Study 1: Fuelling the Communal Cauldron One of my earliest encounters with presstitutes happened during the 2002 Gujarat riots. I was the chief copy editor at Hindustan Times, Delhi, and what youâ€™re about to read is straight from the trenches. HT had a Gujarat bureau with an experienced and well-connected local reporter but for some inexplicable reason despatched a crime reporter based in New Delhi to cover such a major communal clash. From reporting on court matters, this 20-something reporter, whom Iâ€™ll call Vinod, suddenly found himself in the middle of a riot. One of the stories Vinod filed and which made it to HTâ€™s front page was an incendiary â€“ and unsubstantiated â€“ piece about a â€œMuslim cyclistâ€ who was â€œpassing through a Hindu majority residential areaâ€ and got lynched by a â€œGujarati mobâ€. The mob, he claimed, grabbed â€œloose concrete blocks from the footpath to crack open his skull, resulting in his brains spilling on the groundâ€. The shocking thing was that HT was just two hours from publishing this rabble-rousing report â€“ not backed up by any official statement â€“ on its front page. At a sensitive time when the media needed to be extremely cautious about what it published, the reporter and editors were dumping more fuel into the communal cauldron. Now at HT â€“ which in 2002 had a print run of 900,000 copies â€“ speed rather than accuracy was all that mattered. During a presentation before HT journalists, the printing divisionâ€™s head had told us â€“ perhaps with a bit of exaggeration â€“ that each half hour delay meant HT would print 25,000 fewer copies. Minor errors therefore did not warrant delays. In fact, if there was a delay of more than 5 minutes past 11.00pm, the following morning we had to provide a pretty good reason why we overshot the deadline. Needless to say, the heart stopping deadlines caused frequent burnouts of journalists. Despite such pressures, I decided to call up the reporter and get the story sorted. Hereâ€™s how the phone call went: HT Delhi: Did you see the man being killed? Vinod: No. But I have reliable sources who did. HT: So who is your source? Vinod: There was a group of people outside this housing society who showed me the exact spot where the mob killed the man. HT Delhi: How do you know for sure the man was Muslim? Vinod: According to the same group of people the man had a long beard. In fact, these people wanted to kill me too because they thought I was Muslim. HT Delhi: What was a Muslim man doing, cycling through a Hindu majority area on the third day of a major Hindu-Muslim riot? Vinod: Maybe he was lost. HT Delhi: How do you know his brains spilled out? Vinod: The same group of people showed me bloodstains on the footpath. HT Delhi: And you believe they are telling the truth? Vinod: Yes. HT Delhi: So the group that you claim threatened to kill you is now your authentic source? Vinod: (Stammering) Look, all of them couldnâ€™t lie. Despite the winter chill, I could sense Vinod Nair loosening his tie (he often wore ties, even in summer). In all those years at HT, he was not used to being questioned like this. However, being a glib operator, he thanked me for calling him and said he would try and clear all my doubts. My biggest worry at this point was that the following day the graphic details would inflame people in other parts of Gujarat and India and spark more violence. There was no point appealing to my line editorâ€™s journalistic ethics or his concern â€“ if any â€“ for Indiaâ€™s image. The hole in the story that I had just discovered would not matter when deadline trumped everything. Plus, there was the possibility that Vinod was the managementâ€™s hitman, in which case I would be victimised too. There was only one way out. I told the line editor that such a gory piece could either spark riots in Delhi or would lead to a lawsuit. Personal safety and career being existential matters, he quickly asked me to find a replacement story. A couple of hard core communist journalists protested but were overruled. Unlike NDTV, which was deliberately inciting violence by broadcasting news from riot-affected areas in a slanted way, HT wasnâ€™t doing it as official policy. It was just a bunch of leftists gone berserk. However, Vinod wasnâ€™t wedded to any ideology. He was just a fake news manufacturer â€“ a presstitute. Years later I mentioned the riot story to one of his former bosses, who told me Vinod â€œis a complete fraud and I would not doubt if he concoctedâ€ the Gujarat story. Once under pressure to do a major story for the Sunday magazine, â€œhe just didnâ€™t show up and sent a message, saying he wasnâ€™t feeling well and couldnâ€™t come to the officeâ€. Vinod is now a corporate consultant at a Mumbai-based headhunting firm. And no doubt peddling snake oil.