'Underworld Gangs & Their Bloody Fights Were The Staple of Mumbai's Print Media in Early 2000s'
Hindustan Times has always been a force to reckon with in the newspaper industry, but the one edition that eluded the daily was the highly-competitive Mumbai market. Mumbai and most of Maharashtra has been a Times of India territory. Yes, there were tabloids galore, but none of them could match the might of Times of India. HT was aiming to change that.
The activities of the underworld have always dominated the content of most Mumbai papers, second only to entertainment. So, when HT began planning to enter the Mumbai market in the early 2000s, the focus was on the crime and entertainment beats.
Maharashtra politics then was bland stuff. The Shiv Sena had a large and loyal following, but couldn’t really break through in state politics. And the BJP was nowhere in the scene. Politics then was dominated by the Congress, with little or no challenge.
For a readership that was fed on the 'spicy' crime stories and investigative reports of Russi Karanjia (Blitz), Behram Contractor (Afternoon Despatch and Courier) and Mid-Day, underworld gangs and their fights that bloodied the streets was the staple of Mumbai’s print media.
'On 14 July, 2005, Mumbai Woke Up to One of the Most Stunning Scoops by J Dey'
I was editing the Kolkata edition of HT when the Mumbai edition of the paper was launched on 14 July, 2005. And the crime beat reporters were the envy of all, led by Jyotirmoy Dey, who had been lured away from Mid-Day. As in the Netflix web series played by Prosenjit Chatterjee, he was a middle-aged unassuming character, whom you would easily miss in the newsroom. He sat in one corner and his best friend was a landline.
But everyone knew that he was a star, carrying his reputation as a hotshot crime reporter with Mid-Day into HT. So, when the launch date of HT was sealed, all editors turned to J Dey, as he liked to be known among his readers, to deliver the opening shot on the inaugural day.
And deliver he did.
The front page of dailies is considered the window to the newspaper, carrying the best stories and dressed up in all its finery. And there had to be at least one 'scoop', news that wouldn’t be carried in any of the rival papers.
On the morning of 14 July, 2005, Mumbai woke up to one of the most stunning scoops of the city. Carrying the byline of J Dey, the story was a compilation of audio tapes where one of Bollywood’s upcoming actors was heard talking to don Chhota Rajan about his yet-to-be-released films pleading for support.
Inside there was a full page on the tapes and HT let Mumbaikars know that it had arrived.
Since all editions of HT shared pages and stories, J Dey had found a national platform that he was so eagerly looking for.
Cut to Jigna Vora, easily the most important character in Scoop, called Jagruti Pathak in the series. She, too, was a brilliant crime and investigative journalist having risen to the position of Deputy Bureau Chief of HT’s rival in Mumbai, Asian Age.
J Dey was just the opposite of Jigna Vora. Dey was shabbily dressed while Ms Vora was all glamorous. Dey was quiet for most of the time, speaking when only spoken to as in the series, while Vora was gregarious. For the little time that we see Dada in the film, Hansal Mehta has done a good job with the characterisation.
Both J Dey and Vora had excellent sources in the underworld and the police that were battling the gangs.
But as J Dey told me during one of his visits to the Kolkata office, he mostly cultivated cops that were low in the hierarchy --- beat constables and patrol officers. And most of the stories came from them.
And he was happy that his pieces were being carried in HT editions outside Mumbai.
But the promising career of one of the country’s finest investigative journalists came to an end on June 11, 2011, when J Dey was gunned down outside his home in suburban Powai by sharpshooters of what the cops later claimed were members of the group led by Chhota Rajan, the don of Mumbai’s underworld who then lived abroad. Rajan, the police claimed, was upset over some pieces that Dey had done. The cops later picked up 8 of those who gunned down the journalist.
How Did Jigna Vora Become Involved With The Crime?
But like many Bollywood thrillers, there was a twist in the tale. Jigna Vora was made an accused in the murder, the police claiming that she provided information about Dey’s movements to Chhota Rajan, including details about the number plate of the bike that Dey used to commute. The charge was later thrown out by the courts and Vora was acquitted.
But how exactly did Jigna Vora, portrayed as an ambitious upwardly-mobile workaholic young journalist in the web series, get involved with the crime? The police claimed in its chargesheet that professional rivalry led Vora to seek Rajan’s help to bump off Dey.
As proof, the cops produced a statement of Chhota Rajan, who by then was deported from abroad and was in the custody of Mumbai Police, that said it was Vora who egged him on to order the hit on Dey. The charges were later dismissed by the courts.
How Did The Media React?
J Dey’s murder was received with great shock and anger by Mumbai’s journalist fraternity. In the following days and weeks, journalist associations demonstrated outside the Mumbai police headquarters demanding immediate arrest of those guilty and justice for J Dey. On the other hand, a section of the media didn't even hesitate to demonise Dey. The Mumbai police was under great pressure to crack the case.
When Jigna Vora was arrested and charged with conspiracy in the murder, journalists cutting across newspapers distanced themselves from Vora. After her bail, Vora gave interviews to the media expressing her sorrow that members of her fraternity did not stand by her.
In fact, when the trial court was hearing the case against Vora, her lawyers sought a restraint against reporting in the media.
Being envious of members of one’s fraternity in rival newspapers has always been there, but never did crime enter the newsroom as it did on the morning of 11 June, 2011.
(Rajiv Bagchi is a journalist with over three decades in the profession. He has edited the Kolkata edition of Hindustan Times for 14 years. He has also been the editor of Mumbai's Free Press Journal and has spent 5 years with Dubai's Gulf Today. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)