By Robin Sam
AS a youth, he was a mischief-maker who did not shy away from a fight. Although he was born into a traditional Christian family, church was only for Sunday and religion just a ritual to him. Later in college, he became active in politics and flunked his degree exams. However, he made a name for himself in journalism. As an investigative reporter with Tehelka, he teamed up with Aniruddha Bahal to expose corruption, wheeling and dealing and skullduggery in Indian cricket and the defence establishment. Despite being propelled to the big league in Indian journalism, thanks to the sting operations, he also got embroiled in court cases that continue to this day – 11 years since the exposés shook the nation. Although even now, his detractors question the method he employed (use of spy camera) to get to the truth of the matter in the exposés not many question his intent. However, when the man whom many corrupt politicians and dishonest bureaucrats would like to avoid like the plague became aware of his own rotten spiritual condition he yielded himself to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. After Jesus Christ touched and transformed him, he put an end to smoking (80 cigarettes a day) and drinking (Rs.17,000 a month for liquor). He was cleansed by the blood of the Lamb! He had finally found his position in Christ. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
How did you get into journalism?
I was pretty active in politics as a college student. Since I was the college union secretary most of my time was spent outside the college. As a result, I did not even have the minimum attendance required to appear for my graduate degree examinations. After I flunked my college exams, I took a train to Delhi. Sightseeing was the idea. However, I lost my wallet in Delhi and had to stay in a friend’s room in the city. Later, I joined Mangalam Malayalam newspaper’s Delhi bureau as an editorial assistant. I roamed the streets of Delhi looking for stories and oddities. Six months later, I joined Mid-Day newspaper and began reporting for them. It was there that I learned the basics of news reporting and writing. After two years, I joined ‘Competition Career’. Around that time, I had also started freelancing for Outlook magazine. Tarun Tejpal started Tehelka as a news website in 2000. (Later, it debuted in print as a newspaper and transitioned into a magazine in 2007. Ed) I joined Tehelka as a staff reporter.
Tell us about your involvement in the cricket match-fixing and defence procurement scam stories.
One of the first assignments I was given at Tehelka was to blow the lid off match fixing in Indian cricket. That was in 2001. The same year, in an operation called ‘Operation Westend’, we led an investigation into defence procurement in the Indian Army. (Mathew Samuel worked with Aniruddha Bahal, the co-founder of Tehelka.com on both the investigative stories. Ed)
How did you sniff the first whiff of corruption in defence deals in the country?
Around that time, I was working at interviewing LTTE leader V Prabhakaran for our publication. It all began on a train journey, in the Deccan Queen in fact. I was on my way back to Mumbai from Pune. One of my co-passengers was a supplier to army canteens. Some of his revelations led us to plan the Westend sting operation for Tehelka. The management thought about for a while and decided to fund the operation.
How did you go about the story?
We began by creating fake brochures for a fake firm in London, ostensibly dealing in equipment for the armed forces. We called our firm Westend. We printed visiting cards and began by meeting people in the bottom rung. We told them we had a product – handheld thermal imagers – that could be of immense use to the military. We paid money at every level and worked our way up to several officers in the defence ministry. The entire operation lasted eight months. We could have gone even farther but for the lack of resources. We were also scared that our bluff will be called if we kept pushing our luck.
Was it all worth it? You have been hounded by court cases ever since the story broke in 2001.
The sting operation was useful in that it exposed the seedy underbelly of the defence establishment and how things work there. However, in retrospect I think it was a wasted exercise as nothing has really changed. Everything remains the same as it used to be, in fact, things have gone from bad to worse.
On the personal front, you have had a transformation. From being a nominal Christian, you have become a born-again Christian. How did that happen?
I was born into a well-to-do Orthodox Christian family in Pathanapuram, Kerala. My dad was a military officer while mom worked in a co-operative bank. My parents wanted me to become an engineer. However, I was a sloppy in studies and flunked my college exams. As a member of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church religion to me was a ritual, a chore if you will. Although my mother was a Sunday School teacher and I went to Sunday School as a child. However, till I became a born-again believer three years ago, I did not really know what was in the Bible. I had no intimate knowledge of the Risen Savior. The church has its own set liturgy, kauma and order of worship but there is no real worship in its truest sense. My hometown in Kerala, Pathanapuram, is also known for a strong Pentecostal community. My father’s uncle, Ooryakunnathu George Upadeshi (Pastor George of Ooryakunnathu) was a Gospel preacher. Whenever I bumped into him, he would say: ‘Son, you need to come with us. You should be saved, born again.’ I used to make light of his prodding. I disliked the Pentecostal Christians because I was greatly put off by their holier-than-thou attitude. All the same, the transformation of some of my college mates and close friends was so dramatic and real that it sowed the seeds of faith in me. Josemon, a senior in college, was a devil-may-care guy. He was always involved in college violence, but one day he was saved and became a man of prayer. He called me for a prayer meeting. That was the first time I felt perhaps Jesus Christ is real and the change He effects in those who trust in Him is true. Josemon is now a missionary in Gwalior with Jesus Mission.
Yes. I’ll narrate another incident that left an impression on me. A few years ago Emmanuel Missions International, a missions group based in Kota, Rajasthan and founded by M A Thomas, was going through a series of crises. The organization came under attacks by some groups and individuals. The Rajasthan government, then led by the BJP, had foisted several cases against them and jailed Mr. Thomas and his son, Samuel Thomas. The then DGP of Haryana police, Mr. John V George, IPS, a friend of EMI founder Thomas, wanted me to highlight the injustice meted out to the father-son duo through the media and secure their release from prison. So, I used my influence and got them out of the jail. Subsequently, they also got back their orphanage, school and church property. I cannot forget Archbishop M A Thomas, the founder of EMI, holding my hands and telling me: ‘Sir, we are grateful for whatever you have done for us. My Lord will bless your family and your descendants to come.”
Another incident was the healing of one of my friends, Binoy Chandapilla. He was practicing as an advocate in Kerala when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in December, 2006. The doctors said he would not live beyond three months. However, he attended a prayer meeting and was miraculously healed. When I knew of this incident, my joy for my friend knew no bounds. Immediately after this incident, Binoy committed his life to Jesus Christ and became a born-again man. Since I knew his background, I was astonished by his transformation. Although Binoy was born into a Syrian Christian family, he was a ruffian to the core.
My own life was in a shambles. I used to smoke up to 80 cigarettes a day. At one point, my monthly bills for alcohol came to a cool Rs.17,000/- My wife and children were terrorized to see me return home fully drunk. I was such a brute and hurtful person. Thank God, Jesus saved me!
Later, when I came into the faith, I started attending a local church. However, I soon found out that the pastor there knew the Bible less than me. Although I am not a theologian, I read a lot. And then there were a lot of diverse teachings that we were exposed to. I was afraid I was also being given an overdose of prosperity gospel. By then, my wife too committed her life to Christ. So, both of us decided it was time we went to a Bible-believing church. We prayed about it and God led us to the City Fellowship Church in New Delhi led by Pastor Joji Thomas, son of the late Pastor K T Thomas. God also answered another of our prayers. Our son had dyslexia. God heard our prayers and he became quite normal.
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