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.
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]