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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 6, January 31, 2015 - Republic Day Special

Tribute to B.G. Verghese: A Thorough Gentleman

Saturday 31 January 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Even after consuming reams and reams of paper, I would fail to describe Boobli George Verghese. Yet one word will suffice to portray him: Gentleman! He was a true Christian in faith and deed. He was a man of values who did his best to stay objective and humane in life as well in profession.

The first time I met George was more than 50 years ago when he was officiating as the Resident Editor of The Times of India. I was then the Information Officer at the Press Information Bureau, Government of India. I warmed up to him. He cautioned me that he was only officiating and the decision to carry an article was taken by the editor, Sham Lal, who functioned from the newspaper’s headquarters in Bombay.

We were then on only naming terms. But when I left the PIB and joined The Statesman as the newspaper’s Resident Editor at Delhi, we came close to each other. We were together at the Press Council and later the Editors Guild as its members. He subsequently became the chief of the Editors Guild.

George’s stance would be often pro-government and he would emphasise that the press was critical for the sake of being critical. He was always for a code of ethics for journalists. Whenever there was a discussion on freedom of the press, he would underline the responsibility of journalists.

During the Emergency, his role was unfortu-nately equivocal. Though he was critical of press censorship, he would bemoan the irresponsible elements in the media. During my discussions with him I found him not to be against criticism but, at the same time, did not want the press to cross the Lakshman rekha. However, his wife Jamila would regularly enquire from my wife, Bharti, about me when I was detained for challenging press censorship. Jamila would often convey that George was worried about my health.

George was the government’s favourite whenever there was an inquiry into any official excesses. One instance is that of his appointment to look into the allegations of temples desecration by the Army in Kashmir. His report, although not to the liking of the critics, exonerated the Army. He described in detail how the allegation of the Army’s involvement was unfounded. The criticism subsided because of George’s stock of being an objective person. He lost his job at The Hindustan Times because he was critical of the establishment to the dislike of the owner, K.K. Birla. In fact, Birla dismissed him at the staircase when he told George that he did not like his writings.

There was a committee, headed by S. Mulgaokar, then editor of The Hindustan Times, to find out why the government was at a loss to brief the press about China’s attack on India in 1962. After the debacle, the committee suggested for the appointment of an official press adviser with the rank of Additional Secretary. George was the first appointee.

When he headed the Editors Guild, there came a time when I wanted to pass a resolution to censure the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting. George raised his voice against the move and carried the house with him.

Subsequently, we were together on the probe panel to look into the Gujarat Government’s excesses following the Godhra incident. We were all vehemently critical of the State Government, But his point of view was that the government, even though found deficient, did its best under the circumstances. A lady Deputy Commissioner was stating the government point of view. None was paying any attention to her defence. George heard her patiently and pointed out some positive steps which the government had taken to avert communal riots.

George’s residence was an open house on Christmas Day. Journalists and politicians of all hues would drop in to participate in the celebration. He was considered a fair and just person, a meeting-point for different points of view. Two years ago when I was seriously ill, George rang me up to say: “Baba, we shall all go together.” Yet, he has kicked the bucket and left us all forlorn.

(Courtesy: The Week)

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