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India's cultural elite revive muckraking magazine

After declining under previous government, Tehelka.com rebounds, bolstered by reader funding.

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Tarun Tejpal's story shows the perils and promise of muckraking journalism in modern India.

His Internet news portal, Tehelka.com, was almost hounded out of existence after rocking India's political and defense establishment three years ago with a seedy exposé of high-level corruption.

Now, bolstered by a new, friendly government and favorable expert testimony, Tehelka is back as a reader-funded weekly newspaper.

"Our victory is really a huge victory for the emerging democratic consensus in India,'' he says. "If they had been able to render us extinct, it would have been impossible for anyone to try this again.''

The Tehelka tapes, declared bona fide late last month, depicted top military officials and politicians accepting bribes - and, in some cases, prostitutes - from reporters posing as defense contractors. The news portal was crushed in an alleged government backlash, and its staff fell from 125 employees to three under the weight of police raids and a lengthy judicial inquiry.

But Tehelka emerged from the rubble - again as something new in Indian media. Tehelka.com, the well-funded Internet site, is now Tehelka, "the people's paper,'' a crusading weekly focusing on India's downtrodden and the villains who tread upon them.

While the majority of Tehelka's articles are based on straight reporting and analysis, the sting operation, Tehelka's signature, remains a potent resource. The July 10 issue was headlined: "Explosive: How Government Doctors Help You Get Rid of Your Wife."

The story and accompanying hidden-camera images showed a psychiatrist at a state mental hospital accepting 10,000 rupees, about $220, from an undercover reporter to declare a reporter's wife insane so he could divorce her. The doctor said he didn't need to examine the woman.

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