At approximately 10:30 pm on Wednesday night, The Quint published an “exclusive” report, which sent social media into a tizzy.
The report by Chandan Nandy claimed that on the intervening night September 20 and 21, two units of the Elite 2 Paras comprising 18-20 soldiers flew across the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri sector, and conducted an operation that killed at least 20 suspected terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).Predictably, the report invited a range of reactions: shock, apprehension, chest-beating, to total dismissal.
Meanwhile, on Thursday,The Times of India carried a front-page report, quoting Army sources who denied the “cross-border surprise raid”. The TOI report read, “Sources maintained that no such action had been undertaken and the account was incorrect.”Meanwhile, also on Thursday morning, The Quint reiterated that it was standing by its story.
Despite The Quint’s stand, most army veterans and the defence correspondents that Newslaundry spoke to are dubious about the story’s veracity.
Army veteran Colonel Ajai Shukla (Retd.), who is also a journalist, described the report as “a figment of someone’s imagination.” He added, “It is a crude attempt to give the impression that Uri has been avenged. I have spoken to my sources in the Army, and they are not aware of any such operations that have taken place.”
Shukla is right that the intelligence failure surrounding Uri has been a humiliation for India, one whose sting hasn’t been soothed by the rallying cries of support for the armed forces that’s been seen in the media. Hashtags like “UriPayback” and “UnitedAgainstPak” and the commentary on mainstream news channels like India Today, Zee News, Times Now and even the usually-restrained NDTV indicated a certain clamouring for a decisive military response to Uri.
However, while The Quint’s report does offer a sense of satisfaction of having retaliated, defence journalists have pointed out that there are loopholes and inaccuracies in the article.
Saikat Datta, former editor, National Security, Hindustan Times, called the report “inaccurate”. Pointing out factual inaccuracies in the report,he said, “They got the name of the unit wrong. Also, the unit which the publication claims carried out the operation does not even operate in the region stated.”Another red flag for Datta was the claim that helicopters were flown in for the operation.“A dead giveaway was saying that helicopters were flown in for the operation. You don’t launch an aerial incursion in a situation like this.” He also expressed doubts on the high number of casualties stated.
Another defence correspondent who requested anonymity due to contractual obligations said there was a factual inconsistency in story.“The report said that the raid was carried out in the intervening hours of 20th and 21st September. But the report also said that a no-fly zone was declared on the night of 20th September. So, how was the operation possible despite there being a no-fly zone in place? These are some questions which stick out.”
Newslaundry was told that higher-ups in Northern Command (NC) of Indian Army, who handle media, are baffled by The Quint’s report. “The Quint seems to know better than the Army operating on the front,” one official said dryly, on condition of anonymity. Another senior-ranking officer told Newslaundry, “All I have to say is that this frivolous report, which has caught the fancy of the readers, holds no water.”
Not everyone is entirely disbelieving though. Newslaundry columnist Lieutenant General HS Panag said that theoretically speaking, such an operation wasn’t entirely inconceivable. “Something is taking place,” he said.“The scale of the operations and the casualty numbers can be speculated on, but such an operation is entirely possible,” he told Newslaundry.
Newslaundry’s consulting editor Kishalay Bhattacharjee pointed out that no amount of speculation would lead to any authoritative conclusion.“It is very difficult to prove or disprove the claims because officially the government would not speak on it. The Myanmar operation in June last year turned out to be very controversial,” said Bhattacharjee, referring to India’s 2015 claim that it had successfully completed an operation against Naga militants in neighbouring Myanmar. Their government categorically denied any such intrusion into Myanmar’s territory.
India’s relations with Pakistan are far more complicated than those that we have with Myanmar and consequently, it seems unreasonable to expect that there will be any official response. The Army has maintained a silence on the subject, which, in the august tradition of military interactions with the civilian public, means that they have neither confirmed nor denied the episode. Meanwhile, in less than 24 hours, The Quint’s story, unverified as it may be, has had more than five lakh views and has been shared enthusiastically by supporters of various political hues. That’s a reality that can’t be contested.