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Tarun Tejpal’s Other Rape

The muckraking magazine, which developed a reputation for exposing corruption in the public sphere seems to have engaged in shady financial shenanigans of its own, not unlike the ones it so loudly inveighed against.

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The India media frenzy over allegations that Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal sexually assaulted a young colleague at a hotel in Goa in November has obscured an equally odious scandal around the magazine’s dubious financial dealings.

The muckraking magazine, which developed a reputation for exposing corruption in the public sphere seems to have engaged in shady financial shenanigans of its own, not unlike the ones it so loudly inveighed against.

Only a decade ago, Tejpal had made the rounds, hat in hand, of progressive circles in India and the United States to raise funds for his brand of crusading journalism. The Tehelka news portal had catapulted to fame after exposing a match fixing scandal in 2000 and secretly filming government officials accepting bribes in a fake arms deal in 2001, forcing the resignation of India’s defense minister. Tejpal’s infectious idealism opened the wallets of the rich and powerful, netting him an estimated Rs 2 crores in donations.

However, according to a report by the website Firstpost, Tehelka insiders quietly offloaded shares at 1,300 times their real value in 2006 to what are described as “briefcase” companies, “used only for parking funds from unknown destinations.” At a time when the magazine was still hemorrhaging money and floundering financially, Tehelka’s managing editor Shoma Chaudhary reaped Rs 66 lakhs from selling her shares to AK Gurtu Holding Private Ltd., a shell company whose ownership and identity remains a mystery. Tejpal’s wife Geetan Batra made out with Rs 2.66 crores; brother Minty Kutwar with Rs 2 crores; father Inderjit Tejpal and mother Shakuntla Tejpal both with Rs 1.32 crores each; and sister Neena Sharma with Rs 57 lakhs, by offloading shares to the mysterious AK Gurtu company. Between them, Tejpal’s family members cashed nearly $1.6 million in shares even as pay checks to staff were delayed because of a liquidity crisis at the magazine.

Later Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP KD Singh, who is accused of a vote-buying scheme in Jharkhand and whose companies are under investigation by the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Registrar of Companies, is believed to have pumped an estimated Rs 32 crores to acquire a 66 percent stake in Tehelka. Another shady businessman, Ponty Chadha, a liquor baron, who was murdered a year ago, is believed to have invested Rs 2 crores in a vanity club Prufrock promoted by Tejpal.

Long before he forced himself upon an unwilling subordinate for sexual gratification, Tejpal may well have been raping and pillaging with abandon the magazine that had come to encapsulate the hopes and aspirations of millions of Indians.

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Commentary | Magazine | December 2013 | Bigger India

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