THE scores of letters the office of the Readers' Editor and the “Letters” column of this newspaper have been receiving over the past ten days in appreciation of the flood of articles based on the “The India Cables,” accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, stand testimony to the immeasurable confidence and goodwill this 132-year-old publication has been enjoying from its discerning, knowledgeable readers.
Readers may recall that the first instalment of classified United States documents related to the American military campaign in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, was brought to the public domain by WikiLeaks in July 2010. Then, in November 2011, came ‘Cablegate,' five major western newspapers dipping into a mind-boggling database of 251, 187 U.S. diplomatic cables estimated to aggregate 300 million words made available to them by WikiLeaks.
The latest development is The Hindu's major scoop in getting the ‘India Cables,' 5,100 of them comprising six million words, accessed through an arrangement with WikiLeaks. Today is Day 14 in the series and already the impact of the revelations on public opinion, on Parliament, on the polity, and on the rest of the media has been immense. The India Cables cover a big range: India's relations with the U.S., with neighbours, with Russia, the European Union, East Asia, Israel, Palestine and Iran, besides Cuba and the United Nations. There is a lot of material on domestic affairs, nuclear energy, defence, intelligence sharing, the economic sectors, and so on.
The well-structured and contextualised stories, with meticulous references to the numbered cables, have been published in print and online, with beautiful supporting cartoons and illustrations. The cables themselves have been published online. The stories and cables have been followed very widely, in India and abroad. On the day of the launch of the India Cables series, the Editor-in-Chief wrote a perspective piece titled “Fascinating insights.” It introduced the India Cables, their range and significance, and gave readers an idea of how the newspaper engaged with WikiLeaks to get its hands on the cables through a congenial arrangement that “involves no financial transaction and no financial obligations on either side.”
The most noteworthy and encouraging part of ‘Indiagate' is the way readers and the general public have welcomed and indeed taken to the revelations in this mass of diplomatic communication conducted over many years.
The Hindu's Page 1 lead story on the opening day, March 15, 2011, was headlined: “PM isolated on Pakistan.” It was interesting news for Ambassador Timothy Roemer who got it in the course of a meeting he had with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan. Mr. Roamer also learnt more about Mr. Narayanan and the others he met.
A couple of articles highlighted the differences between India and the U.S. over sharing information related to the Mumbai terror attacks with Pakistan. There have been revealing articles about Indo-Nepal, India-Sri Lanka, and India-Myanmar relations. Another story showed how the Manmohan Singh minority government bowed to U.S. pressure to vote against Iran in September 2005, despite resistance from some Indian officials. Another instance of the United Progressive Alliance regime succumbing to external pressure was a 2006 Cabinet reshuffle in which “contentious and outspoken Iran pipeline advocate” Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was replaced by Murli Deora, perceived by the U.S. Embassy to be pro-U.S. and close to a big business house.
Confidence vote issue
A front page article, “Cash for votes a way of political life in South India,” drawn from a remarkably detailed report of the practice in a Chennai Consulate cable, caught the attention of politically aware readers during election season. But it was the story, “Satish Sharma aide showed U.S. Embassy employee cash to be used as ‘pay-offs' in [July 2008] confidence vote,” (The Hindu, March 17, 2011) that fired the political imagination, rocked Parliament, and set the public agenda for the next several days.
The India Cables series goes on, with the latest stories and cables revealing the “double talk” of the BJP in respect of its stand on external policy and Indo-U.S. relations in particular, and also featuring an admission by one of the party's prominent leaders that the BJP's advocacy of Hindu nationalism was “opportunistic.” There have also been interesting cables and stories on perceptions of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and a host of India's political leaders.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat has published a hard-hitting analysis of what the series based on the India Cables, accessed by TheHindu through WikiLeaks, signifies. In his view, “the expose laid bare the nature of India-U.S. relationship during the UPA and NDA regimes and revealed a disturbing picture.”
As Readers' Editor, I have no access to the India Cables; like the hundreds of thousands of the newspaper's politically aware readers, I too read the stories only when they appear in print. Interestingly so far, nothing connected with this series has had to figure in the daily ‘Corrections & Clarifications' column. My impression is that the India Cables stock with The Hindu is far from exhausted and there is plenty more to come.