Bofors source revealed by The Hindu Editor N.Ram?

N. Ram, a former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, whose efforts in exposing high-level corruption in the Bofors deal in 1989 were recently recognized by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, seems to have indirectly revealed his source after 25 years. In an interview given to the livemint.com, he doesn’t deny or confirm whether Sten Lindstrom, was the man who he termed as ‘highly privileged & authoritative Swedish’ source, who released the Bofors Deal documents. N. Ram said:

I am not going to confirm or deny who the source was. For us, protecting the highly privileged, authoritative source was, and is, important, a matter of journalistic integrity and honour. Nobody other than the few who needed to know within the newspaper ever asked me who the source was— not Mohan Katre, the CBI director who flew in to meet me in Chennai, not defence minister K.C. Pant, who met me and spoke off the record, not Rajiv Gandhi, who discussed Bofors with me, at his request, in mid-1988.

But I’m sure the Indian government and some of the others involved in the affair had their suspicions, from the nature and irrefutable authenticity of the documents published by The Hindu. We always made it clear that the documents were given to us by a privileged, authoritative source in Sweden; and that formulation was in agreement with the source. I can’t answer to purported rumours that “did the rounds in Delhi’s political circles” a quarter of a century ago. I never heard them at the time but if the rumours indeed went around, they didn’t emanate from us.

To another question whether he and Lindstrom have a disagreement about when the stories would be published, he said (as if Lindstrom was his source): 

Not once during the period of the investigation did our source have or express any disagreement about the timing of publication of our document-backed Bofors stories. In fact, the boot is on the other foot. Our privileged source in Sweden was not willing to give the entire documentation in possession to us. So it was a process of negotiating over a period of about one and a half years with the source. The source was, for whatever reason, not willing to part with the document cache in one go, and would only give it in phased-out instalments over this long period. This certainly added to the drama and the feeling of high insecurity, if not paranoia, that had seized key functionaries in the government and the ruling party, the Congress.

There was no question of the newspaper publishing the documents and other information arbitrarily, as and when we pleased. We were not fools to hold back material without due cause and incur the risk of letting others run away with our story! In a story with such big stakes, involving a great newspaper’s credibility and people’s reputations, there was a need for due diligence, for devil’s advocacy, for making connections and drawing inferences, for being fair and just. We needed to translate—accurately—some of the material from Swedish. As for the Ardbo diary—which the police had seized and returned to him, preserving only photocopies—it presented a tough challenge.

Some of the handwritten diary entries made explosive suggestions but these were semi-coded, using initials and sometimes misspelling key names. What I can say about our source, for whom I have nothing but warm appreciation and goodwill, is that the motivation for leaking the highly confidential, privileged documents was moral outrage, that no financial transactions of any kind took place between leaker and recipient, and that the source took a big professional and legal risk. We were always aware of this risk and were consequently highly protective of the source’s identity. We left no fingerprints and our data security methods, I’m pleased to say, worked without a hitch. No one outside our newspaper and our trusted translators (from the Swedish) got their hands on any of the documents before they appeared in print in The Hindu.

One thing though is contrary to what N. Ram told the interviewer (“We were not fools to hold back material without due cause and incur the risk of letting others run away with our story! “) and a reader point out very rightly with a question too,  is :

When Kasturi, as editor held back one story on the ground there was nothing new in it, Ram gave it to all other newspapers. And as he himself admits, the Hindu stopped the expose in October 1989, that is after Rajiv lost power and V P Singh Government assumed office. Now it was up to the new government to carry on the investigation, he contended. Then, wasn’t the expose agenda driven? 

Read the full interview by Nikhil Kanekal : http://www.livemint.com/2012/04/25231225/N-Ram–Rumours-didn8217t.html

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