Cobrapost, a little known website that claims to carry out investigative journalism has recently stung several big media houses and even the Paytm senior vice president Ajay Shankar in order to suggest that the media houses are pro-Hindu advertising agencies. It was suggested that the media houses which were stung can be paid monetarily to run a narrative that could lead to communal disharmony and potentially influence the election in the favour of the ruling party, BJP.
It has been alleged by various news reports and other agencies on the basis of the Cobrapost sting operation, that Paytm provided the data of certain users to a political party on the instructions from the PMO. However, in the sting operation, the Paytm vice president is merely seen to be claiming that during the stone-pelting protests in Kashmir valley last year, the PMO had requested for personal data of some of the users in order to determine whether these users were involved in stone-pelting. However, the senior official of Paytm did not explicitly state that the requested data was provided. It seems that the same mainstream media which was alleged to be “pro-BJP and pro-Hindutva” is now concocting the entire story. It has been further alleged that this leading official at Paytm is close to the Rashtriya Swayam Seva Sangh (RSS). He is alleged to have said, “RSS is in my blood, I have attended RSS shakhas too” during the sting video. However, one does not understand why someone should have an objection with the Paytm vice president having ideological inclinations. He is a citizen of India and has the right to have ideological and political inclinations. Not only this, he is also free to speak about and express his ideology subject to the limitations provided under the constitution of India. He can even go ahead and advertise for a particular political party if he wants to. Paytm and its vice president are well within the right to have any kind of relationship that they want to have with a political party. The fact that some media outlets have any issues with respect to Ajay Shankar’s alleged affiliation to the RSS shows political bias and prejudice in the minds of such media channels and not on the part of the Paytm vice-president.
As per news reports, an undercover Cobrapost reporter, Pushp Sharma, against whom a criminal case is pending for the offence of forgery, impersonated and camouflaged himself as ‘Acharya Atal’ from the ‘Srimad Bhagvat Gita Prachar Samiti’ in order to carry out sting operations against leading media houses. On the basis of sting operations carried out by Cobrapost, it is being alleged that owners and managers of prominent media houses are ready to run pro-Hindutva stories on payment of large sums of money. Some of the prominent media houses which Cobrapost claims to have stung are India TV, Dainik Jagran, English newspaper DNA, web portals Scoopwhoop and Rediff.com, India Today group, Hindustan Times and the Times group. However, the premise that since an undercover journalist claims to have been able to get these media outlets on board for paid Hindutva propaganda, means that the RSS and BJP are actually using these outlets for such propaganda is far-fetched. There is nothing to show that the BJP or any other organisation with a similar ideology have got anything to do with this outlets. The problem is not with Hindutva but with such media outlets that are not loyal towards their profession itself. If they are ready to sell themselves off, they will do so for any ideology. In fact, they would as well run anti-Hindutva propaganda if they are offered sufficient money for doing that. Therefore, it is senseless to criticise any organisation, political outfit or even an ideology with this issue.
The double standards of Cobrapost
Cobrapost carried out this sensational sting operation but it should also account for its own political leanings. Cobrapost had been founded in 2003 by Aniruddha Bahal, the co-founder of Tehelka. Tehelka is the media outlet which had rocked the headlines due to a sex scandal. Interestingly, Tehelka has had relations with prominent political leaders in the past. It has been alleged in the past, that Congress leader Kapil Sibal had a stake in Tehelka. Kapil Sibal denied this allegation but admitted to having donated a sum of Rs. 5 lakh to the media outlet which is believed to be pro-Congress. Tehelka’s publisher was Anant Media Pvt Ltd. 65. 75 per cent stake of Anant Media was owned by Royal Building and Infrastructure Company, which is a subsidiary of KDS Corporation, owned by TMC member of parliament, KD Singh. Thus, even though Cobrapost is making allegations on other media outlets, it must account for its own political links as well.
Today, Cobrapost is glorifying sting operations in order to advance a particular narrative. However, there was a time when sections of the media including Tehelka had downplayed the ‘cash for votes’ scandal by alleging that it was an entrapment on the part of the BJP to get the Congress or SP into buying BJP MPs. At that time, an attempt by BJP to expose the malicious intentions of the Congress was considered atrocious and now the very same people are relying on sting operations to suggest that there is a Hindutva-media nexus.