Aaj Tak-Cobrapost sting puts MPs in the dock

MUMBAI: The "S" word is back in the news. Thankfully though, this latest sting has no sex and sleaze quotient but purports to expose corruption in the country's polity. A sting operation by Sabse Tez channel Aaj Tak and investigative portal telecast today shows 11 MPs on camera allegedly accepting cash for asking questions in Parliament.

The operation code named 'Operation Duryodhana' has been termed the "money-for-questions scam" and involved an investigation by that stretched over eight months between April and November and included 56 video and 70 audiotapes besides recording more than 900 phone calls.

11 MPs were caught on camera taking bribes from a journalists posing as representatives of a fictitious organisation called the North Indian Small Manufacturer's Association (Nisma).

Says editor Aniruddha Bahal: "Operation Duryodhan began with a column I wrote for a newspaper on 20 March (earlier this year). I had expressed consternation at the casting couch series done by a news channel arguing that voyeuristic exercises would blur the public interest element and give the Government an excuse to frame some guidelines. Thereafter I went on to suggest some story ideas for the channel."

“One of the ideas dealt with the issue of how questions really get asked in Parliament. Apart from the seriousness, it would also generate good humour to watch an MP ask - Why was Gorilla International blacklisted by the Railway Ministry inspite of having bid the lowest for Tsu Tsu Diesel engines," says Bahal.

He further adds: “I received a notice from the Lok Sabha Secretariat (Privileges and Ethics branch) asking me to respond immediately to the allegation I had made. I sent a letter to speaker Somnath Chatterjee that I had not commented upon actual happenings in the Parliament but they were mere story ideas. At the same time I decided to start the probe. Thus Operation Duryodhan was born.”

Aaj Tak news director QW Naqvi adds: "As a channel our commitment has always been to expose the inherent irregularities in the system. Partnering with Cobrapost for this special investigation is a step towards demonstrating our commitment towards the faith reposed in us by our viewers."

Following the expose of Operation Duryodhana, the various parties concerned had already initiated proceedings against their respective members caught on hidden-camera.

Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat announced that the whole matter would be referred to the Ethics Committee of the House.

When quizzed on what will be the fallout of the expose and whether it would get entangled in political gimmicks, Naqvi says: "It is truly unfair to expect an overnight change. Political and social change is a slow process and exposes of these kinds are merely to bring about awareness amongst people."

This indeed reminds of the Tehelka's sting operation -- Operation West End, the expose on politicians and army officers taking bribes from undercover journalists posing as businessmen.

At present, almost all television news channels routinely use spy cameras to expose corruption in society. Recently, the advocate general of Jammu and Kashmir Anil Sethi, had resigned after he was allegedly caught on camera taking a bribe. A CD made available to NDTV appears to show Sethi demanding Rs 1.5 million from a contractor Mushtaq Ahmed Ganei. Sethi admitted on camera that he had received Rs 500,000 as a bribe and wanted Rs 1.5 million more to bail out a contractor trapped in the rural electrification scam.

In the past, Aaj Tak had undertaken a few sting operations, including Ghoos Mahal and on the former first runner-up in Miss India 2004 Laxmi Pandit's marital status.

Aaj Tak claimed that Pandit was married to aspiring model Siddharth Mishra but had hidden her marital status in order to gain entry to the contest. She was declared first runner-up in Miss India 2004 and had to return the crown after the expose.

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