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Controversy clouds Tehelka 'Thinkfest'

Last updated: 06 November, 2011
Devika Sequeira, Panaji, Nov 5, DHNS: 1:26 IST

Tehelka’s ''Think 2011,'' currently on at the Grand Hyatt Goa, was meant to engage participants in “an intense affair with ideas.''

The list of invitees is impressive indeed. From Nobel laureate V S Naipaul to the quirky American astronomer Mike Brown, Israel’s peace diplomat Shlomo Ben-Ami, Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai, architect Frank Gehry, Pulitzer winner Siddhartha Mukherjee and writer Hanif Mohammed – they’re all here rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aamir Khan, Kapil Sibal, Omar Abdullah and Shashi Tharoor.

But “Tehelka” editor Tarun Tejpal’s crass remarks at Friday’s dinner have raised hackles here: “Now you are in Goa, drink as much as you want… eat and sleep well with anyone you think of, but get ready to arrive early because we have a packed house.”

Tejpal denies the comment. He told Deccan Herald: “Journalists write anything. They’ve taken it all out of context. But I’m not getting into this shit.”

Not many Goans are impressed by Tejpal’s abrasive style of doing things in this small state where like many other Delhi pushers and movers he has also acquired his own “village” house.

“It’s absurd that they’re allowed to get away with saying things like this about Goa. I’m really seething about this,” said Goa Chitra curator Victor Hugo Gomes. He’s not the only one. Goa’s women activists have also protested the comments.

Tejpal’s remarks are just one part of the controversy around “Think 2011.” Alerted by indignant activists Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh chose not to turn up at the “Tehelka-Newsweek” show on Saturday.

He was scheduled to participate in a session on the ‘dilemmas of development in a democracy’ with Omar Abdullah.

“We warned him that the hotel is owned by Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka who’re in jail for the 2G scam. There’s a petition before the High Court against the property for CRZ violations,” an activist said. Designer Wendell Rodricks too boycotted the event over the hotel’s illegalities.

Affidavit filed
The Goa government has filed an affidavit in the court confirming the DB Hospitality property violated CRZ regulations. Yet the state government is a sponsor-partner in the Tehelka event.

“The Tehelka people approached us and we have given them some support through the tourism department, industries and art and culture,” Chief Minister Digambar Kamat told Deccan Herald. Apart from a commitment of Rs 30 lakh for the event, the Goa government is hosting two dinners for 600 well-heeled “Think” attendees. It will also foot the bill for all the Central and outstation ministers participating and sponsor some sessions.

“We have given them all the logistical support like buses and cars for the guests and protocol support,” a government aide said. Tejpal had several discussions with the chief minister in the run-up to the event.

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