Flagrant Foul on FT’s Joe Leahy and on Editors of Financial Times for Journalistic Misconduct and Religious Prejudice

On April 27, 2009, Joe Leahy,  Mumbai Bureau Chief of the Financial Times (of London), wrote an article titled “Mumbai campaign highlights extremist views”. The abstract of this article (on the main India page of the Newspaper),  begins  “Regionalism has evolved into a toxic mix of ethnic and religious hatred…”. (see www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9ead04f4-334d-11de-8f1b-00144feabdc0.html ).

Frankly, when we read this article, the ethnic and religious hatred we found was in the writings and perhaps the mind  of Joe Leahy.

To be fair to him, we tried to reach Joe Leahy via email. We wrote to him that we would like to speak with him to understand his point of view. We also tried to reach Chrystia Freeland, the US Managing Editor (after all we read the article in the US Edition) via voicemail and then via email. We did not hear from either Mr. Leahy or Ms. Freeland. Instead, we received an email response from Hugh Carnegy, Executive Editor of the Financial Times which we print later in this article.

We stress that we do not include every reporter of the Financial Times in our flagrant foul call, only Mr. Leahy and the Editors of the Financial Times (“FT“). Another FT reporter, James Lamont, put up a decent video clip on the FT website titled “Election in Varanasi”. Mr. Lamont specifically addresses “Terror, economic growth and communalism” as the hot topics of the election but does so in a fair and sensible manner without any religious bias or ethnic prejudice.

Let us be clear. We are neither supporters of Raj Thackeray, the villain of Joe Leahy’s article nor are we opponents of Raj Thackeray. We are simply outraged by what we believe to be biased reporting and religious prejudice in Mr. Leahy’s article.

We describe below how we reached this opinion and let our readers judge for themselves.

Main topic of Joe Leahy’s article & how he treats it

Joe Leahy discusses the views of Raj Thackeray, a prominent politician in Mumbai who is spearheading a drive to keep jobs in Mumbai for the local Mumbaikers, the Marathi people. Joe Leahy quotes Raj Thackeray as saying he “.. just wants to stop new migrants who undercut locals on jobs and add to the city’s vast slums.” Joe Leahy also quotes Mr. Thackeray as saying “The locals here should be fed first and then outsiders. And I think every state and every country has a similar policy”.

You could denounce Mr. Thackeray for this stand and many, many people in Mumbai have. But can Joe Leahy call this “extremism” and “ethnic hatred”?

  • We recall recent vociferous protests by British labor unions marching to slogans of “British Jobs for British people”. We do not recall the FT describing these protests as “extremist” or driven by “ethnic hatred”.

  • Recently, Irish labor unions demonstrated and forced 600 Latvian workers to leave Ireland because of “Irish jobs for the Irish” demand. Again, the FT did not describe these protests as “extremist” or driven by “ethnic hatred”.

  • Every one in America (including Chrystia Freeland, FT’s US Managing Editor) knows that CNN’s Lou Dobbs has made jobs protection as his main platform to the point of being demagogic on this topic. Lou Dobbs has been criticized by many Americans, including Tom Friedman of the New York Times. But, to our knowledge, the FT has never described the views of Lou Dobbs as “extremist” or as “driven by ethnic hatred”.

  • Last year, Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado used very strong language to describe Hispanic immigrants in the USA, language that Raj Thackeray has not used. Yet, to our knowledge, the FT has never called Congressman Tancredo’s views as “extremist” or driven by “ethnic hatred”.

Yet, on the same topic of “local jobs for local people”,  Joe Leahy sees no problem in describing Raj Thackeray’s views as “extremist” and driven by “ethnic hatred”.

This is a clear case of using different standards for European and American “offenders” and different standards for Indian “offenders”. This, in our opinion, is a clear case of Journalistic Misconduct and of Racial Prejudice on the part of Joe Leahy.

We wanted to ask Joe Leahy about this double standard but could not do so because he chose to not speak with us. Instead, Hugh Carnegy, Executive Editor of the Financial Times, wrote to us stating “In no way did it (Joe Leahy’s article), contravene any of the FT’s standards of journalistic practice..”.

In our opinion, the racially biased double standards of Joe Leahy and their unequivocal affirmation by FT’s Executive Editor deserves a flagrant foul on both Joe Leahy and the FT’s Editors for Journalistic Misconduct.  We ask our  readers to judge for themselves whether we are correct in making this call.

Gratuitous insertion of Religious Bias by Joe Leahy

For some reason known only to himself, Joe Leahy chose to insert religious bias into a purely economic story.

First insertion 

The majority of migrants from north India into Mumbai are Hindus. A large number, possibly the majority, of Raj Thackeray’s critics are also Hindus. But when you read Joe Leahy’s article, you get the impression that the migrants are Muslims and they are being terrorized by Hindus.

How does Joe Leahy do that? Subtly and subliminally. For example, Joe Leahy only quotes a Christian activist and a Muslim politician for the anti-Thackeray comments. He chooses not to quote a single Hindu critic of Raj Thackeray. This, by itself, is Journalistic Misconduct in our opinion.

If this were not enough, Joe Leahy then goes direct by quoting the Muslim politician as saying “Muslims are not getting justice here”.

This is how Joe Leahy treats a topic that is mainly economic in nature and a topic in which both sides are predominantly Hindu. 

In our opinion,  Joe Leahy has gone out of his way to insert a deliberate anti-Hindu bias into an economic story. We feel that this is a case of Journalistic Misconduct and Journalistic Malpractice.

Second insertion 

Joe Leahy devotes a paragraph to describe the religious riots of the early 1990s. He writes about the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in those riots in Mumbai . He does not mention that those riots were sparked when a small group of extremist Muslims burnt an innocent Hindu family alive in their own home. Such incidents have historically sparked religious riots all across India.

About five months ago, several hundred Mumbaikers were killed by Pakistani Muslim attackers in a wanton, barbaric attack. The vast majority of the victims were Hindus. We find it instructive that Joe Leahy chooses to bring up a riot that took place in Mumbai over 15 years ago but he does not even remotely touch on the killings of hundreds of Hindus merely 5 months ago.

Joe Leahy uses the 1990s riots to denigrate the Marathi people and some of its leaders like Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray as anti-Muslim (these two leaders are political opponents and head different parties). This riot is the basis of Joe Leahy’s description of Mumbai as a city of “religious hatred”.

Joe Leahy does not bother to point out that, the same Bal and Raj Thackerays behaved with restraint after the Mumbai attack in November 2008 or that their organizations preached religious harmony in Mumbai after the attack. This was not just true of the Thackerays but of all Mumbaikers. We were in Mumbai at that time and we felt proud of our Mumbai heritage.

So we firmly and unequivocally reject Joe Leahy’s description of Mumbai as a place of “religious hatred”. 

We would also like to point out to Joe Leahy and the British editors of the FT that, it was the British Police who murdered an innocent Brazilian student in London after the London subway attacks a few years ago. It is the British police, we hear, that are currently treating the Muslim community in England as religious pariahs and subjecting them to harsh treatment.

Quite possibly, Joe Leahy and the British editors of the FT feel that the deaths of British civilians in London are much more important than the deaths of several hundred Mumbaikers in November 2008. This is our conjecture and we wanted to find out from Joe Leahy whether this is what he believes. But, he chose to not speak with us.

In any case, his article makes it clear that Joe Leahy considers the killings of hundreds of Hindus 5 months ago far less worthy of comment than the killings of hundreds of Muslims in a religious riot over 15 years ago.

In our opinion, the article of Joe Leahy reflects anti-Hindu prejudice and a deliberate  insertion of this prejudice into his article. The Executive Editor of the Financial Times, Hugh Carnegy, writes to us that “In no way did” this behavior of Joe Leahy, “contravene any of the FT’s standards of journalistic practice,”.

This, in our opinion, calls for a flagrant foul on both Joe Leahy and the FT’s Editors for Religious Prejudice, Journalistic Misconduct and Journalistic Malpractice.

Joe Leahy crosses the line

Religious prejudice does not usually feel satisfied with defaming one act or even a series of acts. True prejudice towards a religion feels sated only when it vilifies a central figure of that religion. You see this frequently in certain religion-haters in the Western media who feel obligated to vilify the Scriptures or the Prophets of the religion they hate.

We feel this is exactly what Joe Leahy did in his article. The single most revered figure in Marathi history is Chhatrapati Shivaji or Emperor Shivaji (Chhatrapati is the Sanskrut title of Crowned Emperor), popularly known as Shivaji Maharaj (or the Great King Shivaji).

Joe Leahy may not know much of Indian history and he may not understand the greatness of Shivaji Maharaj. But, Joe Leahy, the Mumbai Bureau Chief of the Financial Times, would have to be tone deaf and illiterate to not know the deep reverence in which Shivaji Maharaj is held in Mumbai.

He knows it fully well and that is why, in pursuit of his own religious bias, he vilified Shivaji Maharaj, by linking India’s 17th century freedom struggle with the current, purely local campaign of Raj Thackeray.

Read what Joe Leahy writes “Like Shivaji, who terrorised the Muslim Mughal kings who came from central Asia to conquer India, ..”. Let us stop right here and examine this clause.

How does any rational, unbiased reporter describe fighting foreign invaders as “terrorising”? Had George Washington “terrorised” the English King, Lord Cornwallis and other British Generals when he fought against British rule in America? Would Hugh Carnegy and other FT editors support such a “terrorising” description if Joe Leahy used it for George Washington?

We think not. So why did Joe Leahy do that? Because he was trying to build an association with Raj Thackeray’s actions with India’s freedom struggle of Shivaji Maharaj.

Then Joe Leahy intentionally diminishes Shivaji Maharaj when he describes him as “a 17th century Hindu warrior king and hero of the Marathis, the indigenous people of Maharashtra state, whose capital is Mumbai”.

Either Joe Leahy is ignorant or he feigns ignorance. We remind Joe Leahy th
at Gaga-Bhatt, the most respected Religious Scholar from Varanasi, the north Indian city that was India’s seat of scholarship, came down to Maharashtra to persuade Shivaji Maharaj to become a Crowned Emperor. Gaga-Bhatt advised Shivaji Maharaj that his coronation was critical for the freedom of all of India from the despotic Talebani rule of Aurangzeb, Mughal ruler of Delhi.

Gaga-Bhatt then presided over the coronation of Shivaji Maharaj and bestowed upon him the title of Chhatrapati – Crowned Emperor of India. Gaga-Bhatt proved to be correct. The coronation of Shivaji Maharaj inspired all of India. North Indians like Chatrasal Bundela came down to meet Shivaji Maharaj and, with his blessings, began their own struggle against Mughal rule.

At that time, Bhushan, the greatest poet in North India, rejected Aurangzeb’s riches and came down to meet Shivaji Maharaj. In words that remain immortal, he wrote “Shivaji Na Hota, To Hoti Sabki Sunta” (Had Shivaji not been, all of India would have been converted to Islam). 

According to social historians, had India gone from foreign Muslim Mughal rule directly to foreign Christian English rule, Indian Culture, Indian Asmita or Self-Esteem would have been permanently destroyed. The coronation of Shivaji as Chhatrapati and the rise of the Marathi Empire broke the foreign Afghan-Turkmeni Muslim domination of Indian society and gave India the strength to fight the foreign Christian British rule that began much later.

These are but a couple of historical facts to demonstrate to Joe Leahy that Shivaji Maharaj was not just a king and hero of the Marathi people, but a revered hero for all of India.

This is one reason why we asserted that Joe Leahy’s article was based on ignorance.

We felt we were being charitable when we only accused Joe Leahy of being ignorant. We do not understand how Hugh Carnegy, Executive Editor of the Financial Times, could reject our assertion about Joe Leahy’s ignorance of history. We will let our readers decide whether Hugh Carnegy was being honest when he rejected our assertion.

We firmly feel that Joe Leahy’s gratuitous linkage of Shivaji’s war for Indian freedom to Raj Thackeray’s economic campaign to protect local Mumbaiker jobs is a reflection of Joe Leahy’s religious bias. It is therefore, in our opinion, a clear act of Journalistic Misconduct and Journalistic Malpractice.

A brief lesson on Chhatrapati Shivaji

By the 17th century, all of India was ruled by descendants of Muslim invaders from central Asia and Afghanistan. The various Hindu Sardars or Warrior Chiefs served the Muslim kings, whether the powerful Mughal ruler of Delhi or the regional Muslim sultanates in the South.

Shivaji, the son of such a Warrior chief, took an oath at the tender age of 16 to establish an Indian empire. He united the many feuding Marathi warrior chiefs and established a kingdom. What made this different was it’s mission of freedom for India rather than glory for one king and the ability of Shivaji Maharaj to inspire a whole people.

Shivaji Maharaj practiced religious tolerance and freedom. Muslims served in his army and were made Sardars. But these were Indian Muslims and not foreign Afghan invaders. Shivaji’s rule did not adhere to the caste system and in deed, provided unprecedented upward social mobility to less fortunate sections of society, like shepherds and peasants.  

Finally, after Shivaji Maharaj had passed away, the Mughal King Aurangzeb came down to Maharashtra with the bulk of his huge army to crush the Marathi kingdom. Instead,the Marathi people destroyed Aurangzeb’s army and he died in Maharashtra.

The Marathi Empire grew in strength and by 1758, it controlled 80% of today’s India (orange area in the map below). The vision of Shivaji Maharaj was inherited and cherished by every Marathi ruler that followed him. This is why the Marathi Empire always considered its sacred duty to defend North India from Afghan invasions.


  • On one hand, you have the sacred historical Marathi mission to throw the Afghan invaders back into Afghanistan and to defend North India against future Afghan attacks, and
  • On the other hand, you have Mr. Raj Thackeray’s purely economic campaign to protect Mumbai jobs for Mumbaikers.

Yet, Joe Leahy artificially and deliberately manufactures a common link between these two campaigns. This is rank misconduct and malpractice in our opinion.  


              (Shivaji Maharaj)                     (Orange – Marathi Empire, Green – Durrani-Afghan Empire, Blue NW – English)

                                                                                 (source wikipedia)

When Ahmed Shah Abdali, the King of the Durrani empire of Afghanistan (green area in the map above) invaded North India, it was a Marathi Army that marched from Pune (120 km from Mumbai) to defend North India. In the world’s bloodiest war of the 18th century, Abdali won the battle of Panipat but lost his empire in the battle’s aftermath. This battle marked the end of Afghans as a threat to North India.

The Marathi Empire lost the battle it had nearly won and suffered massive casualties. It is important to note that the most important general on the Marathi side was Ibrahim Khan, an Indian Muslim. Ibrahim Khan was captured in the battle, brutally tortured and killed by Abdali.

Within two years, the Marathi Army marched back into Delhi and the Mughal king became a protectorate of the Marathi Empire. The Muslim invaders from central asia had finally become India’s suzerain.

The internal conflicts of the Marathi Chiefs in later decades weakened the Marathi Empire. That allowed the British to slowly creep up by allying with weak princes in the north until the Marathi Empire broke up.

There is no doubt in our mind that Joe Leahy is utterly ignorant about this extremely important period of Indian History. That is why we made our assertion that Joe Leahy’s article was based on ignorance.

Again, we fail to understand the basis on which Hugh Carnegy, Executive Editor of the Financial Times, chose to reject our assertion about Joe Leahy’s ignorance of history. We will let our readers decide whether Hugh Carnegy was being honest when he did so.

Could it simply be that both Joe Leahy and Hugh Carnegy feel that India’s history really began with the British?

Concluding paragraph of Joe Leahy’s article

We all know that the easiest way in the West to vilify a leader, his culture and religion is to link him with Adolf Hitler. That is what Joe Leahy does in his concluding paragraph .

He quotes Raj Thackeray as saying “Now whether it is Adolf Hitler or Mahatma Gandhi, I respect and appreciate both in equal measure. I respect [Hitler] for his love for his country and not for the extermination of Jews. I respect him for his development work”.

Well, that does it. Every reader in America, England and elsewhere in the west automatically writes off Raj Thackeray as a crazy man, a fanatic or both.

But Joe Leahy fails in the true mission of a good reporter, to put all relevant facts before his readers.

Joe Leahy fails to point out that, the majority of Indian supporters of Israel are also admirers of certain qualities of Hitler. Joe Leahy also fails to point out that Hitler initially provided crucial support to India’s freedom struggle against the British rule; that Hitler gave a German submarine to Netaji Bose to transport him to Japan and introduced him to General Tojo of Japan. There, Netaji Bose, with Japan’s help, built “Azad Hind Sena” or the Free India Army which fought the British army all the way across China to Kohima, in today’s north-western India. By that time, Japan was losing the war and the supply lines of the Free India Army could not be maintained.

Historians believe that the emergence of the Free India Army finally broke England’s hold on the British-led Indian Army. Without the loyalty of the Indian Army, the British rule was finally over.

Was Joe Leahy ignorant of this history Or did he conveniently omit it to paint Thackeray with the Hitlerian brush?

  • The first case would prove our assertion about Joe Leahy’s ignorance and
  • The second would make our case about Joe Leahy’s inherent prejudice.

In either case, we feel Joe Leahy’s behavior reeks of Journalistic Misconduct and Journalistic Malpractice.

Again, we fail to understand Hugh Carnegy’s unequivocal affirmation of Joe Leahy’s article. This is why we believe a flagrant foul deserves to be called on the editors of the Financial Times.

Summary of our case against Joe Leahy’s article and its affirmation by Hugh Carnegy, Executive Editor of FT

In our opinion, we have shown that following claims can be made against Joe Leahy and his article:

  • Biased Reporting
  • Insertion of his own Religious Prejudice into an economic story
  • Ignorance of History or Deliberate, Prejudicial omission of relevant historical facts
  • Manufactured Vilification of Historical figures to fit his prejudiced conclusion.

We wanted to speak with Joe Leahy to get his point of view and to speak with Chrystia Freeland for her editorial comment. Neither responded to our requests. Instead, we received an email from Hugh Carnegy, Executive Editor of the Financial Times.

After the initial salutations, this email stated “We firmly reject your assertion that Joe Leahy’s story was based on ignorance or in any way reflected religious bias. In no way did it contravene any of the FT’s standards of journalistic practice, which are based on the UK Press Commission’s code of conduct.”

This unequivocal affirmation of Joe Leahy’s article leads us to conclude that the Editors of the Financial Times are both complicit in and accessory to Joe Leahy’s misconduct. 

Therefore, in our opinion, a flagrant foul needs to be called on FT’s Joe Leahy and on the Editors of the Financial Times for Journalistic Misconduct, Journalistic Malpractice and Religious Prejudice.

We believe we have described in detail how we reached our opinion.

We still fail to understand the basis for Hugh Carnegy’s rejection of our opinion. In the tradition of this Blog, we invite Joe Leahy, Chrystia Freeland, Hugh Carnegy or any other FT spokesperson to describe their views in detail. We will print their response verbatim.

Then our readers can judge for themselves.

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