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Tejpal booked for sexual assault, rape

Tehelka advertisers wait and watch; owners mum, director says won't speak on the matter till Monday

Manu Balachandran & N Sundaresha Subramanian  |  New Delhi 

Pressure mounted on former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal as the Goa police on Friday said a first information report (FIR) had been lodged against him on charges of sexual assault and rape. The state police officials were said to be examining CCTV footage from ThinkFest, an event organised by the magazine, and the Grand Hyatt hotel where the alleged incident took place earlier this month. Delhi police visited Tejpal’s residence in the evening.

As angry reactions from politicians and activists poured in, Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Choudhary told a TV channel that there was a “second version” of the incident, which she had dismissed before accepting the survivor’s demand for an unconditional apology. She said a complaints committee set up by the magazine under Urvashi Butalia to investigate the matter would include members from outside the organisation and the second version would be presented before them.

Satish Mehta, director, Anant Media, which runs the magazine, said he would speak on the matter on Monday. Mehta is also a director in several Alchemist Group companies, run by Chandigarh-based Trinamool Congress leader Kanwar Deep Singh. Singh, who owns Anant Media through his investment companies, did not reply to phone calls and text messages. Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, who had tweeted on Thursday saying that Singh had told him that he did not own Tehelka, said he had already aired his views on TV. In a tweet thereafter, O’Brien said, “Getting calls from pink papers as to who owns Tehelka. Don’t know, don’t care. Only concern is the sexual assault case.”

Tejpal in a statement said, “There have been serious allegations cast on me in this last week, and unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honourable thing can come into conflict. In this case this anguish was accentuated by the fact that very many intimate people, professional and personal, were involved.”


Tejpal added he had been doing whatever was “honourably demanded” of him for the past four days. “On Tuesday, I issued an apology for the alleged misconduct, as desired by the journalist, through Shoma Chaudhury. On Wednesday, I stepped down from the editorship of Tehelka and removed myself from the office premises. On Thursday, I learnt of the formation of the complaints committee.” He offered “his fullest cooperation to the police and all other authorities" and "present all the facts of the incident". "I also urge the committee and the police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed,” he said.

The incident had dented the image of the magazine and its business prospects, analysts said. “Tehelka has a great reputation within the media industry and its readers are niche. But it is not a large consumer brand and in that regard the brand may not have taken a big hit. As long as people do not doubt the credibility of the content, the brand may not suffer much,” said Shailesh Kapoor, CEO of Ormax, a media insight and research firm.

Tehelka had posted a net loss of Rs 10 crore during financial year 2012 on total revenue of Rs 17 crore. The company posted losses of Rs 17 crore in 2011.

The recently concluded ThinkFest held in Goa had 34 sponsors. Bharti Airtel was the lead sponsor. Among others were Essar, Adani, Chivas, JSW and Wave. “Thinkfest had 34 sponsors and we are one of them. We will take a decision in due course,” Essar said about sponsoring the event in future.

There have been calls for action from the owners of the magazine and the board of directors of the company that runs it. Tehelka.com was founded in 2000 and shot to limelight following its investigation into match fixing in cricket. It operated as a portal and did not have a print presence. The Tehelka magazine is run by Anant Media Pvt Ltd, a company that operates out of Delhi’s posh Greater Kailash locality. Tehelka’s second coming as a magazine started after the BJP-led Democratic Alliance (NDA) was voted out of power in 2004.

Several eminent citizens joined the company’s board in 2004-05, the company’s filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs showed. In July 2004, Pune-based industrialist Arnavaz Aga and author Gurucharan Das entered the board. Four months later, in November 2004, Mumbai-based Taizoon Khorakiwala, managing director of Switz group, joined it.

In January 2005, senior lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani and stock market wizard Shankar Sharma joined the board. This was Sharma’s second stint with Tehelka. His first stint as a shareholder had ended bitterly after Operation Westend, in which Tehelka.com, the portal, had conducted a sting operation on senior NDA leaders such as the then BJP president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party’s Jaya Jaitly.

Sharma’s ordeal, including his being arrested by the NDA government for alleged tax offences and his alleged role in the stock market crash of March 2001 which followed Operation Westend, is documented in a book titled Truth, Taxes and Midnight Knocks by senior journalist Madhu Trehan. When contacted, Sharma said he had no comments to offer. But curiously, Sharma and all these eminent personalities quit Anant Media’s board on the same day (April 3, 2006.) That day, Delhi-based Neena Sharma was appointed as a director. Neena Sharma is the elder sister of Tejpal.

According to the latest annual return filed by Anant Media, two Chandigarh-based persons are on the board —Praveen Kumar Rathee and Satish Mehta — in addition to Tejpal and Neena Sharma.

The Chandigarh connection comes from the investment received by the company from senior Trinamool Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Kanwar Deep Singh popularly known as K D Singh, who has interests in real estate and finance. His Alchemist Group is under the regulatory radar for alleged irregularities. The Securities and Exchange Board of India had recently passed an order against a few entities in the group.

Singh’s investment is routed through an entity called KDS Corporation and its subsidiary Royal Building and Infrastructure. Royal is the largest shareholder in Anant Media, with 65.75 per cent stake. Tejpal is the second largest shareholder by a distance, with 19.25 per cent. Delhi-based Weldon Polymers (5.87 per cent) and Jaipur-based Rajasthan Patrika (1.96 per cent) also have small holdings. London-based fashion journalist Priyanka Gill, Tejpal’s Haryana-based parents, and eminent lawyers and politicians Ram Jethmalani and Kapil Sibal are among the other prominent shareholders.

First Published: Sat, November 23 2013. 00:54 IST
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