Indian Express deputy editor Sushant Singh under spotlight for plagiarism

Singh’s 2017 book Mission Overseas has striking similarities to historian Jagan Pillarisetti’s 16-year-old essay.

WrittenBy:Ayush Tiwari
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“Brings to the fore hitherto unknown facts. A valuable addition to contemporary military history,” reads a blurb by a well-known Army man on the slim paperback edition of the 2017 book Mission Overseas: Daring Operations by the Indian Army, authored by Sushant Singh, Deputy Editor at The Indian Express, and published by Juggernaut. A brief synopsis on the same cover explains what makes the book special: “Using never-before-seen secret military reports and eyewitness testimonies of the men on the ground, former army man and journalist Sushant Singh reconstructs three forgotten Indian operations overseas: in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone.”

But here’s what makes the book controversial. In a Facebook post published on December 13, military historian Jagan Pillarisetti suggested that portions of Singh’s book have been plagiarised from his article “Descent Into Danger – The Jaffna University Helidrop” on It is one of the half a dozen articles that Pillarisetti had published on the website in the early 2000s under the category “The Sri Lankan Interlude 1987-90”.

The portion concerns a historical account of the Jaffna University helidrop, a 1987 operation by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to disarm militants belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, described at length in the second chapter of Singh’s book, titled “Operation Pawan: Massacre at Jaffna”.

Pillarisetti posted parallel pictures of passages from the two texts on Facebook, demonstrating the striking similarities between the two.

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Pillarisetti’s original post on Facebook.

Plagiarism comes in multiple forms, Pillarisetti identifies the two most notorious varieties—verbatim and paraphrasing. His Facebook post pointed out three instances of verbatim quotation and paraphrasing in Singh’s book.

First Instance

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Above: From page 103 of Sushant Singh’s ‘Mission Overseas’ (2017). Below: A passage from Jagan Pillarisetti’s essay ‘Descent into Danger’, published on

Second Instance

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Above: From page 105 of ‘Mission Overseas’. Below: From ‘Descent into Danger’,

Third Instance

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Above: From page 106 of ‘Mission Overseas’. Below: From ‘Descent into Danger’,

Newslaundry reached out to Jagan Pillarisetti, Sushant Singh and Juggernaut for comments.

Pillarisetti says he tried contacting Singh on social media for an explanation. “I had sent out a couple of tweets (copying Sushant Singh), the gist of which was: ‘Hey, How did this happen? Only Sushant can explain’.”

He adds, “And that is one of my questions: what was the source for this? He didn’t just write it out of his head, right? He must’ve depended on published research or a shared article or something. There should be an answer to this: what is the source for that research? It hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in the book.”

Pillarisetti claims that the research from his article was used for a book on the same subject titled Operation Pawan (Manohar Publishers, 2015), written by Air Marshal Bharat Kumar. “There’s a lot of thinking about whether Sushant borrowed his research from Operation Pawan. But even if he did, he hasn’t referred to Operation Pawan in the book … My article didn’t get a mention, and nor did Operation Pawan. So the question: how did he get the material? … I didn’t want to say it outright, but people know what it is. There is so much content in that book that came from that article.”

Asked whether he would allege plagiarism against Singh’s book Mission Overseas, Pillarisetti stresses once again that he wouldn’t state it explicitly. “The definitions are pretty clear … I have friends in the academic circle who are also pretty shocked by my [Facebook] post, and by the similarities. I’d like to leave it at that.”

He says he reserves his judgement because he would like to give Singh an opportunity to offer his perspective. “I would like to give benefit of doubt to people. I would give them a chance to explain. I’m still waiting for an explanation, and I do hope that it comes. In the current information era, I don’t think people will be stupid to deliberately do this kind of stuff.  There has to be some explanation.”

Pillarisetti adds that he’s not looking for anything beyond an acknowledgement of the sources of research, adding that the publishers also need to be more transparent about such similarities in the two texts. “The publisher should respond to such allegations. They should give a statement stating the source. Any subsequent editions should carry a line of acknowledgement. Or the author should explain. That should be sufficient.”

Interestingly, apart from the portions where he has implied plagiarism occurred, Pillarisetti holds the book in fine regard. “Sushant has done original research that I liked … There is value in his book. If not for the lack of acknowledgements, I would’ve probably written good things about it.”

This is not the first time that an Indian editor has been accused of plagiarism. In 1999, Hindustan Times editor VN Narayan resigned after one of his articles turned out to have lifted over 1,000 words from British journalist Bryan Appleyard’s column in London’s Sunday Times. Journalist Dilip Bobb faced a similar accusation. As executive editor of Outlook, a plagiarism allegation was raised over a music review. Bobb was also made to resign in 2010 when India Today magazine’s Letter From The Editor on Rajinikanth signed by Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie had lifted sentences off a Slate article. Bobb, then managing editor of India Today, was rumoured to have been held responsible, though, neither India Today nor Purie ever issued a clarification on who exactly copy-pasted sentences from the Slate piece.

In the United States, CNN and Time magazine suspended journalist Fareed Zakaria in 2012 after his Time article “The Case for Gun Control” was discovered to have duplicated passages from an essay in The New Yorker by American historian Jill Lepore. Zakaria apologised and his suspension was revoked after six days.

Juggernaut’s co-founder, Chiki Sarkar, responded to Newslaundry‘s questions about the alleged plagiarism. This is Juggernaut’s statement in full:

The text of the book has been run through the world’s leading plagiarism website,, which found no evidence of plagiarism in the book. We can share the report with you.

The author has also assured us that he has not plagiarized in his book, which is based on substantial and extensive testimonies and interviews with participants, eye-witness accounts and primary documents and reports. The chapter his book, in which there is alleged plagiarism in three paragraphs,  has a great deal of new material which is not there in other accounts. But given that this is an account of actual events, it is inevitable that  in writing about the  sequence and descriptions  of events, in different accounts, there will be some similarity in different accounts.

We accept our author Sushant Singh’s explanation and stand by his assertion that he has not plagiarized in this book.

This piece has been updated with Juggernaut’s statement.


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