The following are edited excerpts compiled from a ‘Rejoinder’ put out by General (Retd.) V.K. Singh, the former Army chief, on September 27, 2013 insofar as it pertained to coverage in The Hindu, and a statement that he subsequently e-mailed to The Hindu on September 29:
Picking up from a report carried by the Indian Express on September 20, headlined ‘Unit set up by V.K. Singh used secret funds to try and topple J&K government, block Bikram Singh: Army probe,’ The Hindu on September 24 published a story ‘V.K. Singh counters charges, admits ‘pro-India NGOs’ were funded,’ written by its Chandigarh correspondent, Chander Suta Dogra. The opening sentence said it was my “first proper interview to a newspaper since details of an internal inquiry into his conduct as Army chief were published in the Indian Express…” The fact is that I was waylaid by her at a friend’s place, and at her insistence answered a few questions.
Several falsehoods, half-truths and distortions were inserted into the story. It claimed that “the panchayat elections of 2011 and the sudden end to the stone-throwing agitation in Kashmir in 2010” were the two major achievements of the TSD (Technical Services Division). Ms Dogra seems to have mingled information that seemed to have been fed to her, with my comments on TV. The correspondent claimed that senior army officers in 15 Corps had told her that the TSD provided the Corps with off-the air interceptors, which later proved to be faulty. These were not truthful statements.
Then, elements and vested interests — political and official — started twisting and distorting that report and whipping up frenzy with the purpose of alienating J&K and spreading disharmony among the armed forces. The Hindu published a story on its front page on September 25, ‘Our lives in danger, say sarpanches in J&K’ (by Ahmed Ali Fayyaz).
The story said that I had caused “an extremely serious apprehension of militant attacks on more than 33,000 panches and sarpanches as I have completely discredited and maligned the panchayat elections of 2011.” Nothing can be farther from fact.
After I put out a rejoinder on social media, Ms Dogra threatened people around me for it to be withdrawn. Her behaviour was all the more embarrassing as she is the wife of a senior army officer.
She sent three SMS messages to my daughter, and to Mr. Vishwajit, a lawyer she has been in touch with. In the first SMS, she said if I issued reckless rejoinders against such a respected newspaper (The Hindu) I would make more enemies. A few minutes later she sent another message saying the rejoinder stood no chance as PTI would never carry my statement as both the Indian Express and The Hindu had been named. In a third message she threatened to go public with more stories relating to the TSD that she claimed she was privy to.
The SMS messages have been saved and documented. However, as a courtesy to The Hindu, a newspaper I have held in high regard, I am bringing this to your notice, and have advised Mr. Vishwajit not to go public with the SMS messages. Legal action against Ms Dogra in her personal capacity is being taken for wilfully and deliberately faking an exclusive interview. Incidentally, she had tampered with an interview that had been published in Outlook in April 2012, after which there had been no contact — until the chance encounter with her just before I went on air with Times Now and CNN-IBN, from where she culled remarks made by me and inserted key sentences to give a certain colour to the events. The ramifications can be gauged from The Hindu’s subsequent reaction.
The Editor of the newspaper has himself added fuel to the fire by publishing a front-page news item (September 26), ‘V.K. Singh’s claims damaged India’s interests, officials say.’ Quoting ‘senior officials’ of the government, the story accuses me of causing “enormous damage” to the country through some recent statements on Jammu and Kashmir. It said the government was investigating my claim that military officers had made illegal payments to politicians, and would decide on what action to take once the facts were established.
This news report was filed from ‘On Board the PM’s Flight’ as the Editor travelled to Washington DC as part of the Prime Minister’s entourage. Members of this entourage were the former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister who is now his adviser; a former Foreign Secretary who is now the National Security Adviser; a former Defence Secretary who is now the Comptroller & Auditor General of India; the Media Adviser to the Prime Minister; and the Editors of the Indian Express and The Hindu.
The former Defence Secretary (now CAG) initiated the ‘Board of Officers report ’ through the Army and received the report in March 2013; the National Security Adviser has been dealing with and examining the report, a former Joint Secretary in the Defence Ministry, who worked closely with this Defence Secretary leaked the report, the Editor of the Indian Express published it, and the Editor of The Hindu has suggested that the lives of 33,000 panches and sarpanches in the valley are in peril because of me.
This is probably the same team that leaked my top secret letter to the Prime Minister on lack of defence preparedness, promoted the obnoxious ‘line of succession’ in the Army burying merit in the process, accused me of plotting a coup against the Government of India, patronised the Tatra truck purchase and indulged in other defence purchase scams and, worst of all, wanted to sell out the Siachen Glacier to China-Pakistan through a dubious Track II initiative headed by the now discredited Air Chief Marshal Tyagi in which The Hindu’s Editor was a key member.
These facts cannot be disguised by this powerful group of people who seem to care little for national interest as scam after scam has left the ruling party morally bankrupt. Let me remind them of the motto: ‘Satyameva Jayate.’
Chander Suta Dogra, Chandigarh Bureau Chief of The Hindu, replies:
General (retd.) V.K. Singh put out a rejoinder to what he describes as “false and motivated allegations” made against him by The Hindu, and specifically naming me as the correspondent of The Hindu who interviewed him. He chose to put it on the Internet and the social media, and held a chat session on Twitter based on this rejoinder, but did not send it to me or The Hindu.
He denies he gave me an interview and says I waylaid him and threw questions at him. Wrong. The interview was set up by his lawyer Vishwajit Singh, and his daughter Mrinalini, and The Hindu sent me from Chandigarh to Delhi to interview the General. Nobody drives 250 km just to waylay someone in the hope of being able to pose a few questions.
Not only did I interview him but the General also sought to facilitate my meeting with other serving army officers who could corroborate what he had told me.
I recorded all that he said. So his claim that he did not say some of the things he said, will not stand scrutiny. He disclosed many more sensitive things, but my newspaper took an editorial decision not to go public with that information in the larger interest of maintaining peace in Jammu & Kashmir.
In the course of the interview, the General made serious allegations against two persons, and I contacted them for their responses. Their versions were included in the story — which is probably what he describes as “falsehoods, half-truths and distortions.” But this is precisely what good journalism is all about.
Nowhere did the story say that TSD gave off-air interceptors to 15 Corps. All that it said was that 15 Corps received the equipment (not from TSD) but sent them back because they were found unfit for use in counterinsurgency operations as they were not only receivers but also emitters. It was important to include this detail, which I learnt from my sources. The Army’s enquiry against TSD (as reported by newspapers) details that two such interceptors were used by TSD to eavesdrop on government functionaries in Delhi and Jammu. TSD was not authorised to possess the equipment. The inquiry found that when the eavesdropping became public, the interceptors were destroyed and dumped into the Chenab.
General Singh alleged during his conversation with me that two interceptors were shown as destroyed by Lt.Gen. (retd.) Tejinder Singh, Director General Defence Intelligence, and later he sold them to a Singapore-based company. Tejinder Singh countered by asking the General to substantiate the allegation by providing proof to the investigating agencies.
That I reported the responses from Lt.Gen. (retd.) Tejinder Singh (who last year filed a defamation suit against the former Army Chief over other allegations), possibly irked the General.
His ire is probably also over the fact that I, as the wife of an army officer who is much junior to him, had the temerity to do an independent, unbiased report based on facts — instead of the coloured version he wanted me to put out. In the hierarchy-bound Army, the wives of officers are expected to be just as subordinate to seniors as their husbands are. I was forced to remind the General’s media managers, who have accused me of “backstabbing” through text messages, and have threatened me with dire consequences since then, that I do not work for the General and am merely doing my job as a responsible journalist. Throwing rank at me serves no purpose.
The General and his spin-doctors have no use for fair and impartial journalists. They see conspiracies where there are none, and think that everyone in the media is either for sale (read those who are critical of the general) or can be intimidated into swallowing everything that they claim is the ‘real truth’.
I have known General (retd.) V.K. Singh since April 2012 when I met him for an interview for Outlook. I had a first-hand experience of his intimidating tactics even then: he suddenly threatened to withdraw the interview if it was not put on the cover of the magazine.
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, J&K Bureau Chief of The Hindu, replies:
The story ‘Our lives in danger, say sarpanches in J&K’ [September 25] is based on the interview of Shafiq Mir, Chairman J&K Panchayat Conference, who in fact reacted to Gen. V.K. Singh’s interview published in this newspaper on September 24, which the General did not contest for more than three days despite speaking frequently to the media. Mr. Shafiq Mir has boldly condemned the militant attacks on panches and sarpanches and singularly taken even the United Jihad Council chief Salahuddin head-on over his purported threats to the panches. Mr. Mir expressed very serious apprehensions with regard to safety of panches and sarpanches in the light of Mr Singh's claim that the Panchayat elections of 2011 were an “achievement” of the Army’s TSD.
Neither The Hindu nor Mr. Shafiq Mir has whipped up “frenzy with the purpose of alienating J&K and spreading disharmony among the armed forces.”
Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu, replies:
The General has made several allegations. While Chander Suta Dogra and Ahmed Ali Fayyaz have comprehensively refuted his charges, I would like to emphasise the following points:
1. General Singh seems to be under the impression that the Editor of The Hindu is part of a group of senior officials conspiring against him, and even reads meaning into the fact that I was part of the “Prime Minister’s entourage” to Washington DC. This is completely absurd. I travelled with 30-odd journalists on the Prime Minister’s plane and, along with all of them, fairly and accurately reported the remarks of a senior government official on the recent statements of the former Army chief. The General is welcome to join issue with the senior official but he should not shoot the messenger, accusing me of “adding fuel to the fire” by carrying a story which had the same quotes as the stories filed by PTI and other newspapers and channels. Further, to the best of my knowledge, neither the CAG nor the former Principal Secretary to the PM was on the plane. Nor was the Editor of the Indian Express.
2. His charge against The Hindu and its Editor being part of a “team” that is against him appears even more absurd when measured against our coverage throughout 2012 on many of the issues General Singh raised, including the Tatra truck deal, the problem of corruption and the age and chain of succession issue. These include our interview of him by Vidya Subrahmaniam, which ran on front page with the headline ‘I was offered a bribe of Rs.14 crore, says Army Chief’ (March 26, 2012) and on the Op-Ed page (‘It would have been disobedience if I had not accepted 1950, says Army Chief,’ March 26, 2012); an Op-Ed article, also by Ms. Subrahmaniam (‘Sack the general, did you say?’ April 1, 2012); several exposes on the Tatra deal; and our April 5, 2012 editorial, ‘Misplaced fears’ on the so-called coup plot.
3. In his note, which General Singh circulated on the Internet, he also accused me of being part of a group that “wanted to sell out the Siachen Glacier to China-Pakistan through a dubious Track II initiative headed by the now discredited Air Chief Marshal Tyagi in which The Hindu’s Editor was a key member.” After I wrote to him on October 1 contesting his accusation, General Singh sent me an email on October 4 which said:
“The mention about your being part of the Siachen Track II team is a bona fide mistake. Since you have been a votary of the Siachen ‘demilitarisation’ proposal and have argued for it both in writing and TV interviews I was under the impression that you are also part of Track II. The mistake is regretted and I hereby retract the same.”
After thanking him for his reply, I reminded the General that the Government of India is officially committed to the demilitarization of Siachen and has been so for decades. The question is how this goal is to be achieved. I have argued for an approach that I believe fully protects our vital security interests. There is always room for debate, of course. But there is no reason to question anyone’s integrity or motives.