from The Statesman, Kolkata
Targeting a ‘videshi mahila’
19 April 2012
IT is not unusual for the media to occasionally embark on flights of fancy. But for the past two days, a section of the Kolkata media has occupied itself with identifying a reporter on the staff of this newspaper as a red-headed American “who had worked extensively with the ISI in Bangladesh” and who was seen clad in green trousers and brown top in Nonadanga on 13 April, apparently masterminding anti-India activities in collusion with Maoists.
Lara Choksey marked her 25th birthday on Wednesday, the day a television channel identified with the ruling party first named her as an American ISI agent who had worked extensively in Bangladesh (the previous evening’s telecast had merely described her as a “videshi mahila”). She does own green trousers and a brown top, and she was assigned by this newspaper to cover the problem at Nonadanga (which she has done with concise and balanced reports). She was at the place on 14 April (not the 13th), which she would have been required to be in order to complete her assignment.
But she is not an American; she is British and since September 2011 an Overseas Indian Citizen. Her grandparents were close friends of my predecessor, late CR Irani, and I too have known them for several years. She couldn’t have worked for ISI or for anyone else in Bangladesh, quite simply because she has never been to that country. And if she was recruited by the ISI, it wasn’t in Pakistan because she assures me she hasn’t visited that country either. Finally, she isn’t a redhead.
Lara completed her MA in Cultural Studies with distinction from Goldsmiths College, London last year. Her thesis project was “urban development, architectural rehabilitation and their human costs”, an appropriate area of study considering the assignment she was given at Nonadanga. From 2006 to 2010, she did a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds. Before that she was in school. She came to India last October and joined The Telegraph’s t2 section. Since early this year, she has been on the staff of The Statesman. A Google search of her name would yield most of this information, and more.
Strange things happen in the world of espionage, but based on the evidence Lara might have found it difficult to fit sleuthing and sabotage into her rather busy academic calendar, which included being a research assistant to her professor at Goldsmiths College and being a researcher and writer for the university newspaper
Why am I sharing this with you? I am doing so quite simply because over the 33 years of my life spent in journalism, I have seldom come across such paranoia-fed, breathlessly fatuous, incompetently researched reportage aimed at defaming a young journalist. The reports claim to be based on Central and state intelligence inputs, and if indeed they are questions must be asked about the intelligence of those who fed this nonsense and of those who swallowed it without so much as a cursory check.
I have a larger concern. Both media houses that reported this story are linked to the ruling party in West Bengal; this might grant to them an exalted status within the bureaucracy and police. Someone in authority might get it into his head that it would be safer to act on these stories than to ignore them. I have offered to Kolkata Police any assistance it might want to arrive at the truth, but have been assured that Lara Choksey is not the subject matter of any investigation
But these are strange times and, whether with or without adequate reason, the state government has allowed suspicion to grow that it is capable of acting before it thinks a proposition through. The best cure to such dark fears is the light that only exposure can provide. The Press can’t function if it is required constantly to look over its shoulder.