- NL Sena
It would require an incredible amount of planetary and celestial body alignment for his publisher Juggernaut to explain this away as a coincidence.
In mid-2003, I had written an article titled “Descent into Danger: The Jaffna University Helidrop” about the IAF participation in the 1987 Jaffna raid in Sri Lanka on the Bharat Rakshak site. It was based on an interview done with Gp Capt Vinay Raj (Retd). The article is available on web.archive.org.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine texted me about this new book he was reading—Mission Overseas Daring Operations by the Indian Military – Untold True Stories—written by Sushant Singh, deputy editor at the Indian Express and published by Juggernaut books. Mission Overseas had three sections, one of which was about the Jaffna Raid. I recently purchased a copy of the book and started reading it.
Sushant Singh had interviewed veterans and had built a very detailed and exhaustive account of the ground battle and operations. As I read the chapter and came to where the helicopter operations actually began, I had a nagging feeling that I had read it before. It all sounded very familiar—too familiar. Sentences and sequences of words had an uncanny resemblance to what I myself had written years ago.
Could Sushant have borrowed from my article? It’s possible, authors do refer to secondary sources frequently. Fair enough—as long as they are referenced or acknowledged. I was half expecting a mention or a reference somewhere and went on with the reading. I began to flip between pages, to see if there were any footnotes, endnotes or references, but there were none. I jumped to the back of the book to the acknowledgements section and read it word by word—no references to the original article or Bharat Rakshak.
I then decided to do a side by side comparison of the book with the article I wrote in 2003. I wanted to see how much of common ground we had both covered. After just three examples, the similarities between the text, the sequence of sentences and words stood out. It was too much for me to ignore.
This was a letdown. A well-acclaimed book, well-researched in most parts (the ground battles), lauded in the press—but it appeared to borrow research, actually paraphrased text, from my article and made no mention of it? There had to be an explanation.
I wrote a Facebook post, in a private group—I would not call it venting, it was more of a wry post—perhaps looking for acknowledgement from my fellow aviation historians that I was not entirely out of my mind. This was my original private post:
A few days later, OpIndia picked up a screenshot of what I posted and published an article about it. I found it amusing that a Facebook post of mine was important enough for someone to write a public article about it.
Around the same time, Newslaundry got in touch wanting to get to the bottom of this. At first, I held out, suggesting that they should get a response from the author and publisher first. They did reach out to the author and to Juggernaut. After Newslaundry confirmed that there was no response from their sides, I agreed to share my thoughts and Newslaundry published this piece.
The clarification from Juggernaut
Within hours, Juggernaut sent Newslaundry the following statement:
“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.”
There is no question that there has been substantial research and interviews with the participants, and there is new material that is not there in other accounts. What Juggernaut missed is that the comparisons go much beyond mere “similarities” and much beyond three paragraphs. There are multiple paragraphs with the same sequence of words in sentences that would require an incredible amount of planetary and celestial body alignment for them to be explained away as a coincidence.
Comparing the ‘paragraphs’
To spell out what I am talking about, I am laying out the “similarities” here. The paragraphs appear in the same sequence in which they appeared in the original article online. And while words have been changed a little, many sentences and sequences of words still ended up untouched. Featured here are the paragraphs in general, and the highlighted portions show the sentences and the words in particular that are almost a 100 per cent match. All the text shown here are from Pages 96-110 of Mission Overseas. I have also included number counts for the paragraphs used. I am not counting the number of sentences that ended up in the final text word-to-word.
Are we still counting? Will Juggernaut be issuing an amended clarification that will update the number from three to 13? Maybe I am being harsh on Juggernaut—they are not subject matter experts and it is always good to see a publisher support their author. But is it too much to expect that they would make some effort to reach out to me for clarification? I am not hard to find—if Newslaundry could, Juggernaut can. Hey, I even tweeted to them.
Look, I get it. Authors (I am one too) do get attached to their books. They are like our babies. Agreed, books like these cannot be a solitary effort. We all build upon the work of others, we stand on the shoulders of stalwarts—professionals and amateurs alike—who came before us with their own research and we weave an improved story. We acknowledge the help of “others”. These “others” include amateur historians—who do it as a hobby, who spend money out of their pockets, and find time out of their regular 9-5 jobs to pursue something they love.
I use footnotes, endnotes, an extensive bibliography and personal acknowledgements to keep track of the research I have used from other resources. There is no doubt that people will occasionally miss a few. But when pointed out, there is usually an effort to acknowledge that and a promise to remediate. Doubling down, as Juggernaut has done, makes no sense.
Mission Overseas does not provide any references, footnotes, endnotes or a bibliography. I have to take Sushant’s word that it was entirely his own research that the Jaffna Helicopter operations account was based on. That he had a different source for the bits about the heliborne operations. And I have to take Juggernaut’s word that it is not plagiarism in their dictionary. That is just one incredible coincidence that both of us ended up writing the same sequence of paragraphs with the same sprinkling of words and sentences.
Juggernaut also stated the following:
“The text of the book has been run through the world’s leading plagiarism website, Turnitin.com, which found no evidence of plagiarism in the book. We can share the report with you.”
I was reminded of a story I read in the late 80s. In the 1971 war, (late) Squadron Leader D.S. Jafa, who was shot down and taken POW, was interrogated repeatedly by the Pakistanis as well as the US Defence Advisor, Brig Gen Chuck Yeager. Yeager wanted to know the secret behind the accurate navigation employed by the Indian Air Force pilots—was it a new kind of navigation computer? Some secret Russian guidance system? Jafa, after getting frustrated with this line of questioning retorted back: “The only assistance Indian pilots had was a compass in the cockpit and the Eyeball Mk 1 in our heads!”
Eyeball Mk 1! Maybe that is what we need to use to assess all this, instead of depending on websites and computers to spit out the answer.