Cobrapost did the biggest sting operation in the history of India, but you might not see too much of media coverage about it. In its second release under the code name “Operation 136”, they stung dozens of big and small media houses. In their first sting operation this year which was released in March 2018, they exposed the famous and big Indian banks and insurance companies (LIC included). The first exposé garnered the good media attention but now this time it is about the media itself.
Here in this article, we will try to cover all possible questions we all have. Let’s start with basics:
Why this sting operation named as “Operation 136”?
In 2017 World Press Freedom Index India was on 136th place. India was behind countries like Nepal, Fiji and African countries like Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania etc in press freedom. So Operation 136 name was adopted from these rankings. In 2018 ranking fell 2 more points on 138.
What is Cobrapost? Who is the Owner?
Cobrapost was founded by Aniruddha Bahal in 2003, he was the co-founder of Tehelka. Cobrapost is acclaimed for their investigative journalism. They are doing this kind of sting operations and exposé from their inception.
In 2005, under Operation Duryodhana they exposed 11 MPs who were accepting money for putting forward questions in the Parliament. Later all of those MPs were expelled from Parliament. In 2013, under Operation Red Spider they revealed money laundering in big Indian banks. In 2014 Cobrapost under Operation Janmabhoomi they published the investigation which brought the light on the conspiracy behind the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid.
This year they did 2 major exposé under Operation 136. First, they exposed the involvement of banks and insurance companies in money laundering. The latest exposé is the biggest one where they exposed dozens of Small and Big media houses for unethical paid news/advertising and propaganda promotion. It also included the one non-media company “Paytm” too. You can read Cobrapost’s full history here.
In the first part of Operation 136 Cobrapost’s journalist, Pushp Sharma stung media houses like Amar Ujala, DNA, Punjab Kesari, SchooWhoop, Rediff etc. In the second part of operation 136, they stung following media houses, Radio Channels, and companies.
- TV 18 Network, Hindustan Times, Radio One, India Today Group, ABN Andhra Jyothy, ABP News, Bharat Samachar, Big FM, Dainik Jagran, Dinamalar, India Voice, K News, Open Magazine, Lokmat, MV TV, New Indian Express, Paytm, Star India, Swaraj Express, TV5,Sun Group, Sadhna Prime News, AJ. Only two Bengali newspapers Dainik Sambad, Bartamaan refused the proposal.
Cobrapost released several videos on their YouTube Video Channel. Visit their channel to check videos.
Who us Pushp Sharma?
As per Cobrapost’s article, he is an alumnus of N.S. Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, IIM Bangalore. He is associated with gaming MNCs and has developed Flight Simulation Nullifier for the aviation industry and an Anti-Drowsy Alert Gadget for the automobile industry.
He previously worked with Tehlaka. He was also awarded with International Press Institute Award (Vienna) for ‘Excellence in Journalism’ in the year 2011 for the story “Rent a Riot” which was published by Tehelka. There are a couple of cases lodged against him over the years. You can read more about Pushp Sharma, his other achievements , and cases here.
Pushp Sharma Fake Identity
Senior Cobrapost Journalist approached these media houses and companies under the fake identity. He took up the name of “Acharya Atal” and introduced himself as a representative of some Sanghatan (Srimad Bhagavad Gita Prachaar Samiti) which is close to RSS.
What was offer and Modus Operandi?
At first, he contacted junior level executives and informed them about the hight ticket deal. Later they bring in senior-level executives in meetings. Pushp Sharma also tried to get owners and proprietors involved too.
Offer / Deal
The offer was to run a media campaign to promote Hindutva. He was offering them money from the range of few crores to 500 crores. His offers had three phases. In the first phase, he asked to spread teachings of Lord Krishna and quotes from Shimad Bhagavad Gita. The second phase will be semi-political, in which he (or institution he was representing) wants to target Rahul Gandhi, Mayavati and Akhilesh Yadav with names like Pappu, Bua, and Babua under the disguise of public awareness in form of Jingles etc. In the third phase when 2019 general elections come close by they might resort to polarization or do nasty things to win and media house need to continue to run agenda/advertisements and promote firebrand leaders.
As per Operation-136 II, Pushp Sharma met Paytm’s Vice President Sudhanshu Gupta at Noida office. In the meeting, he explains the agenda and the deal to Sudhanshu Gupta. In return, Sudhanshu explains how they promote Narendra Modi’s Book Exam Warriors on Paytm app homepage. He also suggested the option to run Paytm Quiz too.
In next meeting, Paytm’s Vice President Sudhanshu Gupta met Pushp Sharma with Paytm’s Senior Vice President Ajay Shekhar at some Delhi hotel. Ajay Shekhar is the younger brother of Paytm’s owner Vijay Shekhar. In the video, he boasts the relationship with “Sanghtan/Sangh/RSS”, he also said, “RSS is the reason behind BJP win”. He was surprised that he was not aware of such Hindutva campaign from “Sanghatan” as he claims to be in contact with them. He also said, “He has attended RSS in childhood and RSS is in his blood”. Later he also said, “PMO office called him directly to get data of Jammu and Kashmir users”.
This last statement stirred the bigger controversy, if data is shared with any agency on a single call then users data privacy is at stake.
Same way undercover journalist Pushp Sharma met managers, junior, senior executives of various media houses mentioned above. The whole agenda of this sting operation was to see how media houses will run paid agenda on their channels.
But the sting operation 136 itself coming under controversy as they have uploaded edited videos on YouTube. Raw videos of sting operation are not at public disposal. In these videos, selected conversations are chosen and some conversations are abruptly cut too. Cobrapost has not stung or not published some other media houses sting operation like NDTV and others. Some independent news portals also skipped in this sting operation.
One more important aspect of this sting operation was to the deal of promoting Hindutva. This campaign is a fake campaign from Pushp Sharma, it is nowhere mentioned that it is directly from RSS or BJP. Selection of only Hindutva agenda raises eyebrows on the sting operation itself.
Few of media houses are lodging complains against Cobrapost, some coming up with explanations etc. Largely Indian people know that Indian media is not a so-called 4th pillar of Democracy, it is biased and they work for profit. They have hidden political affiliations and connections too. Though this kind of sting operations or exposé are needed to keep these institutions in check but at the same time, it also important to check the legitimacy of such operations. This Cobrapost’s sting operation 136 itself can be an agenda against the running government.
We should not make up our mind right now as more things will come up. We need to be vigilant, we should not believe both sides of it with our eyes, ears, and brain shut.
P.S – Indian politics is getting dirtier day by day.
Disclaimer- This article is for information purpose only and some views given here are personal.