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Jaswant, not-so original

Jaswant, not-so original

Author: C M Naim
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 01, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/jaswant-notso-original/509756/0

The author of Jinnah: India - Partition - Independence, Jaswant Singh, and its publisher, R K Mehra, have taken pains to convince the book's readers that it is a piece of meticulous research.

"It has taken me five years," Singh states in his introduction, "to write, rewrite, check, cross-check, seemingly an endless process." He also mentions a research team that assisted him in the task, highlighting the persons whose particular whose help was invaluable to him.

As for the publisher, R K Mehra of Rupa & Co., he said in an interview: "It's a well-researched and professionally handled academic work..." Then he added, "Our editors had diligently scanned the manuscript in its entirety..."

The book may have been 'researched' by an assiduous team, but the book carries Singh's name as its author. He is responsible for everything included in it. Further, by putting his name on the cover, Singh lays claim to the authorship of all the book's contents, unless otherwise indicated - i.e. properly ascribed to someone and duly acknowledged as a quotation. Similarly, the job of any book editor or publisher worth the name is to ensure accuracy and consistency in the text, and a full acknowledgment of other people's wherever needed.

Sad to say, that is not the case here. I have found several cases in the footnotes and endnotes where huge chunks have been copied word-for-word from some source available on the web, with absolutely no acknowledgment of the source.

(When The Indian Express contacted Mehra, he declined to comment on the lifting of text while Jaswant Singh was unavailable for comment. When contacted, IAS officer and former aide to the author, Raghvendra Singh, thanked by Singh in the acknowledgments as "relentlessly searching out new books, new sources and references," said: "What can I say?").

o On pages 481-2, there is a long (19 lines), erudite note on the Canadian scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Besides being totally irrelevant, it is a verbatim copy of a note that is available on the web at the following link: http://www.as.ua.edu/rel/aboutrelbiowcsmith.html. The site belongs to the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Alabama; the biographical statement on Smith was authored by its Department of Religious Studies.

o On page 588, the long (34 lines), equally erudite note on Benedict Anderson and his book, Imagined Communities, is a meticulous copy of what is available on the web at the site set up by "The Nationalism Project." Its html is: www.nationalismproject.org/what/anderson.htm.

o Page 623 contains a note (20 lines) on the Muddiman Committee. Singh or his research team has stolen it word for word from the "Banglapedia" on the web. The copyright for it belongs to the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Amazingly, the same note is duplicated on page 630, unnoticed by the vigilant editors at Rupa & Co.

o On page 633, the author has included a note on Ramsay Macdonald; it runs to 25 lines, and faithfully copies what the Indian National Congress has placed on the web under the heading "British Friends of India." It can be looked up at www.congress.org.in/british-friends-of-india.php.

o On pages 634-5, the author has presented a long note on A K Fazlul Haq. Its 38 lines were originally written by someone for the "Story of Pakistan" project. One can find it on the web at: www.story of pakistan.com

Let me reiterate that none of the above carries any indication that it was not authored by Jaswant Singh. I'm confident that more searches of the kind I did, using key words or sentences, will turn up many more such examples in the endnotes and also elsewhere.

I am sure that both Singh and Mehra will describe the above as "inadvertent lapses," and call my exercise "nitpicking." In most countries of the world, however, the same "lapses" will be called plagiarism.

- The author is Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, and a National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.

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