A sting operation by an online news magazine has netted 11 of India’s members of Parliament after they were caught on camera taking cash to ask specific questions during the lawmaking body’s Question Hour. News of the alleged lobbying-for-money scheme naturally rocked the Indian political system. It also caused waves of hilarity to course through the Indian blogosphere, owing to at least one of the questions asked on the house floor by a senior MP for the BJP:
“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 (small-scale industries), 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?”
Emphasis mine; read that again carefully.
The online magazine Cobrapost, which conducted the sting, is run by Anirudha Bahal, who distinguished himself at another online mag, Tehelka, by videographing politicians accepting bribes for weapons purchases. The hue and cry resulting from that operation led to seismic shifts in the polity, and may have contributed to the downfall of the government in power at the next elections. In retaliation, the government made insane allegations against the magazine in an attempt to discredit it.
Cobrapost‘s sting effort, Operation Duryodhana,
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 operation, named after the villain in the Indian epic The Mahabarata, has the politicos flailing and giving vague responses to questions from their parties and the Secretariat. A few have resigned or have been suspended. Video clips are available on the Web site of Aaj Tak, the television channel that participated in the operation and gave it greater legitimacy.
The following exchange is typical of the interaction between the politicians and the undercover reporters, who spent almost a year in the operation, risking death, sexual advances and more if they were exposed.
Patil: Main… Kitna amount karenge. Aisa monthly basis pe (What amount will you pay me on monthly basis).
Reporter: Aap bataiye. Aap jo kahein (Tell me whatever you want).
Patil: Bhai dekho. Aapko bhi to helpful hona hai is sab se (You see it is all going to be helpful to you).
Reporter: Haan (Yes). What…What…What is the…Aapke samajh se kya (What do you think it should be)? Because Parliament is in session four – five months in a year.
Reporter: Jo bhi hai (Whatever it is). But we will pay you throughout the year.
Reporter: Haan (Yes). To (Then) that is the…Throughout the year.
Patil: Mutual nature.
Reporter: Mutual relationships.
Patil: Mutual relationships ka agreement.
Reporter: Haan (Yes).
Patil: To mujhe lagta hai ki kam se kam chhe lakh rupya to saal mein aana chahiye.(Then I think I should get at least six lakh rupees a year).
Reporter: Theek hai (Okay).
Patil: To 50 hazaar kam se kam hona chahiye.(Then it should at least be fifty thousand).
Reporter: Theek hai (Okay). Done sir. Usko ….that is not a problem. Because we want trusted people even if they are very small. 2 -3 trusted people. That is enough.
Patil: Yes, yes.
All the questions were classic put-ons, and prima facie false to anyone with a basic knowledge of popular culture. Some examples:
Whether the Railway Ministry has placed any order for purchase of the Yossarian Electro Diesel engine from Germany? Is the ministry aware that the Tom Wolfe committee report in Germany has halted its induction into the Euro Rail system?
Has the ministry lifted the 1962 ban it imposed on the book For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway and the 1975 ban on Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest and Hunter Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? If so, when were the bans removed?
Anirudha Bahal raises an interesting question of interest to citizens the world over when he notes,
While nearly all the questions had a public interest element in them, some, like the one above […about blogs…] , were passed on to the MPs with the intention of showing how easy it was for amateur teams to infiltrate the system and get bogus questions submitted in the balloting process. While, in this case, these were harmless, humour inducing efforts, in the hands of powerful lobbies this power acquires a sinister dimension.
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