The Mutiny claims its first victims- (updated)

The Indian blogosphere and the Indian political system were rocked today. The tipsters have started to flood our tipline with the hilarious news. Members of India’s Parliament were bribed by a fictitious organization created by a group of Indian bloggers and journalists to introduce statements on the record, without having any idea what they were saying. This was a sting operation to expose the corruption in Indian government. One of those written statements included a reference to Sepia Mutiny. First the background:

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 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. [Link]

How was Sepia Mutiny involved? One of the MPs was paid to submit the following to Parliament, and apparently did so without a clue in the world as to what he was saying:

“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?”

What the F%ck?? As Ennis blurted out loudly in our North Dakota HQ earlier this morning, “Sweet! We’re famous! Dude(ette) – this is so much cooler than I thought the blog would ever get.

Amit Varma on India Uncut, who has a good summary of the happenings, points out that it was an MP from Madhaya Pradesh named Chandra Pratap Singh that was the one who was planted with the Sepia Mutiny reference:

I’m standing as I type this sentence, and sadly I can’t clap while I type, because Shivam Vij and his colleagues deserves a standing ovation. Shivam, who blogs at Mall Road, works at Cobrapost, and was part of the team that conducted the outstanding sting operation I’d written about earlier in the day. Cobrapost, for those of you who may not have heard of it, is the online journal begun by Aniruddha Bahal, who had earlier distinguished himself at Outlook and Tehelka.

Now for the part I don’t understand. Why the hell were we labeled as a “British” blog entity? Desipundit is similarly pissed that his “firm” was denied permission to invest in Indian SSIs. Something very Syriana-like is going on here if you ask me. The powers that be are trying to manipulate the playing field. :)

My parents who are in India right now are going to get a kick out of this. They always thought that we’d get in trouble with the U.S. government but never thought that this blog would play a minor part in taking down Indian politicians all the way from North Dakota.

I’ll update this post as funnier insights come to us, and we are able to sort out more of this mess.

Kudos to Aaj Tak and the COBRAPOST team.

Update 1: More on the genesis of this plot:

[Aniruddha] Bahal [who spearheaded the operation] said, “Operation Duryodhan began innocuously with a column I wrote for a newspaper on March 20. 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 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 in spite of having bid the lowest for Tsu Tsu Diesel engines,” he said in a statement here on Monday.

“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 Parliament but they were mere story ideas. At the same time I decided to start the probe. Thus Operation Duryodhan was born,” Bahal added. [Link]

34 thoughts on “The Mutiny claims its first victims- (updated)

  1. it’s my fault, saheli-kins. all my “s/z” and “o/ou” substitutions…they thought we were even closer to pickled politics than we are. ;)

  2. Ethics inquiries have begin:

    TV news channel Aaj Tak stunned the nation Monday morning when it aired secretly shot footage clearly showing the MPs – six of whom belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party, three to the Bahujan Samaj Party and one each to the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, taking wads of notes in return for asking questions in parliament…

    Shock, dismay and gloom pervaded parliament Monday as it became known that 11 MPS had been secretly filmed in a sting operation accepting bribes for raising questions in the house. “Unfortunate,” “sad”, “shocking”, and “ashamed” were the words most heard as dazed MPs, the impact of the scam apparent on their faces, walked the corridors in small groups or spoke in the two houses… [Link]
  3. Small clarification Abhi: The MP did not getup and “say” the question. He merely submitted it to the Parliament with the purpose of getting a reply from the minister of Small Scale Industries.

    Questions in the Parliament are submitted in the ‘starred’ and ‘unstarred’ categories – starred means the MP wants to stand up and ask whereas unstarred means he merely wants a written reply. Op Duryodhana submitted various questions under both categories, as the story on Cobrapost will tell you.

    Also, the channel is Aaj Tak rather than Ajj Tak. Thanks.

  4. in a related story, operation dushasan has uncovered mutineers abhi and manish offering shivam vij “guest blogger” status for mentioning the name of their blog in one of the questions. mr. vij, who is an occasional visitor at sepia mutiny, got confused into assuming SM had british roots due to the frequent references to MIA. he is now in desperate negotiations with SM to prevent being banned permanently from the site for his blunder. As part of the “community service” sentence imposed by the administrators, he is required to read every post and detect typos.

  5. shivam, i was obviously kidding. the SM angle should not detract from the real issue here. i’ve been reading up on the story. kudos to you, Aniruddha Bahal, Suhasini Raj, Kumaar Badal and all the others involved in this, on a job well done.

  6. One glaring mistake Cobra guys made was calling Sepia Munity (unless they were talking some other SM) a NRI firm. I am pretty sure Abhi will take legal action against such misinformation going into India’s parliamentary records about SM.

  7. Now for the part I don’t understand. Why the hell were we labeled as a “British blog?”

    Not a British blog but a British investment firm :)

  8. Is a question privileged, as in a member cannot be prosecuted or even sued for “speech or debate”?

    The US Constitution has a speech or debate privilege for the members of Congress, that we laughingly imagine we got from the Brits, Thomas More as Speaker upholding it, etc.

    In the US, we do a “sting” crafted around the privilege.

    Did you all set-up prosecution-proof misconduct?

    Loud cheers in any event!

  9. Shivam, that was brilliant! I love the idea that there might be a British investment company called “Sepia Mutiny” especially if it was an NRI company. Like a Mexican-American investment company called “La reconquista” or better yet “Montezuma’s revenge”

  10. Did this particular question actually make it to the list of questions to be asked in the parliament? It would have been hilarious if that happened. Even if it did not, apart from the greed, this whole operation also highlights the ignorance of our esteemed politicians. How dumb somebody has to be to submit this without even checking what these “NRI firms” and “technologies” actually do.

    Kudos to Aniruddh Bahal and Suhasini Raj. And of course, congrats to the marketing team of sepia mutiny, headquartered in North Dakota, Britain.

  11. Did this particular question actually make it to the list of questions to be asked in the parliament? It would have been hilarious if that happened. Even if it did not, apart from the greed, this whole operation also highlights the ignorance of our esteemed politicians. How dumb somebody has to be to submit this without even checking what these “NRI firms” and “technologies” actually do. Kudos to Aniruddh Bahal and Suhasini Raj. And of course, congrats to the marketing team of sepia mutiny, headquartered in North Dakota, Britain.

    Well as far as i can tell from their web site nothing funny has made it through. my source being cobraposts page. So they aaj tak and cobra post are engaging in a bit of embelishment by saying that the mp’s were so dumb they did not catch it. But it was in english, had niraj chaudhary cotton seed trial been on an a hindi language question instead of salinger the politico and their clingons would have caught it earlier. Also note that none of these folks that they have caught is a big shot by any means. On the plus side although as a purely face saving gesture indian politicos when caught are being asked to resign by their own parties much more quickly then ever before. A big chunk of that is due to hindi news channel in north india and regional news through india. A lot of indians will not get the catch22 and salinger references but they know prostitution when they see it.

  12. Guys, isnt this fishy?

    Why most MPs targetted were from BJP when Congress is in power.?

    If the objective is to expose corruption in govt, shouldn’t they be targetting more of MPs of the party in power ?

    I wouldnt approve of this sort of journalism where in you lure them artificial situations. As in, this is PUSH policy. The journalists here are Pushing corruption in the system by offering bribes and them blaming it on the system. Which is why even the Tehelka stunt also loses some validity.

    What the junta expect is real journalism where in they smoke out real scandals, like the deluge of ‘em we had a few years ago. Now thats a PULL policy. The event of corruption, when happening independent of journalist intervention, is exposed.

    For a passive democracy like ours, Tehelka and this Operation Dhuryodhana stand out as brave journalistic feats. However, its time not to be complacent with it but to improve upon it.

    Looking forward to more whistle blowers and PULL journalism.

  13. it’s my fault, saheli-kins. all my “s/z” and “o/ou” substitutions…they thought we were even closer to pickled politics than we are. ;)

    I always knew you guys wanted to be just like us…ignoring the fact that you are over a year older etc etc. But welcome to Britain anyway chaps.

    I’m sure you’ve all been missing my irritating irritating irritating presence on here; working silly hours at the mo, but just wanted to stop in to say this is TOO COOL. I’ve been cracking up in my uni computer room just reading Abhi & Manish’s posts. The question in question is a classic.

    Great stuff! Long live the (ironically, British) mutiny and buy up those SSIs!

  14. Why most MPs targetted were from BJP when Congress is in power.?

    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.

    From the Cobrapost article

  15. Whoops, I forgot to do this:

    my irritating irritating irritating presence

    Ah the whole joke’s ruined now.

    But the original comment remains accurate I suppose, I’m threefold irritating.

  16. MD,

    Sepia Mutiny of Great Britain? Eh? Wait til Jai Singh hears about this….

    At least you guys all now know who’s really pulling the strings at the Mutiny. Any fool who’s seen the Austin Powers movies could’ve told you that.

    Which kinda makes BongBreaker “Number One” and Anna “Mona Darling”.

    “One Million Rupees !!!!!”

  17. Mridula Education never makes a person less corrupt. In India its the educated(remember most our MP’s are more educated than an avg Indian) who takes the bribe while uneducated is forced to pay it. UnEducated cant get a Govt job hence cant be bribed.

  18. Guys, isnt this fishy? Why most MPs targetted were from BJP when Congress is in power.?

    Yes it is. AajTak,HindustanTimes,Mr Bahal all have political bias.

    If the objective is to expose corruption in govt, shouldn’t they be targetting more of MPs of the party in power ?

    Well even with the bias factor, the facts are what they are. Here are elected MPs who are pimping themselves. And all these were lowranking politicos.

    I wouldnt approve of this sort of journalism where in you lure them artificial situations. As in, this is PUSH policy. The journalists here are Pushing corruption in the system by offering bribes and them blaming it on the system. Which is why even the Tehelka stunt also loses some validity.

    Why not. It shows how bad the conditions are. These folks could care less about the issue. Even with the political bias whats unearthed here is worth exposing. I want more people to be upset at this and if they are BJP supporters to take it up to BJP to clean its act.

    What the junta expect is real journalism where in they smoke out real scandals,

    Oh like this is not a ‘real scandal’.

  19. Even if most of the MPs targeted were BJP, I think the takeaway is all political parties are filled with these type of guys!

    Politics is very dirty today and these guys need a lesson. They need a wake up call and need to think ten times before doing any such thing in the future. Hopefully these scandals teach them this.

    On a different note, India should probably allow legal bribes by legalizing the lobbyists like in US. Everything should be in the open and on public records. Bribery is a way of life, why not tax bribes?

  20. A Hindi Sepia Mutiny site? Definitely shld be. By the way pl explain to Santosh ‘junta’ is NOT ‘janata’. RE bribe takers? Send them to Abu Ghraib. So none can say we did not assist the US in their war against terror or error or whatever it is. The US could claim they are flushing out wicked godless folk from the third world.