Everybody Loves a Good War – Tehelka and Essar: Bobby Kunhu

Update: A Day after the publication of this post, Tehelka changed the status of Essar from “Principal Sponsor” to merely one of several “patrons” on the Goa ThinkFest website.

Guest post by BOBBY KUNHU

Tehelka: Free, Fair, Fearless?

Without doubt, one of the most important documents to make its appearance after the arrest of Soni Sori by the Chattisgarh Government in Delhi on 4th October 2011 was the cover story titled, “The inconvenient truth of Soni Sori” that appeared in Tehelka, written by Shoma Chaudhary. It tells the story of Soni Sori and her nephew Linga Kodopi as narrated to Tehelka and the sequence of events that led to their persecution.

Nonetheless there is an intriguing twist to how this story was framed. The introduction of the story goes:  “Why were two tribals and the Essar group framed by the Chhattisgarh police? Why are Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi being systematically silenced? This chilling story of one family reveals more about India’s Naxal crisis than any official document can.”

In other words, Tehelka is arguing that Essar is also being framed in this narrative along with Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi.

This has been rankling many of us who have been watching events unfold in the Adivasi belt for the last couple of decades. The story is framed in such a way that it looks like Soni Sori, Linga Kodopi and Essar group – all three of them in the same breath – are victims in a bloody battle between the State and the Maoists for territorial control.

Even a casual observer regardless of ideological persuasion knows that at the heart of the problem is contestation for natural resources in this region and corporations are the stakeholders that triggered off this contestation and the Adivasi is at the receiving end

of this. If anyone has doubts regarding Essar group’s interest in the Central and East Indian Adivasi belt, please take a look at the 2009 India Human Right Report, produced by the New Delhi based Asian Centre for Human Rights. To quote:

“Nearly 900 families would be displaced by the Essar’s proposed steel plant in Jagatsinghpur. The company had identified nearly 1,925 acre land for a proposed steel plant of which 1,663 acres are owned by local people and 262 acres by the government. The government had already given 103 acres to the company.

The locals alleged that the 103 acres given to the Essar Steel Company were acquired by the Commerce and Transport department of the government of Orissa to set up the Paradip Port Trust in 1962-1963. The department acquired the land at a cost of Rs 300 per acre but sold the land to Essar Company at the rate of Rs 3 to 4 lakh per acre. The Essar Steel Company had already completed dredging and sand filling in 103 acre of acquired land at the Mahanadi river mouth and the dredging resulted in inundation of more than 400 acre of paddy land. The district administration notified the company but no compensation was paid to the farmers. In July 2008 the affected families demanded compensation for the inundation of their agricultural land.”

In Chhattisgarh itself, Essar has interests in exploration and production at Sohagpur, a steel plant in Bailadila and iron ore mines apart from a proposed Super Thermal Power Project near Dabra and a proposed 3.2 million tonne per annum steel plant in Bastar. Essar’s role in Chhattisgarh has been controversial, as mentioned even in a Wikileaks-published American diplomatic cable, in Essar paying protection money to Maoists – which both the Maoists and Essar have denied – but is at the heart of the issue here.

It is in this context that one finds Tehelka’s blanket exoneration of Essar group intriguing. And the attempts at equating the travails of Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi with the plight of Essar mischievous.

In fact in the story itself, almost all the protestations of Essar’s innocence are either tagged to the framing of Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi or are testimonies of Essar officials. From the sting quoted in the story, Constable Mankar admits to the innocence of Linga Kodopi and Soni Sori, but states that the money was actually seized from the house of BK Lala, the Essar contractor. The other statement by Jairam Khora, the sarpanch of Badapadar panchayat in Odisha that Tehelka puts forward in defence of Essar also points only to the police brutality and framing of Khora and not to a police plot so bent on framing… Essar.

Then the story goes into enormous lengths quoting state officials to paint a picture of conflict between the State and the Maoists, where Essar is a victim just like Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi. Sample this:

“One of the CRPF commanders puts it most starkly and unequivocally: “Soni and Linga were targeted to protect the interest of the non-tribal majority against the aboriginal minority. Earlier, the tribals didn’t have a voice, but these two people changed that. Lingaram becoming a journalist was a grave threat to them as he could expose them. A tribal asserting his or her right is a big issue for them. They want to make sure there is no tribal voice.”

The unnamed CRPF commander confirms this dilemma, “When I first reached Dantewada, I found a deadly triangle: the State’s forces and Naxals at two ends and the public (emphasis mine) caught in between. Ninety percent of the villagers and tribals in the area are in touch with the Maoists: they give rations or go for meetings. They feel compelled to do that, otherwise they cannot survive. But the forces cannot distinguish between who is compelled and who is an active collaborator. In this scenario blaming someone as a Maoist to settle a score is very easy.”

“The public” here of course is an innocuous clubbing of all non-state non-Maoist actors. But Tehelka contradicts itself later in the same story:

“A senior officer in the forces says the real story behind Soni and Linga’s framing in the Essar pay-off case is that the cops had arrested Lala for not giving them their cut. “Maoist leader Azad had blown up the pipes of Essar’s Chitrakonda pumping station because he was against the over exploitation of natural resources. But Maoist leader Abhay has other ideas. Lala reconstructed those pipes for Essar through deep jungles. It is impossible to imagine that a private contractor could do that without Maoist approval. It’s a place where even the paramilitary do not tread. The police knew this and because he didn’t take care of their interest, they arrested him.”

Based on Lala’s supposed statement to the police, DVES Verma, general manager of Essar in Chhattisgarh, was also recently arrested by the police.

The officer, speaking to Tehelka off record, goes on to conjecture that Linga and Soni were arrested as mere diversion:

“The police knew that once they arrest Linga and Soni, civil society will make a hue and cry. Since they have no proof, they will be released soon enough. They don’t really want Lala’s case to be strong. They just want their share of the pie.”

And of course:

“Essar on its part “vehemently rejects all the baseless allegations about any payments to Maoists”.

While tacitly admitting:

“So, were Soni and Linga framed in the alleged Essar pay-off case as a smokescreen for some murky plot by the police to get their share of alleged protection money?”

At the risk of repetition, and making it clear that this is no apologia for Maoist violence, let me reiterate that at the heart of the crisis at Dantewada is Corporate greed for Adivasi land – which both the State and the Maoists are capitalising on. With or without pay-offs Essar and other companies are at the root of the conflict and it does look very devious that Tehelka tries to link Essar’s innocence to that of Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi. It is not as if Tehelka has not done any stories against Essar. In fact, the March issue carried a story by Brijesh Pandey regarding Essar’s suspected role in the 2G spectrum scam. It was Shoma Chaudhary herself who had quoted Mani Shankar Aiyar:

“It is ridiculous to attack everyone just because they have a view on the Maoist issue as anything more than just a ‘menace’. While there’s no alternative to a State defending itself to a challenge by insurgents, we have to ask ourselves why this insurgency is confined to 5th Schedule Areas (ie, tribal) areas. And as long as our ideas of development is restricted to gains for people like Vedanta and POSCO and Tata and Essar and the Mittals, and we allow them to exploit tribal resources, the tribals are bound to see this development not as desired but disruptive. The point is, we have to define the difference between ‘participatory development’ and ‘aggressive development’.”

What caused this change of heart in Tehelka towards Essar? That Essar is the principal sponsor for the high profile Goa Thinkfest being organized by Tehelka! Tehelka has a lot of explaining to do – especially vis-à-vis their exoneration of Essar through the innocence of Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi!

Otherwise, taking-off from P. Sainath’s legendary title, Everybody Loves a Good War!

51 thoughts on “Everybody Loves a Good War – Tehelka and Essar: Bobby Kunhu”

  1. We are fortunate to have a journalist of Shoma Choudhuri’s calibre, integrity and courage in our times. To insinuate that her report in Tehelka was in any way motivated by Essar’s sponsorship of a Tehelka event is silly.


  2. Does हे mean it was ESSAR who asked Shoma to write this story ? and that Soni Sori never met Shoma and the sting operation is a fake one ?
    I can’t understand why people are writing such rubbish stories? Will they ever be able to understand peoples’ pain apart from their party politics?


  3. I think this is a bit of an over reaction. At no point in the TEHELKA coverage of the Soni Sori story does ESSAR come out looking clean. In fact, to any unbiased reader, ESSAR emerges as much a villain in the story as the State.


  4. The fact that Tehelka had Essar as one of its principal sponsors for the Thinkfest smacks of the kind of double standards that one usually tends to accuse other corporate media-houses of ! Alas, but it seems that Tehelka too has fallen prey to the kind Murdochist machinations that the global corporate media has been held hostage to.


    1. it should read “the kind Murdochist machinations that the global media has been held hostage to.”


  5. The critical analysis is excellent. Reading between the lines is also needed to understand the complexities of the issues at stake, not just on ground zero (chattisgarh) but also behind-the-scene happenings in the corridors of power (New Delhi). Tehelka’s coverage of Soni’s story has been good and Shoma Chaudary’s reporting on burning issues always have a perspective. But Essar being the principal sponsor of the Goa Thinkfest could be a reason for trying to paint it as a ‘poor victim caught between the State and the Maoists.

    Also, one fails to understand how Soni was so easily arrested by the Chattisgarh police in New Delhi. It appears that she was more effective in hiding herself, while she was on her own and became vulnerable when she trusted people in Delhi to save her from her attackers.


  6. This is not the first time Tehelka has exposed itself and won’t be the last. Others, like the Times of India for instance, do stuff like this routinely but at least don’t have this moral self-righteousness about them. Tejpal, Chaudhry & Sons Pvt Ltd can’t possibly fool everybody all the time


  7. This is really very very unfortunate and sad that some of our friends, otherwise well meaning people, are falling prey to a typical conspiracy theory. I have been following very closely Soni Sori’s and Linga’s case. Shoma’s story is the first and the most powerful account of what Soni and Linga have gone through, reflective of a larger sinister game being played out in Chattisgarh. This story has in a big way highlighted the case in the media and strengthened Soni’s case which is sub judice in the Supreme Court. At no point is Shoma sympthising with Essar, equating Essar’s case with that of Soni and Linga or trying to paint all three with the same brush. Essar sponsoring Thinkfest is a different issue altogether but in our overenthusiasm, we should not always try to read too much between the lines and in the process do disservice to this case. Shoma has quite painstakingly put together this story and genuinely attempted to unravel a very complex phenomenon.


  8. Excellent analysis. Anyone with half a brain could sense at once that something is amiss with the way Shoma’s story was tip-toeing around Essar, and the fact that it is corporate greed for natural resources in adivasi homeland — not the State vs Maoists battle — that is at the heart of the problem. But this piece does a great job of pinning it down. Tehelka sold out long ago — they just do what is necessary to maintain their brand position, and an aura of credibility among their core readership — the left-liberal, well-off, well-meaning middle class with a guilty conscience.


  9. I think it would have been useful to make a quick call to Tehelka to verify things before putting it out in public. Journalistically, that is the basic minimum that one does to ensure fairness and balance. I have found Shoma’s articles to be of high quality and fair, and this one too had the requisite effect of enraging me, and of educating many who are totally unaware of the happenings in India’s tribal hinterland. I have read the story. The Essar-funded ThinkFest certainly raises questions, considering the timing of this story. But this story was also prompted by Soni’s immediate predicament and the emergent situation. Even for a conspiracy theory, it is a bit far-fetched to imagine that the release of the story was orchestrated by any other force than a desperate Soni worried about her life and liberty. After speaking to Shoma, I re-read the article. The article does not portray Essar in a positive light. So where is the question of Essar’s influence on the article or the publication?


    1. I agree. The story DOES NOT potray ESSAR in a positive light. And the subsequent coverage of Soni Sori’s travails is making no mention of ESSAR. In fact, the long interview with Himanshu Kumar that TEHELKA has done and which is an integral part of the story also has no such under current.


      1. The story does not portray Essar in a good light. It does worse. It portrays Essar as a VICTIM, equating it win Soni and Lopa, saying that Essar has been FRAMED, without EVIDENCE. Even if there was no conflict of interest with Essar as a sponsor, this would count as pretty shoddy journalism.


  10. Are those defending Tehelka/Shoma Chowdhury here saying that there is no problem with Tehelka lapping up funds from Essar. Or that it is ‘a separate matter’? And it is not just Essar – many other rapacious corporate biggies are gleefully displayed in Tehelka’s pages.
    Chowdhury might be a sincere and honest journalist but that is not the point.
    Corporations that destroy the world providing funds for critical thinking! Some non-funded plain thinking please…


    1. Dear supriya

      “”Are those defending Tehelka/Shoma Chowdhury here saying that there is no problem with Tehelka lapping up funds from Essar.”

      No problem. Tehelka is perhaps india’s best news magazine.A great voice for the marginalized and the powerless! However , its also an organisation which employs hundreds of people. It needs to PAY their salaries and PAY their other expenses like traveling etc. Therefore advertising is a MUST .

      Otherwise , start paying RS 200(or more) per issues of Tehelka then there would be no need for corporate money.



      1. Ok, in which case why do they claim to be holier than thou? What is the difference between Tehelka and Times of India?


    2. Tehelka has been getting such advertisements for a long time. So has been Hindu and many almost all other papers, and television channels. Should we boycott all of them and boycott every news/story they they do. Did we get the story of this tribal woman only to highlight this corporate issue?
      I am not at all justifying here the corporate control of the media but the time and context chosen here is not helping at all.


    3. Doesn’t it mean that Tehelka took benefit from Essar by dsplaying their name in their event banner as sponsors?


  11. Join these dots to make sense of this Tehelka- Essar story.

    Beyond theories and conspiracies, there is a fact, for those who are not aware of it, that Tehelka recently refused to publish an expose, on the nexus between the mining mafia in Goa and the politicians, by a very senior reporter of their own. That the reporter then quit Tehelka in protest goes as an example of caliber, integrity and courage more than anything else. Rumor also has it that Tarun Tejpal, named by Business Week as one of India’s 50 most powerful people, offered this sacrifice in order to appease certain Goan politicians in return for certain favors in Goa.

    With Tehelka organizing the THINK FEST (http://goathinkfest.com/) set to happen at the Grand Hyatt between 4-6 November and Tejpal’s, ‘ The Valley of Masks’ released in Goa on September 9th, it seems that the media baron is nurturing some connection with this state, ripped apart by mining, tourism and real estate.

    Having at least seven sponsors for the THINK FEST, that have a terrible environmental track record, goes to show that Tehelka has not only sold out, but is now also offering its services to help this monster corporatism look good. At least three of these are ruthless mining companies, namely:


    Govt recovered Rs 32.75 lakh fine from Essar for forest violations

    Essar Steel Orissa Ltd charged with green violation

    Essar Steel in the dock for violation of forest laws


    Green violations by Tata Steel, L&T were overlooked

    Liberia disqualifies Tata Steel from mining rebid


    The Monnet plant in Chattisgarh has had a problematic history, and given that, perhaps none of these illegalities should come as a major surprise.

    Surprisingly though the THINK Fest has onboard speakers of very high repute, one wonders, what are they THINKING?


    1. Terence : That’s 10 times more damning than the post itself. I tried searching for this reporter who’s story was refused by Tehelka. Since (s)he’s already quit in protest, I don’t think there’s any harm in naming him/her. Could we know some more please?


    2. whichever way things are folded, fact is that Tehelka’s one of the sponsors of the Goa event was Essar whose name is appearing in Soni Sori’s case.


  12. Tata ‘Steals’ Kalinga Nagar from the Adivasi over their dead bodies and gets featured in the Tehelka Think Fest as Adivasi of Kalinga Nagar are damn stupid, or they don’t care because most of them are either dead or languishing in jail or have fled out of sheer terror or have been herded into resettlement camps. It IS a sell-out!


  13. Tata ‘Steals’ Kalinga Nagar from the Adivasi over their dead bodies and gets featured in the Tehelka Think Fest as a patron. This is no conspiracy theory, either the guys at Tehelka think that people of Kalinga Nagar are damn stupid or they don’t care because most are either dead or languishing in jail or have been herded into resettlement camps. It IS a sell-out!


  14. Ah, Tehelka, that ‘beacon’ of journalistic integrity, that jumps the gun to defend the Talwars, and passes on the copy of the text to fellow ‘liberals/alternative lifestyle specialists’, so that they can quote it on TV, not knowing that the magazine hadn’t yet gone to print!

    The magazine whose holding company is Anant Media. Guess who else bears the same name? Who, but ‘Big Brother’s’ younger son.

    Why hold the ThinkFest, and that too in Goa? Does it have something to do with Mr Tejpal’s beachfront villa in Goa that broke all kinds of environmental & other norms?

    And why did Shoma Chaudhury jump the gun to defend Sunanda Pushkar in the IPL controversy, and Barkha Dutt on 2G (and no one else)? Does it have anything to do with both being reasonably attractive, ‘convented’, with upper middle class background (like her)? Or is it Tehelka’s version of ‘feminism’… in other words, woman is always right, no matter what, especially if the woman in question is ‘sassy’, upwardly mobile, etc etc, … … … because that’s what (Johnny-come-lately) feminism is all about, right?

    Incidentally, apart from Vir, the person whose name comes up most from the media in the 2G tapes, if memory serves me right, is Ms Dutt. Interestingly, almost all media honchos implicated in the scam have faced some sort of retribution from their media houses, even if much of it is cosmetic. But the person who has been most brazen about it all is… Ms Dutt.

    And since Mrs Chaudhury’s ‘feminist’ defense of ‘the face of Indian journalism’, it’s nice to see her getting invited to pontificate on the ‘breaking news of the day’, every evening, on Ms Dutt’s show, raising the shrill quotient with regurgitated (but not completely digested) arguments.

    It all ties up rather nicely, doesn’t it? With mutual back scratching Tina Brown.

    Ah, well! Such is alternative journalism.


  15. The good thing about the Jain’s at TOI(let) paper is that they are completely honest about their intent… business… and they are the best at it.

    With scums like Tehelka, it’s the exact opposite.

    I say, go with Vinod Mehta. He has his biases, but also the courage to do the really big stories without having to screech and scream on the magazine cover every week. And, oh, also Manu Joseph.


  16. Did anyone notice the frequent adverts from the Yeddy government, after Tehelka did their story of the Reddy bros?


  17. Looks like people on kafila are more interested in directly attacking capital and the state, rather than those who collude with capital under the guise of being on the left. Beware of your enemies but beware also of false friends. Tehelka is a false friend of the left – and Tehelka is not alone in this.
    This piece in Kafila will be ignored and Tehelka will still go ahead with its dalliance with corporate sharks. Shameless. But also sad since perhaps they are so deep in the muck that they cannot – even if they want to – get out of it.
    If there is a conscience left, Tehelka should carry a story about their connivance with corporates but also their helplessness. They should speak their minds about how they have not be able to fight capital and its many allurements.
    I am sure Tehelka biggies are reading this column. Good then.


  18. Arre Bobbybab I must tell you that you can have as much as you want drink in our bar at Camurlim any time you visit Goa. I showed your posting to everyone else last night, before the third drink, and very interesting discussion we had.

    One, is that not too much of the finger must be pointed to Shomabai. We were all of the opinion that she was just doing her job, pragmatically, practically, and with her heart in the right place. She may be held accountable we felt with the second drink, of seeing two evils and perhaps choosing the lesser one. This is very common in Goa. There are many people here who say, for instance, that it is better that old Goan houses are sold and renovated by Delhi businessmen instead of either falling down through lack of funds to keep them up, or get stuck between good Goan families who will kill each other to get the houses for themselves. This is the logic of celebrating the lesser evil that Shomabai may have succumbed to, as indeed have so many others who fall short when they keep their own prosperity and comfort in mind, who choose not to anger the golden goose, and, in this case, negotiate and deal in the interest of, shall we say, literature and thought…

    I must also tell you people that now that the Shah Commission to probe illegal mining has come to Goa, everyone and his mother who is in mining is getting very nervous. In the bar we laugh at lot about this, because solid scared they are all becoming. They’re sitting in the same big cars but they’re not looking so smug these days.

    Not that we are that excited about finally nailing the crooks, because who exactly the crook is and who is not is getting damn difficult to tell. We have men who argue the cases of mining companies then become ministers who can help mining interests and not see an obvious conflict of interest because what matters is high growth rate. In the bar we say it’s like they’re taking the constitution and whacking it on our heads!

    Point actually all of us jolly villagers in Goa are saying, is that these buggers are shameless, whether they own a magazine or whether they own a mine or a steel company or any bloody thing. Point is all that they want is the money. Big money! The more the better. So you come to Goa and see how many Mercedes and Audis and BMWs there are on the road, it will make your Gurgaon look like Dharavi…

    That is the bigger picture. Goa’s land and resources systematically acquired by the state or central government for sale to private interests. Gated Goa, home for the rich and famous of the world, a dream come through, an eco-friendly Goodgaon.

    Now if you take that larger picture, then in the bar we are very angry with this Tarun Tejpal fellow who’s a big writer and all but whose book launch in Goa was hosted by a bloody mining company, who may have a good football team but who have also destroyed forests and hills and water they have not even attempted to try and bring back. So the same company has this ‘heritage’ art centre where this fellow showed everybody his new book and they drank wine and ate cheese, but then maybe he doesn’t know that there are artists in Goa who would not even **** in the place…

    What we are really angry with this Tejpal fellow is more than just him sipping wine with the miners. Twice he sent reporters down to Goa to do a cover story on mining. The first reporter never even got back to us to tell us what happened…

    The second reporter was a good fellow. He worked for almost ten days, meeting all the fellows in Goa working against the mining and met the mining fellows also. Incriminating information only he got. He went back to Delhi then sent emails to fellows here thanking them for their trouble and what not. He worked one more week in Delhi then also sent the draft of his article to one or two people here to cross check whether he got the facts right.

    One week later he called to say that it seemed that Shomabai was less than willing to run his expose on mining in Goa. This went on for quite some time, with all the fellows in Goa wanting to know when the expose would break, and Shomabai sitting on it. When he finally left Tehelka, he made one more trip to Goa, even more exhaustive. His was the first major report on illegal mining in Goa (http://www.firstpost.com/). And was later followed by the Hindustan Times Mumbai bureau.
    So what some of us are saying is that while those fighting mining in Goa got facts and figures to take to the courts, this Tejpal fellow seems to have had a good time. He launches his book at a mining-funded arts centre and drinks wine and eats cheese; he manages to host his Thinkfest in Goa (one of our fellows in the know says he had a meeting with our CM Digamber aka Digunder Kamat around the same time that the article on mining commissioned by Tehelka appeared to have been held back).
    Now, one of the fellows giving comments to Bobbybab’s posting, says this Tejpal fellow has bought a beachside property in Goa. This is very good news for us jolly villagers in Goa, because we knew he had bought two properties but could only find one of them, in a village outside Mapusa in north Goa.
    So Bab, if you have the name of the village in Goa where he has bought his property, then please tell us. We have already sat in the bar and made an RTI application to find out whether he has the necessary permissions to build his new age ashram in a jolly Goan village. We can do the same for the beachside property.

    Not that it will help. There will be advocates of the lesser evil who will get their way. Papers and permissions can all be backdated, silence and complicity can be had at a price. In the mining villages the women all say that the people in Panjim, those in all the posh suburbs of urbanizing Goa, will only realize just how bad things in Goa are when they open their taps and red mud pours out.

    To tell you the truth, most of us in the bar avoid a fourth drink because it is sure to make us go to sleep unhappy, when everyone knows that the purpose of a bar in a jolly village in Goa, is only to postpone the unhappiness for another night…


  19. Hartman de Souza in the Hindustan Times today:

    “Environmentalists in Goa were, however, not puzzled by the said magazine’s reluctance to go after the Goa government and its home-grown mining barons, given that it had sent a reporter earlier and had blocked that story then too. The magazine’s proprietor had bought an old house in a Goan village. Even as I write this, he is bending rules to get the house refurbished into a new age spa. Just across the house was an old jackfruit tree, which was cut even when the inside of its thick turmeric-coloured centre was still gleaming with moisture. It’s anybody’s guess how many more old trees would have been cut inside the vast perimeter of the property to make way for lawns, garden and ponds. It doesn’t end there. The said magazine will soon hold an ‘ideas’ jamboree in Panjim at a hotel which is owned by a mining company.”


  20. Dear Himanshu Bhai, Harsh & Nity
    I was slightly pre-occupied with some work, why the delay in response. I have nothing against Tehelka or Shoma Choudhary – nor was there any need for me to cross check with Tehelka for I have not made any insinuation outside what has appeared in Tehelka or their websites. All I tried to do was question Tehelka’s politics based on the tone of that piece
    A friend pointed out this mail that Shoma has sent
    “” Hi Vinay,
    if you have bobby kundu’s number or email, do send it to me. I’d like to engage with him on his absolutely pernicious and speculative analysis. I have clearly written in my story that “at least in this case it seems essar has been framed”; while elsewhere in the story I have spelled out how maoist abhay had allowed the laying of lines for the essar chitrakonda plant for protection money – or at least that is what a officer told me.. so clearly I am not saying that essar has never paid money or that their plant is not rapacious….

    Well, all in a day’s work, I guess. Himanshu knows how I wrote the story overnight just so soni sori could get a hearing in the media before she disappeared into the bowels of Chhattisgarh.

    Since then I have already sent my coordinates through the same friend to Shoma, saying I’d prefer an e-mail conversation – to which I am yet to get a response.

    Dear Terence, Bibhu, Nondescript and others
    Thank you for adding to the discussion – it is livelier than the post itself

    Dear Simple Simon
    I am taking up your offer next time I am in Goa!


  21. Shoma’s response in the current issue of Tehelka vindicates my position in this post because she still fails to give a convincing explanation as to how Essar was framed in this particular case or for the story that was carried by Tehelka during the thinkfest highlighting the Essar model of Corporate Social Responibility.
    While Shoma’s response is at best amusing, what troubles me is the blatant way Tehelka is using Adivasi goodwill to sidestep criticism aimed at the magazine. The Tehelka facebook page quotes Shoma on 8th November as saying; “”Tribal activists Dayamani Barla and Kopa Kunjam received standing ovations at the Think Fest in Goa. Both spoke against mining corporations. So much for Kafila’s speculations over Tehelka killing a story on illegal mining in Goa for the Think Fest.” The same thread of argument is continued in her response; “As tribal activist Dayamani Barla, who got a standing ovation at THiNK, wrote back to us, she came to Goa fearing no one in that elite domain would understand her concerns. Instead, she went back strengthened and exhilarated because she felt people from across the class and consumer barrier had heard her and understood.”
    It is precisely the fact that one has to show case Dayamani & Kopa Kunjam to sidestep criticisms of Tehelka that for me translates as hegemony/castiesm/patronising/ condescension
    There are problematic assumptions that are made:
    1. Thinkfest is the only platform that would “showcase” Dayamani & Kopa
    2. That such showcasing will make a difference in the discourse
    3. That applause was meant for Tehelka
    4. Such showcasing absolves Tehelka’s pandering to Corporate/mining interests (Ajachi Chakrabarti’s report during the thinkfest)
    The questions then that arise are:
    1. Why was not any space given at the thinkfest to the anti-mining struggle in Goa itself – which was the venue?
    2. As a result of the Thinkfest, would Essar withdraw its commercial interests in Chattisgarh?
    I agree the second question is a stretch, so as an alternative question, would there be at least a change in Essar’s mining policy with respect to Adivasi land?


    1. Expecting someone like Shoma—who is immersed in building up an image of the good samaritan for herself while peddling tribals like circus animals—to understand the difficulties associated with representing the subaltern, is like expecting a proselytising South Korean minister carrying out conversions in Sub-Saharan Africa, or a Taliban mullah beheading an infidel—to understand why the objects of their attention in both examples above, could probably do better without their attentions—so immersed they are in their own self-propagated narratives, in which they do what they do for the sole benefit of the objects.

      In other words, woe betide the person who tries to rid the colonialist of his ‘white-man’s-burden’. Particularly, since it is also a quite profitable venture of ‘primitive accumulation’ (apologies to Karl Marx).

      And to expect Mrs Chowdhury to recognise the eerie similarity between her parading of Chhattisgarhi tribals on the Goa stage, and the parading of Sarah Baartman as the Hottentot Venus at International Colombian Expositions (World Fairs) and Ota Benga, the Congolese Mbuti Pygmy, inside cages of the monkey house at Bronx Zoo—is like expecting Virender Sehwag to understand the difference between a leg cutter and an off cutter, both of which he dispatched for sixes.


  22. By the way, it would be interesting to know the addresses and values of the properties TT bought (reports say there are nine, seven in Gurgaon/NCR and two in GK II) around the time he was also busy disbanding Financial World, putting the lives & careers of 60+ journalists/employees at risk that “Sandy” has referred to elsewhere.

    Also about the one up in the hills (Garhwal?) that he reportedly bought recently (not the one he bought several years ago), that is rumoured to have been generated from Thinkfest funds.

    Anyone with the details?


  23. There are problematic assumptions that are made:
    1. Thinkfest is the only platform that would “showcase” Dayamani & Kopa:
    I don’t see how this claim is made. All she says is that they provided a platform for them to meet powerful people who “might” do something. In any case, they got to meet people and present their problems to people who could actually create a difference.

    2. That such showcasing will make a difference in the discourse
    Why won’t it?? It raises awareness about issues. It is wrong to assume that the “evil corporates” and every man knows about every issue plaguing the areas in which they do business… They think of business and have busy days, issues of the tribals don’t affect them directly, so they don’t care generally. Hopefully platforms like this help to connect the two very different worlds.

    3. That applause was meant for Tehelka
    How do you reach that conclusion?? The fact that they got an applause is supposed to say that they were heard and people appreciated the issue. Tehelka obviously basks in the glory because it was they who facilitated the applause.

    4. Such showcasing absolves Tehelka’s pandering to Corporate/mining interests (Ajachi Chakrabarti’s report during the thinkfest)
    I don’t see the pandering to corporate / mining interests in that article.. other than quoting a few statements made by them. He does not make value judgements based on it nor does he defend any of the other things they have been doing. It’s the real world. Tehelka will need money for doing the good work they do. So they’ll have to get it from corporates unless common people start donating simply. It’s what you call a necessary evil.


    1. Dear Mr Vaisagh VT,

      Sorry to barge in. However, the problem lies not in getting sponsorship from corporate entities, but in acknowledging the fact to the world at large, and acknowledging to themselves that this necessarily means (even at their altruistic best) fighting selective battles and not every battle. It also means becoming much more measured in their criticism of fellow media persons/houses, instead of ranting about their own ‘unblemished’ track record and the poor record of others. If you thrown stones from a glass house, you’re bound to get a few back, that will hurt you more.

      Besides, if you claim moral high ground, you’re bound to be judged by a higher yardstick that others. That’s only natural.

      The problem, therefore that most people here and elsewhere have wrt Tehelka is that they have spent a decade claiming a spotless reputation for themselves while blaming others. Its a nice marketing ploy, but only as long as it lasts (It never does for very long, incidentally: you can fool some people for some time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time).



      1. Shoma appeared in tv shows to debate against the views of India Against Corruption / Annaji on Lokpal issues. There was another lady i think, she too worked for Tehelka. Bells are ringing now………..


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