The Rise and fall of Tarun Tejpal

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Tarun Tejpal is presently the butt of the public outrage and media indignation in India. For the past more than one week, he has been donning the headlines and for all the wrong reasons. He would have never imagined his swift fall from grace. For almost a decade now, he was celebrated as the voice of the alternate media in India. He carved a niche for himself and his brainchild Tehelka, especially in the world of investigative journalism. From a lowly beginning as a little-known website, to the days of the annual Thinkfest in Goa, during which the alleged sexual assault on a Tehelka journalist took place, Tejpal and Tehelka had travelled a long distance and then subsequently suffered a similar fate.

His background was pretty modest. An army child, he started his career in journalism with The Indian Express. With subsequent stints at various media organizations, he finally launched his own website. His claim to fame was ‘’Operation West End’’, a sting operation which Tehelka carried out  that exposed the then Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman accepting a bribe for a defence deal from a reporter disguised as an arms dealer. The operation proved quite explosive leading to Laxman’s resignation and that of the then Defence Minister in the NDA Regime, George Fernandez as well.

By the year 2000, he started working with Anirudha Behl on investigative stories. After breaking the story of the dodgy betting scandal in Indian Cricket, the two men started an online portal to carry on their work. It was natural that the corporate media wouldn’t do the kind of stories that he intended to do. Funding was a major issue but Tejpal found some initial investors who were willing to fund his venture. Funding remained an issue with Tehelka for a long time given that they were not backed by any corporate house and neither had they any regular advertisement income.

Tejpal’s rise was meteoric and dizzying. From struggling to put Tehelka together, to rubbing shoulders with celebrities like Robert De Niro and VS Naipaul, Tejpal charted a completely different trajectory for himself. But all this fame and name came crashing down, when he indulged in an alleged sexual assault on a junior female journalist working with Tehelka, in an elevator in a star hotel in Goa, on Nov 7 and 8. Credit must be given to the female journalist who mustered enough courage to report this horrible incident, involving her employer, to the Tehelka Managing Editor, Shauma Chaudhary. Despite some initial flip flops by the Tehelka Management, the internal email communication within Tehelka was leaked to the media. As expected, both the mainstream and the social media went hammer and tongs after, not only Tejpal but Shauma Chaudhary as well, for her alleged cover up of this assault.  

After evading the Goa Police, who took suo motto notice of this case, Tejpal was denied anticipatory bail by the Goa High Court on Nov 30th, 2013 and subsequently arrested by the Crime Branch. He is facing charges of rape, under the recently amended rape laws in India.

Whether or not Tejpal is guilty will be proved in the Courts. But his reputation as an upright journalist has taken a severe beating and it will be almost impossible for him to regain that. Not surprisingly, the mainstream Indian media is experiencing schadenfreude at Tejpal’s fall from grace, given his overt self righteousness. As this sorry saga has unfolded, many journalists have said that like Tejpal, there are many sexual predators in the Indian media industry. With the advent of social media and blogging, and also the victims finding more courage to speak against the culprits, it will be difficult for media houses to hush up such matters. More power to such brave girls and high time for the Indian media to put its house in order.

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