s behalf in the Parliament.

In the third meeting with Chandel on October 5, the COBRAPOST team begins by reading out the questions that NISMA wants to be tabled during winter session. In this meeting the reporter pays him a sum of Rs 10,000 as an advance for asking more questions on NISMA’s behalf during the coming session of Parliament. Chandel even takes out an empty envelope to pack the money in.

The COBRAPOST team concludes the meeting by discussing various ways of creating a lobby in the Parliament to further NISMA’s interests. Chandel promises to involve one or two MPs from the Samajwadi Party as well as MPs from other parties: “Samajwadi Party ke ek do logon ko involve karenge… aur dalon ke logon ko bhi involve karenge (I will involve two members from the Samajwadi Party and also members from other political parties).”

Lal Chandra Kol

On May 4, we meet Lal Chandra of the BSP. We meet middleman Gupta for the first time at Lal Chandra’s residence, where he’s expecting us. Gupta instructs the COBRA POST team on the line to be taken while meeting the MP. “Ki hum logon ki taraf se ek chhota amount rakh ke ja rahe hain… phir uske baad se jab milenge, to aapka sahyog hota rahe, hum aapka bhi sahyog karte rahein. Shesh hum baat karenge baith ke aage kya karna hai kya nahin (This is a small amount from us… When we meet you later you assist us. We will also keep helping you. The rest we will sit down together and discuss).”

In this meeting a question on the misuse of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) is read out to the MP. He is also given a sum of Rs 25,000 in a transparent polythene envelope, which is placed on the table in front of him. Lal Chandra acknowledges it. A little while later, an unidentified guest of the MP, sitting next to Lal Chandra, picks up the envelope containing the cash and takes it to the MP’s bedroom. After the meeting, the reporter comes out of the house only to find Gupta waiting for his commission.

While he demands Rs 10,000 from the reporter, she only pays him Rs 5,000, promising the balance after the questions are tabled in the Parliament. However, the question given to Lal Chandra for tabling in the monsoon session fails to get selected.

After the May 4 meeting it took the COBRAPOST team nearly six months to contact the MP from Robertsganj in Uttar Pradesh again. He meets the team on November 9 and pockets another Rs 10,000 as an advance for putting three more questions in the winter session. In this meeting, also attended by Gupta, Lal Chandra assures us that one of the three questions submitted will be selected in the balloting process. Says Lal Chandra: “Usme ek question ayega. Chahe jo aa jaye ek question (One question will come, whichever one comes).”After the meeting an unhappy Gupta, who had been demanding more money as commission, accepts Rs 5,000, even though he was expecting Rs 50,000. One of the questions related to SSIs export to SAARC countries has already been tabled in the winter session.

Dr Chhatrapal Singh Lodha

While so far the COBRAPOST team had only interacted with members of the Lok Sabha, Lodha was the lone member from the Rajya Sabha. Though a resident of Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh, he was nominated to the upper house by the BJP from Orissa. It was middleman Harish who took us to Lodha on May 17.

After a brief introduction, the reporter gets down to business, explaining the questions NISMA wants asked in the Indian Parliament. She hands over the question to the MP and discusses with him the format most suitable for asking the question concerned. Lodha goes over the question diligently, one of the few MPs to do so.

Lodha assures the reporter that he will reframe the question and have it submitted in the Parliament’s monsoon session. One of the questions given to Lodha was on the Target Plus scheme for SSIs. After reading this question the MP tells Harish to get him more information on the scheme. When the meeting is over, the reporter gives Harish Rs 25,000 to be handed over to the MP. She also gives Harish another Rs 5,000 as his commission.

In our next meeting with Lodha on August 22, he informs us that one of the questions that he had submitted on NISMA’s behalf had come in the unstarred list of questions. The question that was tabled was on the Target Plus scheme. In this meeting although the reporter asks the MP whether he had received a packet from Harish. The MP replies in the affirmative.

For the fourth meeting with Lodha we visit the MP’s Bulandshahar residence on October 30. She reads out three questions which the MP had submitted and were tabled in the Rajya Sabha on NISMA’s behalf and informs him that the questions were rewritten significantly from the original that were given to him. The reporter again enquires whether Harish had paid him Rs 25,000, which was given to him after the first meeting on May 17. The MP informs that he got no such money from Harish. Says Lodha, “No, no, no, not a single penny.”

The reporter hands him Rs 5,000, thereafter, promising to deliver the rest in Delhi. Lodha accepts.
On November 9, there’s another meeting with Lodha, at his Delhi residence, where he accepts another Rs 5,000 for putting in more questions in the Rajya Sabha. When the conversation steers to Harish not giving Rs 25,000, Lodha says: “..de bhi jata hazar, paanch sau rupya staff ko de dete (Had he handed over the money I would have given my staff 500-1000 ruppees).” Lodha also says that he will have to sit down and have a talk with Harish. The discomfiture of Lodha is not at the fact that money was paid at all but that it wasn’t handed over to him.

Interestingly, even Lodha’s personal secretary Vinay Sharma is present at this meeting and he expresses “outrage” at Harish’s conduct. Says Sharma, in an apparent reference to him: “…To is tarah ka business shuroo ho gaya questions ka to kaise kaam chalega (If this kind of business starts with respect to questions then how will work go on)?”

It was, perhaps, unknown to Sharma that his boss Lodha had already pocketed Rs 5,000 from NISMA and, in a short while, in the ongoing meeting, would pocket another Rs 5,000. Lodha also comments that “staff bahut ganda ho gaya hai BJP office ka (The BJP office staff has become very corrupt)” and Sharma, in spite of all his posturing, starts angling to become a middleman for NISMA. To savour a sample from Sharma: “Questions to hum dus MP-iyon se lagwa dein, hamare paas to sab ke rakhe rahte hain (I can put in your questions through 10 MPs. I have all their forms lying with me).”
Incidentally, Harish too tells the reporter in a meeting that Lodha has told him to hand over the Rs 25,000 meant for him when he has the cash. On December 10, Lodha tells the reporter in a telephonic conversation that Harish had handed over Rs 5,000 of the Rs 25,000 meant for him, promising to give the remaining Rs 20,000 soon.

In the segment below are listed the case studies of MPs who took money from the COBRAPOST team for asking questions in the Parliament and who confirmed to the team that NISMA’s questions had been submitted but whose questions, till the time of writing of the story, didn’t make it through the balloting process.

BSP MP Raja Ram Pal

Our encounter on April 26 with a Lok Sabha member was quite revealing. Raja Ram Pal, the BSP MP from Bilhaur in Uttar Pradesh, was dismissive of the money offered to him for asking questions on Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the banking sector, though he readily accepted it. “Arre twenty five se kya hoga (What will happen with twenty-five thousand)?” And this was just his first meeting with the COBRAPOST team. To ensure that the questions he submits in Parliament get selected he gets a certain question paraphrased in three or four different ways and has other MPs put them in so, at least, one of those versions gets selected. Says Ram Pal: “Taaki wo select ho jaaye har haal mein (So that the question is selected under any circumstances).” When the reporter said at one place that whatever is done should serve public interest, Ram Pal threw another gem: “Public interest ke liye hi paida hue hain (I have taken birth only to take care of public interest).” Ravinder, his personal secretary, is a step ahead in suggesting a regular pay-off for the legislator, while reminding us of not forgetting his cut: “Tabhi to aap ke liye ladega, pachas hajar monthly dijiye, hum log ke liye bhi (Pay him fifty thousand a month only then will he fight for you, and don’t forget me).”

In yet another meeting on August 18, Ram Pal quotes a price of Rs 40,000 for his services: “...nahin to pachaas, nahin to chalees do (if you cannot pay me fifty thousand then at least pay me forty)”. That too in cash. Says Ram Pal: “Ab aapki ladai agar ladein, kisi small industry wala *** kisi chhote vakil ko bhi to… (If I fight your fight, then, any small scale industrialist, even if he hires a small time lawyer…).” However, the question given by the reporter to be submitted in Parliament, in the first meeting, doesn’t pass through the balloting process. He has no compunction in putting that down to the error of the same set of questions being submitted by himself and a middleman called Dinesh, who Ram Pal alleges, submitted the question by forging his signatures.

When the conversation turns to moving a petition for NISMA in Parliament signed by various MPs, Ram Pal asks for Rs 25,000 per MP and says that a minimum of 11 MPs would be needed for it. By imputation: cost of moving a petition signed by 11 MPs: Rs 2.25 lakh. Asked if Rs 5,000 was enough to get an MP sign on a petition, Ram Pal says: “Koi MP dus paanch hajar wala kaam karta hai kya? Do Chaar paanch hajaar to uska per day expenses hai (Would any MP do a work for Rs 5000-10,000 when his daily expenses come to around Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000).” In a telephone conversation later, when it was suggested by the reporter if he could be paid 50 per cent advance for the petition and the rest after the job was accomplished, Ram Pal throws an immortal line. He says: “Arre ab aisa tumhara rahega…sasta roye baar-baar, mehnga roye ek baar (Now, if you behave like this let me tell you that if you throw little money you will cry again and again, but if you throw big money you will cry only once).”

At another meeting the MP accepts a sum of Rs 10,000 through his secretary Ravinder as an advance for putting in two more questions regarding the pending SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) bill and India’s relationship with the SAARC countries. The remaining balance of Rs 15,000 is promised by the reporter once the questions are submitted. The meeting is also used to confirm once again that Ram Pal had accepted Rs 25,000 in the first meeting.

On November 10, Ram Pal meets Navratan Malhotra, the imaginary NISMA executive director at a Hotel Park suite, on Parliament Street, where he promises to submit as many questions in the Lok Sabha as NISMA wanted throughout the year for a fee of Rs 40,000 per month. The sum is assured to him part in cash and part in cheque in someone else’s name after, of course, TDS. Ram Pal also promises to raise issues at NISMA’s behest in zero hour, through Parliament Rules 377 and 193 and also putting in questions that could embarrass the “enemies” of NISMA. Says he: “Ye to chhote-mote kaam hain (These are small jobs).” He also assures that in the coming days Uttar Pradesh would have a BSP government and NISMA could then tap on him.

Pradeep Gandhi

Which takes us straight to the interesting interludes with BJP MP Pradeep Gandhi of Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh. While we meet Gandhi on May 4, the middleman who takes us there is Mohan Mani, whom the team had met a day earlier at his residence at the Constitutional Club complex, off Parliament Street. At the first meeting of the COBRAPOST team with Gandhi, the MP tells the reporter the best method of submitting questions in the Parliament is not through one MP but many MPs. Says Gandhi: “Ek question ko dus bees saansad lagate hain…kisi ka number fansta hai, kisi ka nahi fansta hai (One question is submitted by 10-20 MPs…some get their questions selected).” He also informs that NISMA’s question can only come in the next (monsoon) session of Parliament. The question given to Gandhi is about the status of the SEBI inquiry into the stock market scam of 2004. Gandhi is paid Rs 25,000 for his upcoming efforts of submitting questions in the Parliament on NISMA’s behalf. The reporter asks the MP to count his share of money. “Ek baar aap dekh lijiye…check..ye bahut zaroori hai..you check it (take a look once, it is important that you checked it),” she tells the MP. To this Gandhi replies: “Dekh lena to hai hi hai (I have to see it anyway).” The reporter telephones Gandhi in July to find out whether he has submitted the question given to him. The MP replies that he has done so. In fact, he wants NISMA to give him more questions so that they too could be submitted.

In the team’s next meeting on August 16, Gandhi informs the reporter that although he had submitted NISMA’s question, it was not selected in the Parliament’s balloting system. Says he: “Lagaye the fansaa to nahin…question ka badaa ye rehta hai (I had submitted the questions but they were not selected. There is this uncertainty about the questions…).” The MP reiterates that one question should be submitted through many MPs so that there is greater chance of the question being selected. He also tells us to give him more questions. In this meeting, Gandhi tells the reporter that Mohan had told him that NISMA would pay him a monthly sum of Rs 25,000 for this service. Says Gandhi: “Jaise wo aya tha Mohan, usne kaha ki har mahine ka pachchees hajar rupya aa jaayega (That Mohan came to tell me that I shall get Rs 25,000 every month).”

The reporter meets Gandhi again on October 5. After discussing with him whether he could help NISMA table a petition on the problems of the SSIs in the Parliament the MP is paid Rs 10,000 as an advance for putting in more questions in the winter session. He’s also given some researched matter on SSIs to enable him to make some questions of his own.

On November 8, Malhotra, meets Gandhi for the first time along with the reporter. Gandhi assures the NISMA that he would garner the support of up to 100 MPs to lobby for its petition on SSIs in the Parliament and would also establish contact with the chairman of the Petition Committee. When Malhotra offers the MP Rs 25,000 per month for submitting questions in the Parliament, Gandhi asks him to increase this amount to Rs 50,000. Says Gandhi: “To main ye sochta hoon ki isko agar apan fifty karte hain (I think you should raise the amount to fifty thousand).” The reason: Gandhi wants to recruit staff, preferably retired officers, professionally qualified with SSI background, who would work from a room in his residence.

The Rajnandgaon legislator also agrees to accept half the Rs 6 lakh due annually by cheque though in someone else’s name, and the rest, Rs 3 lakh, in cash. The NISMA representatives also pay Rs 10,000 to Gandhi as an advance for putting in questions in the winter session. They also promise the MP a six month advance, half by cash and the rest by cheque.

In the same meeting Gandhi details his budgetary requirements for organizing a petition helping NISMA’s cause. Asks Gandhi: “Yeh yachika ke liye kissi se baat karta hoon. Maan lo agar 10 tak ka apan karte ho to baat kar loon kisi se (I will talk to someone about this petition. Can I talk to someone with a budget of Rs 10 lakh in mind)?” NISMA’s fictitious executive director, Malhotra, of course, agrees to it but asks him to restrict the budget to between Rs 5-8 lakh.

After the meeting is over both the NISMA representatives leave Gandhi’s residence, opposite Vigyan Bhavan. However, after about half an hour the reporter rushes back to meet Gandhi again. In this brief interaction with the MP, the reporter pays Gandhi another sum of Rs 5,000. She also confirms with the MP about Rs 20,000 paid to him in previous two meetings, the one on October 5 and the one earlier in the evening. Gandhi also talks to a certain Golu on phone to get his name right for making him the beneficiary of the cheque amount due from the NISMA.

The next morning on November 9, however, the COBRAPOST team receives a telephone call from Gandhi seeking an urgent meeting with the NISMA representatives. What leads him to be suspicious of the team is detailed later in the story. The MP at one stage even searches both Malhotra and Namita’s bags. Says he: “Koi baat cheet tape ho jaati hai (Some talks can be taped).” Then he also asks, “Kuch ho to...Dekh loon. Dikha do. Kya dikkat hai (Maybe there is something… let me check it. Show me. What is the problem)?”

A brief excerpt from the particular meeting:

Pradeep Gandhi: Maine kahaa bhai isme kahin tape to nahi ho gaya. (Tell me if it hasn't cought it all on tape.)

Reporter I: Arre sir. Tape ho rahaa hota to abhi nikal rahaa hota main to udhar jab nikal raha tha... (What sir. Had it been taped, I would have already left)

Gandhi: Nahin...(No no.)

Reporter I: Haa.(Yes)

Gandhi: ***** Kya hai main isliye shanka kar raha tha...(Actually I had some doubt because...)

Reporter I: Arre nahin sir. Yeh sab...(No, not at all sir. All this....)

Reporter II: Theek hai sir? (Okay sir).

Gandhi: Nahin. Kuch ho to...Dekh loon. Dikha do. Kya dikkat hai?(No. Maybe there is something...Let me check it? What is the problem?)

Reporter I: Ek baar… Dikha do sir ko (Okay, show it to sir once).

Of course, he never finds anything and the cameras are on even while the search is going on. But, even in this meeting the MP accepts Rs 5,000, which the team offers apparently to distract him.

Fog of Suspicion

Suspicion was something that kept erupting time and again during the course of Operation Duryodhana. One very serious bout of doubt involved Chotiwala. In May, a few days after having accepted Rs 1 lakh from NISMA, Chotiwala insists on meeting Suhasini urgently and comes to the lobby of Hotel Ashoka along with a gentleman by the name of Rajesh, a friend of middleman Chandrabhan Gupta. He expresses doubts about NISMA’s activities saying maybe its representative was from some media house. In Chotiwala’s words: “To, waise wo, aapki activities par hi doubt ho raha hai (We are having doubts about your activities).” Chotiwala claims a crime branch official has tipped him off. Probing and intimidating in turn, at one point Chotiwala tells her being a lady it wouldn’t be nice if somebody searched her. At this point the reporter totally takes off and starts shooting her mouth off. A brief sample: “Talashi ki aisi ki taisi, hum seedha Home Ministry pahunch jayenge, baat kya kar rahe hain aap (Search, my foot, I will go straight to the Home Ministry, what are you talking?).” And, a little while later: “I will straight away go to the Home Ministry. If, at any point of time anyone challenges my credibility, or tries to lay a hand, ki bhaiyya lady hai tumko (that she’s a lady) I will straight away go to the Home Minister. Baat kya kar rahen hain aap (What are you talking?).”

So a combination of amateur bluster and self-assurance of the reporter saves a potentially derailing moment for Operation Duryodhana even while she was grilled by Chotiwala for nearly half an hour. And it wasn’t just one incident. Middleman Chandrabhan Gupta also develops suspicion and springs his friend Rajesh onto her to interrogate and suss her out at his roof top room in North Avenue. She passes that as well with flying colours. A lot of this turbulence was generated by middleman Dinesh. After coming to know that the middlemen he had sent the COBRAPOST team to were now bypassing him and introducing them to other MPs without his knowledge, Dinesh started spreading rumours that the NISMA outfit was in reality a media team, in an attempt to scare them off us. But with his tale being too close to the truth it was a miracle that the team was able to just talk its way out of the sceptical fog.

And although we faced suspicion from many quarters a lot of it was just remarks from MPs and middlemen about how the media was so omnipotent, and also simple, direct and harmless queries about whether they were being taped. As if, if we were (which we indeed were), we would simply roll over and admit to the fact. I personally think, the spectacle of a homely woman going around splurging cash on demand, in North Avenue, was something they were not used to. And they weren’t quite equipped to react to that novelty. If it was a guy I think the suspicions would have metamorphosed into a more aggressive scrutiny of the credentials of NISMA and its alleged representatives and most certainly some thorough physical searches at inopportune moments.
When finally BJP MP Pradeep Gandhi did get suspicious it was more a result of foolishness on our part, more particularly mine. While we had portrayed NISMA as a bonafide organization functioning out of Moradabad, when Gandhi asked me, that is NISMA’s Malhotra, who the sitting Lok Sabha MP from Moradabad was, I was stumped by a mile and gave a rather pathetic and convoluted explanation of how I was generally at Moradabad only for a fortnight or so in a whole year spending the rest abroad and which didn’t quite allow me to keep abreast with the identities of local luminaries. Then there was the issue of

my visiting card which he asked for and which I didn’t give purposefully because a fake address invariably complicates matters.

Here I cooked up the rather not so convincing a story of how there had been several attempts on my life and as a result my movements were so secretive that giving out personal phone numbers was unthinkable for security reasons. Where people were too insistent we would dish out something. Like in Chotiwala’s case part of his way of checking out our bonafide was to ask for us to submit all our small scale industry grievances on NISMA’s letterhead.

But in my defence I have to say that Operation Duryodhana was already more or less complete so to speak when “Malhotra’s” meeting with Gandhi took place and there was a bit of casualness and over-confidence in the COBRAPOST team which could infect anybody that could get a question like “Whether the Railway Ministry has placed any order for purchase of the Yossarian Electro Diesel engine from Germany?” enter the question-balloting system of the Indian Parliament. Also, one would have thought that the media trend that started post-Operation West End would make politicians and their assorted middlemen more careful but an opportunity for profit has its way of blinding people. And, in a way, our cover cracked only because the COBRAPOST team let it. But, Gandhi did manage to unearth our real identities and nosed around our residences and called the reporter just to be able to sit down and discuss the matter with us and end it.

Chandra Pratap Singh

The third parliamentarian that middleman Gupta leads us to is BJP MP ‘Baba Saheb’ Chandra Pratap Singh from Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi constituency. Gupta arranges the meeting on May 11 at Singh’s 33 North Avenue residence. In the first meeting the reporter acquaints him with the question on the impact of VAT on the pharmaceutical industry that NISMA wanted to be submitted in the Parliament. The MP promises full cooperation and accepts Rs 25,000 for the job.

Our next meeting with Chandra Pratap Singh takes place three months later on August 16. In this meeting Singh is a little red-faced because the questions he submitted in the Lok Sabha on behalf of NISMA didn’t figure in either the starred or unstarred list of selected questions. The MP gives a lengthy explanation about the procedure for selecting questions: how the process is like a lottery and that once the MP submits his questions all he can do is keep his fingers crossed and hope that the question pops up after the balloting process. Says C.P. Singh: “Jab tak ki hamara ek member baithta hai… uske saamne lottery nikali jaati hai… wo lottery nikal gaya to wo aa jaata hai (We have a member sitting there. It is in front of him that lottery takes place. A question is taken up only if it is selected in the lottery).”

The MP also confirms that Rs 25,000 was paid to him during the first meeting and undertakes to put in more questions in the Lok Sabha in the next session. In the third meeting, the MP accepts yet another Rs 10,000 and signs five questions the reporter brings pre-formatted to him. He also says, towards the end of the meeting, that if the answers to the questions don’t come in the winter session he will have the questions re-submitted in the next session. Amongst the questions that he signs for us, one would be of particular interest to the Indian blogging community.

Here’s an excerpt of the question:

Is it true that while NRI firms such as India Uncut of USA, Sepia Mutiny of Britain and AnarCap Lib of Netherlands have been allowed to invest in Indian SSIs, the reputed German investment firm Desipundit has been denied permission? If so, the reasons thereof? Is the Union Government of India planning to make automatic the long procedure of permission for SSIs to import new technologies such as Trackbacks, Pingbacks, Blogrolls, Splogs and Hitcounters?

While nearly all the questions had a public interest element in them, some, like the one above, were passed on to the MPs with the intention of showing how easy it was for amateur teams to infiltrate the system and get bogus questions submitted in the balloting process. While, in this case, these were harmless, humour inducing efforts, in the hands of powerful lobbies this power acquires a sinister dimension. It is important to note some MPs like Kushwaha, Ram Pal and Gandhi even promised to put in questions “to harass” NISMA’s enemies.

Ramsevak Singh “Babuji”

On May 25 the COBRAPOST team met the Congress MP from Gwalior for the first time. Middleman Vijay arranged the meeting at the MP’s house in North Avenue.

Before the meeting with Ramsevak Singh, Vijay tells the NISMA representative not to give any money to the MP directly but route it through him instead. After the pleasantries questions are read out to the legislator. The reporter could not talk anything about money in the meeting as there was another person present in the room. However, the reporter indicates to the MP that she is leaving a packet behind with Vijay, who throughout the meeting was a silent spectator. At the end of the meeting, Vijay is handed over a packet containing Rs 25,000 to be given to the MP. He goes back into the MPs house and returns telling us that the money has been delivered to the MP. He also collects Rs 10,000, as his commission. The reporter also calls up Ramsevak, later the same day, where he confirms receiving Rs 25,000 from Vijay. In another phone conversation on July 29 the MP informs the reporter that he has submitted the questions in the Parliament.

The COBRAPOST team goes to meet Ramsevak Singh the second time on August 16. His personal assistant Ravinder Sehrawat was also there along with another person, who was sitting on the sofa beside the MP. Since the question given to Ramsevak did not figure either in the starred or unstarred lists, the MP volunteers to submit them again in the Lok Sabha. He also instructs the NISMA representative to contact him directly henceforth and not come through the middleman, Vijay, who had brought her to him earlier.

In the third meeting with the MP on October 7 the reporter reads out a fresh set of questions for submission during the winter session. After Ramsevak assures her that he will submit them in the Parliament in the coming session, the reporter pays him an advance of Rs 10,000. In this meeting the legislator again confirms having received Rs 25,000 from Vijay in the first meeting. Interestingly, in this interaction, a katha (story) on the Ramayana by Ram Kinker is blaring in the room.

We meet Ramsevak Singh two more times on November 10. In the first of the two meetings the MP accepts Rs 10,000 from us. The reporter also offers him a monthly retainer for raising questions in the Parliament to which Ramsevak tells us that we can give anything which is profitable to him. Says he: “Nahi figure khud bataa dena soch ke (You tell me the figure yourself after thinking).” In the second meeting he accepts another Rs 5,000, which took the total tally of the money he received from us for submitting questions in the winter session to Rs 25,000. His secretary Ravinder, later, delivers copies of the question forms submitted by the MP in the Lok Sabha on NISMA’s behalf.

It will be pertinent to note that the case studies of the 11 MPs above are a condensed version of what exactly transpired and cannot be construed in any way to be the entire gamut of facts. There are many hours of tapes that hold much more interesting material.

Hidden cameras and politicians are an incompatible, though entertaining, combination. Sucking the air for video, the cameras can acquire evangelical powers. By simply amalgamating sounds and images into facts they can etch the spiritual poverty of Indian politics. They can also furnish the nation with the itinerary of graft: how some Members of Parliament after having come to power use it to convert every due privilege into the all consummate act of making money.

Strikingly, according to an estimate by Transparency International India (TII) in June 2005, ordinary Indians paid Rs 21,068 crore as bribes while availing one or more of 11 public services in a year. These are: police (crime/traffic), judiciary, land administration, municipal services, government-run hospitals, electricity supply, public distribution system, income tax, water supply, schools and rural financial institutions—in that order.

With 14405 respondents this survey by TI India was one of the biggest corruption studies in India. While India ranks 88th on the corruption index listing 158 countries, Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar are the most corrupt states in India and Delhi is ranked higher than Uttar Pradesh when it comes to corruption.

The report relates just to petty corruption and is not about large scale corruption where public funds are siphoned off as NPAs, or where commissions line the pockets of politicians in defence deals. There are also some reports that suggest that eliminating or minimising corruption would boost India’s GDP by 1.5 per cent.

In India, it’s become almost analgesic to talk about the prevalence of corruption. It’s a “given” assumption. There’s even a cynicism developing towards stories of corruption bred more by the attitude “tell us something new”. That is a dangerous trend. For when corruption stories stop burning holes even in the notebook of reporters then it means that there is a lack of outrage over the issue. And an absence of fury will only exacerbate the political bankruptcy that the nation finds itself in. While we should never be so consumed by the passion to expose that we sacrifice responsibility and accuracy, at the same time we should guard against losing that passion.

As a democracy we have decided that though our legislators cannot perhaps fill up tax forms but they can legislate and that, though they might have dozens of criminal charges against them, they can still enter the electoral fray.

But even as politicians in India have managed to tunnel their way into brutal ridicule one should bear in mind that the 11 MPs we have talked about in Operation Duryodhana don’t define the moral hollowness of Indian politics, we at least hope so, in the way that the Taliban doesn’t define Islam or Praveen Togadia, Hinduism.

For corruption to be defeated it has to be decoded first. Some would even say that while in the West one makes money in the market and uses it to buy or manipulate power, in India one grabs power in order to make money. The other thing about it that needs to be understood is that when powerful citizens are caught lunging for cash, they crank propaganda with ferocity. There is this demonic energy that propaganda generates which tricks you to try and understand an issue not on the facts but on the people who put those facts. It also tries to cloud the main issue with irrelevant, minor issues.

And even as I am calibrating my news radar on this unconfirmed tip off that has come to me, anonymously, about these celebrities who are clandestinely involved in the penile enhancement business and who, as a sideshow, also participate in rituals that resemble the Naked Singing cult
from Bhutan, where they shower their dollars on nude damsels, I am generous enough to pass on a story idea that I think lots of Indian media houses should be pursuing. I have a hunch that an investigation into the MPLAD scheme would yield rich dividends.

(The writer headed the COBRAPOST investigation called Operation Duryodhana. The story, which broke in AAJ TAK, was co-authored by SUHASINI RAJ. The investigation was also assisted by KUMAR BAADAL.)

 

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Operation 136: Part 1

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