His work on the Godhra riots earned him nothing but condemnation as Narendra Modi's, stooge fabricating horror stories of anti-Muslim genocide so as to get Modi re-elected by the Hindu majority.
'The Congress party, which we thought would make our story a national issue, instead tried its best to skirt the revelations made in the TEHELKA tapes. A few Congress leaders even floated the conspiracy theory that as the Congress party was all set to trounce Modi in the upcoming Assembly election, Modi had hired TEHELKA to whip up the communal sentiments of the Hindus by way of inflammatory statements of the riot-accused. On the other hand, the BJP was accusing us of having conducted the sting at the Congress’ behest.'
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi (the Congress Minister for Information and Broadcasting) made a statement in Parliament suggesting that the sting operation was the result of a conspiracy hatched by some BJP leaders sitting in Delhi. He even defended the Gujarat government’s decision to ban the telecast of TEHELKA sting in Ahmedabad. Dasmunshi claimed that Central agencies had solid intelligence of the ‘deep-rooted conspiracy’ and the truth would emerge soon. My brother called me from my hometown in UP and said local Congress leaders were asking him how much was I paid by Modi to do this story.
The problem with Tehelka's spy camera sting operation was that ordinary Indians know that every street corner hoodlum has a similar story to tell and will tell it to anybody- spy camera or not- in return for a bidi. The other side of paid-for News at the top is the manufacture of testimony- which might even be true- at the bottom. Tehelka (which probably isn't funded by anybody) committed an act of strategic folly by portraying Modi as a man who kept faith with the fringe element- getting them out of prison and so on. The proper way to attack a leader is to convict him of disloyalty- of abandoning the people he used as a stepping stone to power. In view of Modi's role in putting an end to the cycle of riots which began in 1969, this was a charge which could have genuinely damaged him.
Sonia Gandhi may have used the 'merchant of death' slogan against Modi- arguably, she had to do so to keep her own core support- but she gave tickets to blood stained rivals of Modi in plenty, sending the right signal to the Gujerati voter. Tehelka needlessly upset that apple cart by making Modi look the strong-man even way back in early 2002, when he had scarcely got his feet under the table.
Still, at least Teesta Setalvad stood by Tehelka. Ever since she was accused of all sorts of financial misdeeds, her reputation is secure.