It was unusual for a sultry Friday afternoon…..
Unmindful of the heat, scores started flocking to New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre.
A small crowd assembled, and very soon all of them stood in a queue to enter the auditorium for a book launch.
By 6.30 pm, the hall was filled to the capacity. Many sat in the foyer, some perched themselves on the sides and steps.
Even as the event began there were over a hundred milling outside, looking to enter the auditorium.
But conspicuous by their absence was the media corps, especially the TV cameras.
It was an event which no assignment editor would have chosen to miss.
“The Caravan Conversation” with Rana Ayyub on her book ‘Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up’ is normally a must cover on the assignment schedule of any news outlet, be it print, TV or new media.
One could spot former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Ahmed Patel, former MPs Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sandeep Dikshit waiting to get into the hall.
Image Courtesy : Mayank Austen Soofi/thedelhiwalla
A battery of media persons were also there, minus their camera persons.
There was Saba Naqvi, now a regular on Times Now’s shouting show ‘The News Hour”, her uncle Jawed Naqvi, TV journalists Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Jyoti Malhotra, Sankarshan Thakur of the Telegraph, Seema Chisti of the Indian Express, Girish Nikam of Rajya Sabha TV, Abhinandan Sekhri of News Laundry and Ellen Barry of the New York Times.
Writers Arundhati Roy, Raghu Karnad, Shudhabrata Sengupta, academic Zoya Hasan were among those attended.
All had come to hear investigative journalist speak about how she went about doing a sting to unveil the ruling dispensation’s modus operandi of using local BJP politicians and their affiliates like the VHP to neutralise the state machinery, during the 2002 communal riots and a series of fake encounters that followed.
Senior lawyer Indira Jaisingh and India Today TV consultant editor Rajdeep Sardesai were the speakers who were a part of the Conversation hosted by Caravan’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal.
It was arguably the biggest event, this summer.
But then, what kept the media away?
Why were they reluctant to cover the same?
Many news outlets usually send their camerapersons and TV crews to cover most events that happen in the city. While some events are used in the broadcasts, most find their way to the library. But here the absence makes one wonder whether the media houses/ news agencies did not want to be seen as covering it!
A fine example of self-censorship?
Indian Express was perhaps the only newspaper which reported. The daily tried to get comments from the BJP spokesperson, which was declined.
Rana Ayyub said that she did the sting on then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi at his high security Gandhinagar official residence wearing a camera on her watch. As he showed the under cover reporter around his house, Ayyub claims an aide offered her six books, authored by Modi.
She told that in all the sting she did, what has been proved is the role of BJP president and the then home minister Amit Shah in the fake encounter cases and the elaborate cover up.
The book details the sting she did on former Gujarat home secretary Ashok Narayan, senior police officers G L Singhal, P C Pande, G C Raighar, Rajan Priyadarshi, Y A Shaikh among others. She did the sting posing as an NRI film maker from US, who was making film on “Vibrant Gujarat.”
The officers were explaining the details of the fake encounters and how it was covered up at the behest of the BJP leaders.
She claimed that she was forced to write the book, because “Tehelka,” the magazine, she was working for had refused to publish it, citing “political pressure”.
Ayyub said she is ready to hand over the sting videos to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) if they ask for it.
Indira Jaising, lawyer who represented the CBI in the fake encounter cases said Ayyub’s book corroborates what the CBI sleuths had found during their inquiry. She expressed the hope that all is not lost in the fake encounter cases and the guilty will be punished.
She also detailed how the ruling dispensation is going about changing the contours of the judicial system.
Rajdeep Sardesai said Ayyub’s book is another testimony to the fact that how the politician-bureaucrat nexus is jeopardising the justice system in India.
He also recalled how a retired judge who headed two inquiry commissions, blatantly bared his prejudice about Muslims.
” These Muslims are never going to change. This was bound to happen to them,” the judge had told him. Sardesai said he wished he had a camera to record the judge. There were requests from the audience to name the judge, but the journalist deflected the query.
Asked why the mainstream media is not giving coverage to the events which has all the potential to snowball into a major political controversy, Sardesai said it may be because no media want a disconnect to develop between them and the top politicians.
This turned out to be true Rana Ayyub’s book release function also.