Soondas says notice will not stand scrutiny of law for even one minute

After being greeted with joy by supporters, and the BJP leadership subsequently dissociating itself with the report following mounting criticism, the story of Narendra Modi purportedly ‘evacuating 15,000 stranded Gujarati pilgrims’ in flood-hit Uttarakhand has now taken a new twist.

Now the BJP functionary cited as the ‘source’ for the story, Anil Baluni, has denied ever making such a claim. He has sent legal notice to the reporter who first wrote the story and attributed the figure to him.

The Hindu reported on Friday that Anand Soondas, chief of National News Features of The Times of India, had disclosed that the 15,000 figure’, which was widely ridiculed, was given to him by Mr. Baluni in the presence of senior BJP leaders and Gujarat bureaucrats.

Mr. Baluni has, however, emphatically rejected the claim.

He told The Hindu, “This has not come from me. I have never given the 15,000 figure, neither am I authorised to speak about it.” Mr. Baluni said he had spoken to Mr. Soondas for about five minutes.

“If the Gujarat bureaucrats were present, as the reporter claims, why didn’t he check the figures with them since they were the authorised officials?” asked the Uttarakhand BJP spokesman.

The legal notice quotes from The Hindu story and says Mr. Baluni never ‘made the impugned statements’; the ‘imputations’ against him were ‘false, baseless, malicious and mala fide’; the ‘scurrilous allegations’ have ‘harmed his reputation’; and this was a ‘Machiavellian plot to sully and disregard the good humanitarian work being done by the BJP’.

Mr. Soondas has been asked to offer an ‘unconditional apology within 72 hours of receiving this notice’, failing which Mr. Baluni would initiate ‘criminal defamation’ proceedings.

Mr. Baluni said he was shocked since he was from the ‘journalistic fraternity’ as well, having worked as a freelancer and in mainstream Hindi newspapers in Delhi.

He said he was also Officer on Special Duty to Bihar Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari during the NDA rule and had fought an Assembly election in Uttarakhand in 2005. He added, “I was busy with rescue work. But I came all the way to the High Court in Nainital to file the legal notice.”

‘I have a witness’

Mr. Soondas said he had not received the notice. When informed of its contents, he said, “This will not stand the scrutiny of law for even one minute. I had a witness, the photographer of the paper, who accompanied me when I met Mr. Baluni and I had several long discussions with him about the figure.”

(The Hindu competes with The Times of India.)

More In: National | News