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.