Suleman Din in New York
Who is Alex Perry?
That is the question that everyone wants answered in India right now, after a column written by him for Time magazine portrayed Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in an unflattering light.
'Vajpayee's stewardship is looking less and less comforting,' Perry wrote in an article that first appeared in the latest issue of Time Asia. 'The frail bachelor seems shaky and lost, less an aging sage than an ordinary old man.'
The article questioned Vajpayee's leadership, especially in a time when the subcontinent is seen by the rest of the world as teetering on the brink of nuclear war.
The reaction in India has been loud and angry. BJP workers in Mumbai burnt copies of the magazine, calling it 'yellow journalism.' Indian journalists have also heaped scorn on Perry and Time.
Chandan Mitra, editor of the Delhi-based newspaper The Pioneer, called Perry's article 'supercilious, patronizing, white-supremacist, flippant and crassly ill-mannered.' He suggested that the article was driven by a motive.
'Vajpayee is far from sick,' Mitra wrote in a column soon after Perry's piece was published. 'If anybody is sick it is the tribe of scribes that trots out such disgusting pieces of writing in the name of "investigative journalism." '
Even government officials are going out of their way to comment. Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said the Time article was part of a conspiracy by those forces hostile to India.
Time, though, will have none of the controversy.
"Alex Perry is an outstanding journalist, with 12 years of international news experience," said Ty Trippet, New York spokesman for the publication, to rediff. "We stand by Alex and our story."
The Pioneer reported that the Indian government was to start an investigation into Perry's trips in and out of the country. The newspaper reported that he had traveled on two different passports while landing and taking off from the country.
Perry was traveling on a British passport, rediff was told, and that British passport holders are issued different booklets with different numbers when traveling. "It was totally legal," a source said.
Perry was still in New Delhi as of Wednesday, though his whereabouts were unknown. He was aware of the controversy his piece had ignited, but said he was not going to change his reporting at all.
Trippet said Time editors were taking "the necessary precautions," to ensure Perry's safety in India. He did not say if Perry would be reassigned. "He covers a range of stories on the region," Trippet said. "He'll write about whatever story we feel appropriate putting him on."
While no follow-up story has been planned, Trippet said Time has already published a response to Perry's article from the Indian government.
Perry was recently made Time's New Delhi bureau chief. Before coming to India, he reported a number of stories from Afghanistan.
Among those stories was a first-person account -- he was the first journalist to enter Mazar-I-Sharif after it fell to the Taliban -- to the massacre of 300 Taliban at Sultan Raziya School and broke the story of CIA agent Mike Spann's death in the prison uprising at Qala-i-Jangi.
In March, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund honored him for his Afghanistan reporting with the Joseph L Galloway War Correspondents Award.
Perry, a native of Britain, joined Time as a staff writer and travel editor in Hong Kong in February 2001. He now covers news across South Asia, as well as Central Asia and Burma. Before joining Time, Perry was an editor for the news agency Agence France-Presse at its Asian headquarters in Hong Kong.
This is not the first time that Perry's commentary has garnered the wrath of a foreign government. Last September, he wrote a piece on an anti-vice drive in Bangkok, in which he questioned the seriousness of the Thai government's intentions.
In response to Perry's 'projected skepticism,' Thai information director-general Norachit Sinhaseni wrote to the magazine: 'It appears that Time magazine has published several articles containing unfavorable views towards the current administration since it assumed office.'
Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun, the target of Perry's article, commented that, 'We have to look into Time to see how well-meaning it is to Thailand.'
Indian Ambassador-at-large for NRIs Bhishma Agnihotri took a similar tone in a letter to Time editors protesting Perry's latest column.
'It is beyond my comprehension why ... Time is taking the trouble to equate India and Pakistan and denigrate a world leader Prime Minister Vajpayee in such derogatory terms,' Agnihotri wrote.
Journalists unhappy with Time article on PM
BJP activists burn copies of Time
Samata condemns Time article on PM
PMO sends rejoinder to Time article on Vajpayee
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