Why The Quint’s story on Kulbhushan Jadhav has zero credibility

Why The Quint’s story on Kulbhushan Jadhav has zero credibility

The story’s claims and the past record of its author make it highly dubious.

By Shivam Vij

Published on :

The Quint has taken down their journalist Chandan Nandy’s story on Kulbhushan Jadhav. The story had stated that two former R&AW chiefs have claimed they were opposed to the recruitment of Jadhav as a spy, but that another RAW chief took him on. The former RAW chiefs were not named but some details about their time in RAW were helpfully given.

The Quint first issued a statement saying they were checking some facts in the story and had until then taken it down. Later they removed the retraction as well. The website is now silent on the subject as though they never ran the story.

The Pakistani government and media have lapped up the story as gospel truth. But the story itself is highly incredulous, for its own claims as well as the past record of its author. Nandy is op-ed editor of The Quint.

The Pakistani government went to the extent of officially claiming that Nandy had gone missing, untraceable to family and friends. Soon after the Pakistan Foreign Office issued this statement, I called up Nandy and he rubbished the claim. “Here I am, talking to you,” he said. When I asked him if he still stood by the story after his organisation had taken it down, he refused to comment.

Not one but two

It seems unbelievable that two – not one but two! – former RAW chiefs would make such a claim to a journalist, even off the record. Surely they’d know that such a story would embarrass India, weaken its case at the International Court of Justice, and help speed up the execution of Jadhav?

Whether or not Jadhav was a spy, whether he was picked up in Iran or Afghanistan or Pakistan, can we really believe that two former chiefs of India’s external intelligence agency would jeopardise his life? Even if we presume that RAW chiefs themselves go around recruiting spies, can anyone believe they share such information with journalists?

For an analogy, if a Pakistani journalist did a story saying two former ISI chiefs have told the journalist off the record that the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai were carried out by the ISI, would anyone believe such a story? Even after retirement, do two – not one but two! – former intelligence chiefs speak against their own country’s interest in such a manner?

Moreover, the story has little credibility because of Nandy’s and The Quint’s poor record in getting such stories right.

An imaginary surgical strike

On September 29, 2016, the director general of military operations of the Indian Army said in a press conference that India had carried surgical strikes along the Line of Control, in response to the attack in Uri.

The date of the surgical strike was the night between 28 and 29 September. The cross-border military action was confirmed by a BBC journalist who travelled to the locations on the Pakistani side and spoke to locals.

A week earlier, on 21 September, Nandy, writing in The Quint, had claimed that the Indian Army had carried out a surgical strike in Pakistan-administered J&K between the night of 20 and 21 September. The story claimed the army had used helicopters to cross the LoC and had manage to kill “at least 20 terrorists”.

After the real surgical strikes happened, The Quint ran a revised version of its earlier story, saying the “first” such strike had happened on 20-21 September, but changed a few details. They claimed, now, that the Indian army had not flown helicopters across the LoC and brought down the number of militants allegedly neutralised “between 10 and 12”. They reiterated having checked and re-checked this with “multiple sources” across the army and government agencies.

The Quint used the real surgical strike on 28-29 September to claim that it had vindicated their story about “the first surgical strike.” This is like a journalist saying it rained in Delhi on January 6 and when it drizzles on 26 January – as it often does – the journalist says, see, I told you, I always said it rained!

Questions, questions

If the Indian government was happy to advertise one surgical strike, why would it hide another a week earlier? If “multiple sources across the military and government agencies” could give the story to Nandy on 21 September 2016, how is it that no other journalist has been able to verify this so-called first strike till date?

If Pakistan or anyone wants to believe Nandy’s story on Jadhav as gospel truth, should they not also believe his story on the so-called first surgical strike as gospel truth?

Sheena Bora conspiracy theories

Nandy’s penchant for fictional journalism is not limited to stories on the army and intelligence. In the sensational Sheena Bora murder case in Mumbai in 2015, Nandy published stories saying that Sheena Bora wasn’t the daughter but sister of the alleged killer, Indrani Mukerjea, thus leading to a whole new set of conspiracy theories.

In another story, he claimed that Sheena Bora had been pregnant at the time she was killed – another opportunity for conspiracy theorists. Neither of those claims have ever been supported by any facts, evidence or even claims of investigating agencies.

CIA, MI6 et al

The Jadhav story is not the first story by Nandy The Quint has taken down. About a week after the Modi government demonetised 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, Nandy did a story seeing a CIA conspiracy in the move.

The Quint later deleted the post but here’s their Facebook post about it.

And what was the CIA connection to demonetisation according to Nandy? As flimsy as this: “American aid agency, USAID, which was used at least once by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to launch a covert intelligence operation in India, has partnered with the Narendra Modi government to create a network of more than 40 organisations to increase the usage of digital payment systems, particularly among low-income consumers.”

Nandy is fond of writing these larger-than-life stories that involve CIA and MI6 that nobody can ever verify, but somehow only Nandy has these amazing sources and not any of the numerous journalists in Delhi who, unlike him, cover national security as a full-time beat. Nandy has also written a book on the 1995 Purulia arms drop case, in which he claims the RAW and IB establishment telling him that the arms drop was masterminded by CIA.

Questions arise not just about Nandy but also about editorial gatekeeping at The Quint. It is for a reason that The Quint is jokingly referred to as The Squint among Delhi journalists. The website is known for running controversial stories and then taking them down or editing them after receiving criticism on social media without offering any explanation. A case in point is the piece they ran on Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah or another one on the “feminist” side of TVF’s Arunabh Kumar, who was accused of sexual harassment. The website also ran a piece on October 15, 2017, again authored by Nandy, which criticised NDTV for “playing into the hands of the Narendra Modi government over the surgical strikes.” The opinion piece was pulled down apparently because it had not been properly vetted from the top.

Stinging a victim

These may seem minor issues but a news website that regularly takes down what it publishes cannot have credibility. What’s worse is that their journalism put at risk an Indian Army soldier, who later allegedly committed suicide.

A Quint reporter asked the soldier about the Indian army’s “sahayak” system. He complained about the British-era practice. Unknown to him, what he was saying was being recorded in a hidden camera. The video was published by The Quint. The sahayak allegedly committed suicide.

Charged with abetment of suicide and violation of Official Secrets Act, the reporter is out on bail. Regardless of what happens to the case against her, the truth is that doing a sting operation against a victim makes no journalistic sense. But The Quint continues to defend the story.

While Nandy should switch to writing fiction, The Quint should hire some real editors.