When it comes to shaking up corrupt politicians and public officials, sting operations continue to be a potent weapon. In poll-bound West Bengal, there have been red faces in ruling Trimool Congress, with a videotape released by the news portal ‘rada News’ showing some party leaders and ministers accepting cash to get works done. The Ethics committee of the Lok Sabha has sought explations from five Trimool MPs while the Calcutta High Court has constituted a panel to go into the matter. Trimool’s reaction has been on predictable lines despite ordering an interl probe — terming the controversy a ‘smear campaign’ by the ‘dirty tricks departments’ of political opponents with ‘doctored’ tapes. In Uttarakhand presently under President’s Rule, beleaguered chief minister Harish Rawat was shown in a sting operation aired by a local channel ‘Samachar Plus’ — purportedly trying to bribe nine rebels back to his government with crores of rupees. A furious Congress leadership too has labeled it a BJP conspiracy. In Maoist-violence affected Chattisgarh, an ‘India Today’ team recently set up a sting operation, in which senior police officials revealed how they facilitated the activities of a supposedly vigilante group ‘Samajik Ekta Manch’. This group had been at the forefront of ‘public protests’ against human rights activists studying State operations against Maoist rebels. The ‘Samajik Ekta Manch’ dissolved itself on Friday last after some of its leaders were caught on camera admitting that they were taking forward the anti-Maoist agenda of Salwa Judum, declared unconstitutiol by the Supreme Court in 2011 after many atrocities by the vigilante force came to light.
In Assam too, a sting operation by the ‘India Today’ group just before the elections, showed how illegal Bangladeshi migrants were being converted into bofide Indian citizens, armed with all necessary papers to cast votes and get their mes incorporated in the tiol Register for Citizens (NRC). Middlemen were captured on hidden camera, showing how they supplied identity proofs like driving licenses and school transfer certificates to migrants; NRC officials were shown sharing insider details about how they have been detecting the mes of thousands of foreigners masquerading as Indian citizens in the draft NRC, some even admitting that elections with such large numbers of foreigners getting to vote ‘can be challenged in court’. It remains to be seen how New Delhi and Dispur react to this sting operation in the coming days, especially after results of the elections are out. In a country where the administrative machinery still carries the hangover of secrecy that characterized the British Raj, sting operations will continue to be the weapon of choice for the media, citizen jourlists and vigilantes. However, the higher courts have a different take on the matter which media-persons and public-spirited people need to take into account. In the cash-for-queries by MPs scam case (Aniruddha Bahal vs State), the Delhi High Court had ruled sting operation as a legitimate exercise, because ‘every citizen strives for a corruption-free society, must expose corruption whenever it comes to his knowledge and try to remove corruption at all levels of State administration for better magement of the State’. However, the Supreme Court on several instances has raised moral and ethical questions about using deceptive methods to trap a person, as well as negative intentions behind sting operations. All these concerns need to be addressed carefully if sting operations are to carry credibility in the public eye.