In March, 2001, a BJP national spokesman who hailed from Gujarat called a press conference and referring to this writer alleged, “Mathew Samuel is an American stooge”.
The allegation had followed the Tehelka exposure on corruption in defence deals at the highest levels of the NDA Government. The BJP spokesman is today the Prime Minister of India and it is an irony that during his Prime Ministership a CBI special court has convicted Jaya Jaitly and two more accused to four years’ Rigorous Imprisonment and one lakh Rupee fine. Even more ironical now is Narendra Modi’s reference then to this writer being an ‘American stooge’.
The memory of the sting operation I had carried out some 20 years ago on a Christmas-eve in 2000 is still vivid. The sting was carried out at the Defence Minister’s official residence on Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi.
My body was wired, the cables along with an analog camera, recorder, lens and a switch, with an on and off button. The battery’s life was just an hour but I had to first brave the bitter cold and get inside the Defence Minister’s residence. I was scheduled to meet his party president Jaya Jaitly there and get the evaluation letter for a fictitious product. Two middlemen, Major S P Muruguay, just retired from the ministry of Defence and Gopal Pacharwal, Samata Party president of Rajasthan state unit were to meet me there.
My editor Aniruddh Bahl warned me that he had shown the ‘briefcase camera’ to Ajay Jadeja (former Indian cricketer), son-in-law of Ms. Jaitly, and that Jadeja had shown it to Jaya Jaitly. He, therefore, advised me to carry an additional spy camera pinned to my tie.
So, there I was, a spy with two cameras. Bahal’s apprehension turned out to be correct. When I arrived at the Defence Minister’s residence, the brokers firmly informed that Ms Jaitly would not allow any briefcase to be carried inside. She was indeed aware of spy cameras fitted in briefcases. The conversation did get recorded and was produced in court as evidence.
I took the cash from the briefcase, put the currency in the envelope provided by Surendar Surekha, a middleman, who later became an approver for the prosecution during the trial.
I then discreetly switched on the tie device and was successful in recording myself handing over Rupees two lakh in cash to Ms Jaitly, who then passed on the cash to Gopal Pacherwal.
I returned to the office, handed over the material and briefed the editor before calling it a day. I bought a Christmas cake from Khan market, reached my home in Janakpuri around midnight to find my wife and seven-month old child kid had locked the house and left for the Midnight Mass in the Church.
My wife didn’t know what I was busy with and I had no inkling of the nightmare that would unfold. I was subjected in court to malicious attacks on my character, on my family and on my work. Ms Jaitly and her battery of lawyers tried their very best to demoralize and destroy me and destabilise my family. I was called a rustic and uncivilised nobody. I was forced to listen to their rant and calumny though trial judges kept warning them against crossing the line and not to make personal allegations. But the attacks continued till the final date of hearing in February, 2020.
In 2019, in the Saket Court complex, a mellowed Jaya Jaitly addressed me as “Naughty Mathew” and struck up a conversation. My mother was seriosly ill and I had sought exemption from personal appearance in court because my mother was in Kerala and I had to go to look after her.
Ms Jaitly told me that she was older than my mother and had been facing the trial for almost 20 years. But for my sting, she would have been a cabinet minister, she reflected.
My reply was short and simple. I was just doing a job as a journalist, a job that was assigned to me. I had no personal grudge against her, her family or George Fernandes.
“When I offered the cash to you, you could have shown me the door and had me thrown out of the house. I would have gone back. But you received the cash without any protest. How can you then accuse me of trapping you?”
She remained quiet.