Wednesday, May 28, 2008

To the Bitter End

To the Bitter End
Arun Shourie

"Congress insists PM ignored I-B reports on Kargil," ran the six column heading of The Indian Express on 16 September. Other papers too gave much prominence to the allegation. This time the Congress spokesman had used as his peg a front-page story in The Tribune of that morning about a "strategy backgrounder" which the paper said the Army had prepared and circulated.

Entitled, "PM ignored intelligence reports," the front page story of The Tribune was an elaborate one. It claimed that the Army Headquarters "has gone to the extent of blaming Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for ignoring intelligence reports on the intrusion." "The strategy paper, 'Important issues: Case of Brigadier Surinder Singh,' prepared and circulated recently by the AHQ clearly states that it was possible that the Prime Minister may have been given some information of Pakistan's designs by RAW and IB, but he ignored it, 'in the context of the Lahore Bus ride.' " "The paper has made allegations against the Government for ignoring its needs," The Tribune reported. But not just against the Government, it would seem! For The Tribune went on to report that "the strategy paper makes allegations against all and sundry." "Similarly, the Joint Intelligence Committee, whose responsibility is to carry out an assessment of threat and prepare position papers, never did so," the newsreport quoted the strategy paper to have said...

Every syllable of the story smacked of concoction. The title, Army Headquarters suddenly going back on what it has itself been maintaining, its doing so before the internal review instituted by the Army Chief has been completed, its doing so before the Subramanyam Committee has completed even its hearings.

The story was replete with nonsense so patent that even a fool would have spotted it. Recall that sentence -- the one on which the Congress based its charge of the day -- "The strategy paper... clearly states that it was possible that the Prime Minister may have been given some information of Pakistan's designs by RAW and IB, but he ignored it, 'in the context of the Lahore Bus ride.' " That something "was possible". What was possible? That the Prime Minister "may have been given." And what may have he been given? "Some information of Pakistan's designs..."!

In one para -- and that too on the basis of "may be" raised to the power 3 -- the Army was said to have "clearly state(d)" that the Prime Minister may have been given information. Two paragraphs later the Army paper was said to have hurled allegations "at all and sundry."

"The failure is of external intelligence agencies," The Tribune quoted the "strategy backgrounder" to have observed, only to elaborate, "Military Intelligence Directorate is responsible for external intelligence"! Not only would that imply that Army Headquarters was owning up to the failure, it would imply that Army Headquarters does not know what the function of the Directorate of Military Intelligence is!

Within hours of the newspaper being available, the Army issued a strongly worded press release. "It is categorically stated that no 'strategy backgrounder' as mentioned in the article has either been prepared or disseminated to any source," the Army said. " ...The news item under reference is baseless, malicious and has been presented to tarnish the apolitical image of the Army," it stated. "The article appearing in The Tribune dated 15 September 1999 appears to be sponsored / published by an aggrieved party for self-motivated reasons best known to the individual sponsor. The Army Headquarters once again most emphatically denies preparation / dissemination of such a document."

The Prime Minister's Office also issued a denial -- just as categorical.

Both statements were available by early afternoon. But of course the Congress could not allow mere facts to come in the way of hurling its allegation-for-the-day!

The headlines secured, the Congress forgot all about the "strategy backgrounder" at its press briefing the next day!

But not The Asian Age! By the 18th September, it had an altogether new theory. It could not argue that the so-called "strategy backgrounder" was genuine. While earlier newspapers had been insinuating that the Army and the Government had been working hand-in-glove to cover up failure on the Kargil front, the paper now asserted that the Government had left the Army to fend for itself during the Kargil conflict, that the Army was incensed that the PM had kept silent on the controversies kicked up around Brigadier Surinder Singh. So much so that, without citing any source, the paper asserted, as the headline across the top of its front page proclaimed, that a war" had erupted between the PMO and the Army!

As for the Congress, The Tribune fabrication have been squeezed for such milk as it could yield, its allegation for the next day had at its prop statements which Niaz Naik, a former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, and Sartaj Aziz, its current Foreign Minister had made. These gentlemen have to contend with the political turmoil that encircles Nawaz Sharief and his circle there. There is a war of statements going on there: that ex-diplomat had alleged that India and Pakistan had come close to an agreement on Kashmir, and it is the Pakistan Army which had killed it by its incursion into Kargil; the Foreign Minister -- who had earlier been saying that the Pakistan Army had done nothing in Kargil -- had countered by saying that whatever the Pakistan Army had done in Kargil was in the interests of Pakistan! That is the impulse and origin of statements emanating from Pakistan these days. But the sole concern of the Congress was to locate some news peg for its allegation-of-the-day.

Brajesh Mishra, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, who is the one who had dealt with Niaz Naik, stated on record that no secret deal had been in the works. But for the Congress, the Indian Army is not to be believed, Indian civil servants are not to be believed, of course the Indian Prime Minister is not to be believed. But every tid bit from Pakistan is gospel truth.

Telling reciprocity! During the Kargil war the statements of Sonia Gandhi and her spokesmen were of such succour to Pakistan that they became top stars on Pakistan TV. During the elections, the statements from Pakistan have become props for the Congress!

The consequences are obvious. By making statements of Pakistani personnel as the basis for charges here, these spokesmen contrive a situation in which Pakistan can set the agenda of debate even during elections in India: they can say whatever they think will help the side they think is better for them.

The other side is that there are statements and statements of Pakistani politicians. To which of these would these spokesmen of the Congress respond? In her interview to the magazine Sunday of 1-7 August, 1999, Benazir Bhutto maintains that she and Rajiv came to an agreement about, among other things, "withdrawal from Siachin". As Indian forces alone are in control of Siachin, this would imply that Rajiv had agreed to withdraw Indian forces from Siachin. Benazir provides a circumstantial detail: she says that when she was at the Commonwealth meeting, Rajiv telephoned her and told her that while he could not see through the agreement during elections, he would implement it after the elections. The Congress lost.

Going by its criteria, would the Congress, therefore, explain how its much-vaunted Prime Minister agreed to hand back Siachin? Moreover, going by its daily mud-slinging about non-existent "secret deals", would the Congress explain whether Rajiv Gandhi took Parliament, to say nothing of the country into confidence before coming to such an agreement -- an agreement to vacate land which our Army has sacrificed so much to retain?

While it is at the job, will the Congress explain whether Pandit Nehru took the country, did he even take Parliament into confidence before halting our advancing troops in 1948, and thereby inflicting a loss of 83,100 sq km of territory on our country? Did he work out a national consensus, did he work out a consensus even in the Cabinet before needlessly referring Kashmir to the UN, and thus saddling us with the problem that plagues us to this day? He did not: Sardar Patel was ever so opposed to this unnecessary show of internationalism -- in fact, even Liaquat Ali was pleasantly surprised as even he had not asked for this to be done.

Dr P N Dhar, one of the main participants in the Simla negotiations, who later became Principal Secretary to Mrs Indira Gandhi, has disclosed on record that she and Z A Bhutto came to an agreement to convert the Line of Control into the international border between Indian and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, this would have been a part of the documents signed at Simla but for Bhutto saying that such a step would disable him on his return, that instead it should be left out for the moment and he would see it through within a few months. Did Mrs Gandhi take the country or Parliament into confidence before coming to such an understanding?

Rajiv Gandhi commenced aid to LTTE: that has caused a lethal civil war in a neighbour which has been our friend for centuries, it has caused the death of over 1500 Indian soldiers. Did he take the country or Parliament into confidence before doing so? It is known, in fact, that even after he sent the Indian Army to fight the very terrorists that he had foolishly agreed to arm and equip, his Government continued assistance to those very terrorists. Is there a single instance of another Government arming terrorists who were killing its own soldiers? Did he work out a national consensus or take Parliament into confidence to continue assisting terrorists so that they could kill our soldiers?

But today, cock and bull concoctions about secret deals, peremptory demands about taking the country into confidence!

And in any case, where does the Congress allegation based on Niaz Naik's statement stand now? For just two days after the Congress built up its conspiracy theory on his reported assertion, Niaz Naik repudiated what had been attributed to him! The report which had him saying that India and Pakistan had been close to a secret deal was a "fabrication", he stated in a written statement.

No problem for the Congress. It had passed on to the next allegation!

Forgeries have of course been an industry with the Congress since Rajiv's time.

The "letter" which was supposed to have been written by the then Director of CIA, William Casey, to the President of the conservative think-tank, the Heritage Foundation of the USA -- spelling out a design to destabilise Rajiv's Government.

The forgeries to establish that V. P. Singh and his son, Ajeya Singh, had a foreign account in St. Kitts, that $ 21 million had been paid into it as kickbacks.

The forged letter by which my colleagues, S. Gurumurthy and A. Janakiraman were arrested, and V. P. Singh hounded on the ground that a foreign detective agency had been engaged to excavate facts about Rajiv's associates.

The "letter" which V. P. Singh was supposed to have written to the President naming his colleagues, Arun Nehru and Arif Mohammed Khan as having been involved in corrupt deals.

The "letter" JP was supposed to have written in which he was said to have called V. P. Singh "spineless" and much else.

The "hotel bills" proving Arun Nehru's stay in New York, and "telephone records" that established that he had been calling tax havens in the West Indies.

The "letter" to that same American detective in which V. P. Singh is supposed to have asked him to locate the foreign accounts of his colleagues -- including ones who were dead, like Karpoori Thakur! And so on.

In each case, there was a pattern. The forgery would be elaborate, as was the one in The Tribune, with details and all. It would appear in one, preferably out-of station paper: the St. Kitts forgeries started in distant Middle east, in The Arab Times! It would be picked up by one or two papers -- The Telegraph and The Hindustan Times led the rest in the St. Kitts affair. Waving these "news reports" Congressmen would hurl their falsehoods.

A well-practised routine, therefore. But even by the lamentable standards of the Congress, forgeries in this round mark a new low. They seek to implicate not just political opponents. They have implicated the Army of the country. First, spokesmen of the Congress talked of a letter and file that contained intelligence information that had been furnished to the Government about the Pakistani buildup. They spelled out an elaborate number. They declared that if the Government denied the existence of the letter and file, they would produce it. The Army stated that it wasn't just that there was no letter or file of that number, there was no numbering system that matched the number that had been put out. The Congress spokesmen just let the matter drop!

Next, they and friendly magazines like Outlook, flaunted "letters" that Brigadier Surinder Singh was said to have written in August and November, 1998, in which he was said to have warned the Army about the Pakistani build up. The letters had never been received in Army Headquarters, nor at any other level or part of the Army.

The Congress spokesman then flaunted a receipt which he said established that the letters had been received. Friendly papers -- some of which have been campaigning even more energetically for the Congress than Congressmen -- ran with this receipt. "Lying Kargil Generals nailed," ran the headline across the front page of The Asian Age. They reproduced the facsimile of the receipt.

The legend on the top of the receipt itself said that it was for a "Redressal of Grievance" communication from the Brigadier -- the officer had been transferred, he had filed an appeal against it. Moreover, it was dated 28 June, 1999. How could it prove the receipt of letters in August and November in the preceding year? On inquiry I learnt that this oddity had not been noticed!

But the next day the paper compounded the fib. "Army acknowledges receiving the letters," it proclaimed. What the Army had done was to state what the receipt itself stated, that the Redressal of Grievance communication had been received -- on 28 June, 1999. How did this amount to an acknowledgment that the letters in question -- ostensibly written in eight and eleven months earlier had been received?

But the paper was no less zealous than the Congress!

The remedies are obvious. Things have reached such a pit that readers should as a rule disbelieve what papers say till the record of the publication or journalist in question establishes to the contrary.

Second, newspapers should scrutinize each other's work, and report the findings to the reading public.

And in the present case so should at least two other institutions. The Election Commission has been so concerned about things that may affect the fairness of the election process. Surely, nothing but nothing has so polluted the electoral atmosphere, no one has done as much to mislead voters as the liars in the Congress. Why not make a study of the allegations which were hurled, and give us your finding about their veracity?

The other institution of course is the Press Council. Its function is to help maintain standards in the press. It is evident that the fabrications would have got nowhere -- not in 1987-89, not now -- without the active collaboration of some of our leading newspapers and magazines. Why not examine the allegations they broadcast, and what the basis was for them?

After all, to purvey a libel uttered by another is libel. To broadcast falsehood uttered by another is to compound it.

India Connect
September 21, 1999

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