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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 8, February 13, 2010

On ‘Pokhran-II Debate’ in Mainstream

Thursday 18 February 2010


The manner in which your publication Mainstream of December 5, 2009 has reproduced my article that had appeared in the fortnightly news magazine Frontline of the Hindu Group of Publications, dated September 25, 2009, is upsetting and deeply annoying to say the least. This was clearly with the purpose of publishing alongside the rejoinder to the article by K. Santhanam, Ashok Parthasarathi and P.K. Iyengar. You would agree that it makes proper sense for the authors KS, AP and PKI to publish their article in the columns of the magazine Frontline itself. I wonder if you had tried to find out why they did not do so. I would like to enlighten you on this since it would seem that you are not aware of the facts of the case.

On October 14 two of the above three authors, KS and AP, had submitted a slight variant of the article that you have published to The Hindu, the daily. This was a combined rejoinder to my two articles that had been published in the issues of The Hindu and Frontline of September 25, 2009. Their article was, however, rejected for, as I am given to understand, “a very good reason: its unacceptable tone and content”.

The authors are, of course, free to criticise my articles elsewhere. Indeed, they did publish a rejoinder to The Hindu article in the daily The Tribune dated November 11, 2009. I could not have had any objection if you had merely provided space for their criticism of my Frontline piece. (Of course, this time KS and AP have been joined by PKI in what is essentially the same as what they had submitted to The Hindu.) But I consider your decision to publish my original piece as well as highly unethical on two counts.

One, which is serious, is that I have learnt that you had not sought the permission of the Hindu Group to reproduce the article. Since this was not a mere reproduction of an arbitrary article, with due acknowledgement given (as is often done by many publications), but had been reproduced with a specific editorial purpose in mind, I would imagine that ethics of publication demand that.

Two, the rejection of their piece by The Hindu was following my point-by-point rebuttal of their critique, something that I did not get an opportunity to do when you chose to publish their article in your columns.

I would be grateful if you can publish this letter in your magazine’s columns. In any case I do hope to hear from you in this regard.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

R. Ramachandran

(Associate Editor,

New Delhi Frontline)

P.S.: I am having a hard copy of this e-letter, with my signature, sent to your office.

Editor’s Reply: We fail to understand the points of criticism in the letter and why R. Ramachandran is feeling offended. Firstly, we felt that publishing the article entitled “Pokhran Row” exactly as it appeared in Frontline of September 25, 2009 alongside the comments of Iyengar, Parthasarathi and Santhanam (IPS) on the article—it is not exactly a “rejoinder” as has been mentioned in Ramachandran’s communication—would enable the reader to get a complete picture of the issues involved and commented upon by IPS. We fail to see why or how our sincere attempt to enable the reader avail Ramachandran’s Frontline article in full in Mainstream should have been “upsetting and deeply annoying to say the least”. We felt and continue to feel strongly that we have done full justice to Ramachandran.

As to why IPS did not publish their article in the columns of Frontline, we did ask them about this and they said the Frontline editor-in-chief N. Ram had refused to publish it on the ground that the criticisms in the IPS article were “baseless”.

In regard to the points made in the second paragraph of Ramachandran’s e-letter, we have come to learn that what PS had submitted to The Hindu on October 14, 2009 was not an article, but two separate pieces—one, a rejoinder to Ramachandran’s September 25, 2009 article in The Hindu and the other a slight variant, as Ramachandran mentions, of the ‘article’ (actually comments and questions on Ramachandran’s piece). It is the latter which we published in our December 5, 2009 issue. Both pieces were rejected by The Hindu for their “unacceptable tone and content”, as mentioned by Ramachandran. However, we did not find any such reason
for rejecting the piece submitted by the authors to Mainstream. Moreover, the impeccable credentials of all the three authors do not bear repetition.

It needs to be also noted that the rebuttal article by AP and KS has been published not only by The Tribune, Chandigarh but also the Business Standard, New Delhi. The editors of those reputed dailies apparently did not share The Hindu’s “very good reason” not to publish the rejoinder either on its merits or on the fact that the original article had not been published in those newspapers themselves. As for Mainstream, we decided to carry both the pieces under the heading ‘Pokhran-II Debate’ because we sincerely desire threadbare discussion on the issues involved. That is what a free press is all about and to uphold that very press freedom Mainstream had fought so hard against the press censorship imposed during the Emergency in the mid-1970s.

As for Ramachandran’s two counts of allegedly “highly unethical” action by Mainstream, let us take up the first one first. The allegation that Ramachandran’s Frontline article was reproduced with a “specific editorial purpose in mind” is a mere figment of imagination. We reiterate that our action in reproducing the article “Pokhran Row” was not only not unethical but entirely in the readers’ interest, and that alone was the “editorial purpose”. On the question of seeking the permission of the Hindu Group to reproduce the Frontline article, we have reproduced and continue to reproduce—of course, with due acknowledgement (which was done in the case of Ramachandran’s one as well)—articles from a wide range of newspapers and magazines on a whole host of subjects. None has ever accused us of indulging in a “highly unethical” practice for not seeking prior permission of the concerned periodicals for doing so. (In fact, former President R. Venkataraman once told the Mainstream editor that these are public property once they are published; and hence acknowledgement is only necessary for their reproduction.) In fact as in the case of the Frontline article on the Pokhran-II thermo-nuclear test, we adopted precisely the same procedure in regard to the 123 Agreement— an article by G. Balachandran, entitled “Renegotiate What?” and published in The Indian Express, New Delhi of July 22, 2008, was reproduced in the Mainstream issue of August 9, 2008 with due acknowledgement and it was followed immediately thereafter by a lengthy rejoinder by Ashok Parthasarathi, entitled “Renegotiate What in the 123?—An Enormous Amount!”, in the same issue. No permission of the editor of The Indian Express, let alone the IE Group was ever sought by us prior to doing so. And yet, to this day none in the IE has objected to our having done so, much less accused Mainstream of engaging in a “highly unethical”act.

As for the second count of our decision to publish Ramachandran’s original Frontline article being “highly unethical”, why The Hindu rejected both the KS and AP pieces is known only to its editor. Whether it was due to Ramachandran’s “point-by-point rebuttal” of their (AP and KS)’s critique or for some other reason(s) is also to known him alone. We have here only Ramachandran’s claim/assertion. We did not even know of such a claim/assertion when we decided to publish the IPS piece. How could we? It was purely an internal matter within the Hindu Group. So, accusing us of doing something we had no knowledge of is totally inappropriate. Moreover, the decision of the Mainstream editor to publish the IPS piece cannot be made subject to an OK from the author of the article being critiqued. This is totally unheard of in quality journalism. The editor-in-chief of the Hindu Group did not give IPS an opportunity to comment on Ramachandran’s “point-by-point rebuttal” of their article. However, if Ramachandran furnishes his point- by-point refutation of IPS’ arguments for publication in Mainstream, we shall gladly do so.

It must also be pointed out that Ramachandran’s e-letter reached us via the NDTV office in New Delhi. Obviously it was sent to the NDTV office to be forwarded to Mainstream. Why the letter was sent in this round-about way instead of directly using the Mainstream e-mail ( is quite puzzling, to say the least.

One last point: despite Ramachandran’s assertion in the postscript of the e-letter, the hard copy of the letter, bearing his signature, has not yet reached the Mainstream office.

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