FROM THE READERS’ EDITOR | Readers' Editor

Fairness in the time of polarisation

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While fact-checking, the desk applies the same standard of nonpartisanship for all articles, irrespective of the contributor

On August 17, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu wrote a lead article in this newspaper to welcome the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status. His reference to B.R. Ambedkar’s view on special status drew the ire of some academics and social activists. They asked whether The Hindu has a dual policy in handling contributions to the editorial pages: rigourous editorial processes for academic contributors and slack ones for contributors holding high constitutional positions.

The quote and the source

Before examining the critiques, let’s recollect what Mr. Naidu said. He wrote: “While considering the proposal to incorporate it in the Constitution, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru advised Sheikh Abdullah to convince B.R. Ambedkar, who apparently was not in favour of it. In the book, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Framing of Indian Constitution, by Dr. S.N. Busi, Dr. Ambedkar was cited as saying: “Mr. Abdullah, you want that India should defend Kashmir. You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India, but you don’t want India and any citizen of India to have any rights in Kashmir and Government of India should have only limited powers. To give consent to this proposal would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India, and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do. I cannot betray the interests of my country”.

The complaint we received cited two web pages to contest the views attributed to Dr. Ambedkar: http://velivada.com/2019/08/05/what-ambedkar-had-really-said-about-kashmir-issue/ and https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2019/05/article-370-and-dr-ambedkar-a-factcheck/. The basic thrust of the criticism was that Dr. Ambedkar’s writings and speeches on Pakistan, the Partition of India, and debates in the Constituent Assembly contained no authenticated writing on Article 370. These researchers asserted that the earliest “refusal to draft” statement was found in an editorial in Tarun Bharat, a mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, dated 1991, citing the verbal account of former Jana Sangh president Balraj Madhok. Pratik Tembhurne, in his Youth ki Awaaz essay, contended that the wrongly attributed quote of Ambedkar’s has been used by Subramanian Swamy, Sushil Pandit, and by different writers in various columns in publications such as “India Today, Daily Pioneer, The Hindu, Employment News, Indian Defence Review, Law Corner, and DailyO”.

In this context, let us examine how the desk handled the Vice President’s article. It noticed that the quote was mentioned in page 472 of Volume 4 of Dr. Busi’s six-volume work. Dr. Busi’s work was an attempt to look at how each Article of the Constitution was drafted, debated and voted in the Constituent Assembly. Mr. Naidu neither claimed first hand-knowledge nor did he resort to some anonymous source to put forth an idea. His citation came from a multi-volume book dedicated to the framing of the Indian Constitution and not from an ideological publication such as Tarun Bharat or Organiser.

Principles followed

The desk at The Hindu follows some of the key principles enunciated by the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter: “A commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness, transparency of sources, and to open and honest corrections.” For the first principle, the desk uses the same standard to check every bit of information. It does not discriminate between academics and high constitutional authorities. The newspaper articulates its viewpoint in its editorials and refrains from taking positions on the articles it processes. The second principle sometimes gets lost in today’s polarised political environment. The newspaper empowers its readers by consciously providing all the sources so that readers can verify the facts if they wish to do so. Of course, care is taken not to compromise personal security. The core editorial value of the newspaper states that the publications from The Hindu Group must endeavour to provide “a fair and balanced coverage of competing interests, and to offer the readers diverse, reasonable viewpoints, subject to its editorial judgment.”

A newspaper committed to plurality cannot reject an argument that is based on a quote from an exhaustive work on how the Indian Constitution was framed.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 2:04:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/fairness-in-the-time-of-polarisation/article29253658.ece

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