Days after Tarun Tejpal stepped down from his post for six months after tendering an unconditional apology for "misconduct" with a female colleague, the case has taken political overtones as the Bharatiya Janata Party accused Tehelka's founder-editor of "connections" with Congress saying the victim will be pressurised not to file a case.
Tejpal was on Thursday accused of trivialising allegations against him of the sex crime committed during the magazine's THiNK festival in Goa earlier this month even as Goa Police planned to begin an enquiry into the incident. The state police have sought CCTV footage from the five-star hotel where the assault allegedly took place, according to reports.
Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar has already ordered a probe.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said the Indian media is on trial in this case as no legal action has been initiated against Tejpal "for what amounts to rape under the amended laws".
"The grievance of the citizens' movement after the gang-rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi was that sexual assaults are always under reported. Is this what is happening in this case? Just because the assailant has connections in Congress party, the nation is deprived of the sage advise of P Chidambram, the caustic comments of Kapil Sibal and the exaggerated tweets of Manish Tiwari," Jaitley said.
He took further digs at Tewari who had tweeted against Narendra Modi from Goa during his trip there for the International Film Festival of India on Wednesday.
"Manish Tiwari was in Goa recently. He discovered Hitler there. What a pity that he could not discover a serial rapist in Goa. Additionally, we will all wait if the outrage in the media is proportionate to the offence. Or will journalistic pressures be brought on the young journalist to conceal the truth?" Jaitley said.
Tejpal was behind the sting in 2001 in which then BJP President Bangaru Laxman was caught on camera accepting a bribe.
"May be secular philandering is to be dealt with a different standard. We all wait to see if the young lady testifies to the truth or not," Jaitley said.
Insisting that the Tejpal case is in a different league altogether, the BJP leader posed several questions.
"Why was the offence not allowed to be reported forthwith? Were any pressures brought on the victim not to lodge a complaint? How can an offence of rape be compromised by an atonement that the guilty will not attend office for six months?" Jaitley said.
Jaitley also questioned the manner in which Tehelka's managing editor Choudhary handled the issue.
"It is unheard of that a private treaty between Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Choudhary wipes out the penal consequence of rape. How can Shoma Choudhary so definitely say that the victim will not depose before the police? Is she not guilty of tampering with evidence in a rape case by pressuring a young employee to conceal the offence?" Jaitley said.
Referring to the victim's complaint to Choudhary against Tejpal through an e-mail, the BJP leader said it makes out a clear case of rape.
"The definition of rape was amended by Parliament subsequent to Justice Verma Committee's recommendations. The ingredients of an offence of rape as amended by Parliament are squarely made out in the victims e-mail."
Jaitley said while the media appears reluctant to demand legal action against Tejpal, the judiciary had promptly formed a three-judge committee to probe an intern's charge that a retired Supreme Court judge had made improper advances towards her. The media, he pointed out, had reported this matter extensively.
Two journalists' bodies on their part condemned the alleged "grave" sexual assault and demanded a complete investigation and prosecution.
In a statement, Editors' Guild of India President N Ravi said allegations made by the journalist are "on the face of it shocking and shameful."
"Such incidents anywhere are condemnable in the strongest terms but the Guild is particularly saddened that they should engulf a media organisation," Ravi said.
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and its Gender and Ethics Councils also strongly condemned the alleged incident.
"Tarun Tejpal's statement admitting a 'lapse of judgement' and his self-declared sabbatical from editorship both confirm the allegation. It is clear that he stands in breach of the law," DUJ said in a statement.
BJP also maintained the media has targeted the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat on the alleged illegal surveillance of a woman.
Meanwhile, Congress condemned the alleged sexual assault and said action that should be initiated against anyone found guilty of such an offence, irrespective of one's position.
"Be it a anyone big or small, the demand for action remains the same...If black sheep are there in the four pillars of democracy, who are not common people but guide them, then it is a very serious issue. Corrective measures will have to be taken. All will have to come forward in this fight," party spokesperson Meem Afzal said.