Did leading media outlets like BBC, Australian TV, NDTV, Indian Express and Tehelka fall for a fraudster variously posing as political analyst and strategic expert on Assam?
Saturday's arrest in Guwahati of Nilim Dutta, who describes himself on Twitter as executive director, Strategic Research & Analysis Organisation, for bounced cheques and impersonation has raised several uncomfortable questions for these media houses.
Dutta, an Assamese himself, has appeared on television channels and written articles in leading media outlets during the height of the ethnic riots in Kokrajhar area last July-August. Many journalists, including NDTV's Barkha Dutt and Sreenivasan Jain and BBC's Sanjoy Majumdar, had Dutta talking about the reasons for the riots that claimed around 80 lives and displaced more than four lakh people. He also wrote an article in the Indian Express claiming that there was very little evidence to suggest that Assam suffered from the effects of illegal migration.
Post-riots, Dutta parked himself in Kokrajhar and claimed on Twitter that he was helping in the rehabilitation of Muslim riot victims. He would boast to anyone who cared to listen about how he intervened in decisions taken by the administration, how he rushed injured victims to hospitals and how the Muslims trusted him more than the government machinery.
Through all this none of the media outlets seemed to have done any serious background check on Dutta's credentials, landing themselves in an embarrassing position.
All through this, Dutta, apparently a well-read, articulate man, impressed visiting journalists enough for them to trust his views. He is also reported to have escorted MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi when the Hyderabad MP went to undertake relief work in the riot-hit areas.
On Saturday, when the Dispur police went to arrest Dutta on a complaint filed by a couple of people for defrauding them and not paying rent, he and his sister allegedly assaulted the police officers. Dutta reportedly tried to jump out of a window, breaking his ankles in the process.
However, he or his sister found time to tweet about the arrest which prompted a huge outrage online on Saturday night.
Assam government sources now say that several influential people from two or three different cities across India called the state police seeking Dutta's release. The police have so far not budged, however.
Moreover, several more complaints from travel agencies and hotel owners have been received by the police, each one of claiming that Dutta owes them money in unsettled bills ranging from 50,000 to Rs 4 lakh.
Dutta, according to the police, is a serial offender in this regard. He was arrested and released on bail on 2004 on similar charges. The only difference is: this time he has Twitter celebs backing him, at least until now!
The police are now inquiring into his background and his source of funding.