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Mainstream, VOL LI No 46, November 2, 2013

Nikhil — A Legend

Friday 1 November 2013, by Kuldip Nayar

The first time when I was introduced to Nikhil Chakravartty he was described as a Communist. This, however, turned out to be incorrect. No doubt, he was a Leftist but also a strong exponent of liberty and individual’s right which the communist ideology tends to minimise in the larger interest.

I found Nikhil fighting against the regime during the Emergency, although the Communist Party of India (CPI) was an ardent of supporter of Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, who had imposed it following her disqualification by the Allahabad High Court on the violation of poll laws. Nikhil not only wrote against the Emergency but shared the dias with me to denounce the Emergency.

Nikhil was present at the only meeting held at the Press Club of India in Delhi to pass a resolution against press censorship and other restrictions under the Emergency. He signed the petition which supported a resolution passed unanimously against the Emergency sent to the President and Prime Minister.

I recall that one day before I was detained, we were together on a selection board of the UPSC. He told me that I should remove any secret paper I had because he had received information that my house would be raided. True, the police knocked at my door early in the morning. Instead of the order for search, the inspector had the warrants of my arrest.

Nikhil was greatly upset because by then we had become close friends. He rang up my wife to ring him up if she needed anything. He was among the four who telephoned my wife during my detention. I admired his bold writings not only in the Mainstream, which he founded and edited, but also in other papers. He stood by the underdog and the marginalised. In a country where parochialism is so common on the basis of caste and religion, he stood like a rock against such tendencies. He would often visit my house and talk at length how the liberal thoughts enunciated during the national movement had got defeated. We wondered how the Congress-men who sacrificed all during the independence struggle against the British vied with one another for the loafs of office after freedom.

Nikhil was, no doubt, a Leftist but also pragmatic. He did not weigh every issue on the scales of ideology. He, unlike the CPI, kept in mind what was possible in the circumstances. He did not compromise but considered adequate one step further in the long journey to oust poverty. He was relentless in his fight against the vested interests and was, therefore, not liked by the corporate sector. That he was popular with the common run of people was the reward for his convictions.

I feel very proud that I came to know Nikhil in my life. One thing that I cherish is my friendship with him. His humility was endearing and his learning was commendable. He is an example for the young to emulate. Not many were like him. His forte was that he respected the thin line, which has got effaced today, between moral and immoral, right and wrong. He was a legend in his lifetime. As days go by, the legend is getting strengthened and quoted. I wish the Leftists of today would tear a leaf from his book. Without forsaking the ideology, he served it honestly and truly the cause of egalitarianism.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

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