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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 13

A Journalist with a Vision

Sunday 16 March 2008, by Surendra Mohan


Upendra Vajpayee, who passed away last month, was a life-long journalist. After his release from the jail in 1945, he completed his education and joined the profession. His father, Ambika Dutta Vajpayee, was a distinguished freedom fighter with strong Gandhian commitment and also an established journalist and a man of letters. But, the era in which the young Upendra joined the freedom movement had its own heroes in the leaders of the socialist movement, Jayaprakash Narayan, Dr Rammanohar Lohia and Achyut Patwardhan. The father figure of the movement was Acharya Narendra Dev who inspired hundreds of young persons in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Upendra, imbued with the spirit of anti-imperialism and seeking answers from freedom-fighter scholars, started to have deep attachment to the democratic socialist ideology and its best exponent, Narendra Dev. One reason was the affectionate relationship between his father and the Acharya.

While in Jail, Upendra was treated as a security prisoner though he was a young man of 17-18 years. For three years, he was not only handcuffed but his legs were also chained. This harsh treatment weakened his lungs which bothered him for a life-time. Like most young persons of that generation, he decided to remain a bachelor. He had taken a vow to take care of his sister, Krishna, who was physically challenged, though she was a gifted short-story writer. It was in the 1980s, when Upendra had crossed sixty years of his life that he married Aruna Patel.

Upendra started his career in journalism as a correspondent in Hindi. The Sainik and the Jagaran were some of the papers he served for several years before he joined the Hindustan Times in New Delhi. Thereafter, he continued to serve it till his retirement. His professional integrity won him the affection, trust and respect of all senior leaders of the country. In reporting, he always remained unbiased. His strong commitment to democratic socialism never showed itself in his work as a journalist. I think that, apart from committed socialists like Chandra Shekhar and me who were close to him, his colleagues in the profession and other persons did not know his political beliefs.

In reporting, he was a stickler for facts, and in writing, he liked to produce a neat copy. Much before I knew much of him, I saw him when he visited the State office of the PSP where I had been transferred a month ago from the Central office. He came to me and asked for certain information. Rather new to my work, I could not give him what he wanted. He then affectionately said to me that in this office, I was expected to be as thorough as an efficient executive, and jokingly added that otherwise the office had no dearth of political workers and leaders. Afterwards, Chandra Shekhar, the State Secretary of the party, told me about him and his closeness with our movement.

UPENDRA started the National Media Centre in 1979- 80. Earlier, it was a forum for discussing problems relating to the media. But, it also held seminars etc. on various national problems. Its National Conferences, held in various cities, drew a large number of mediapersons and public men. After a few years, Upendra, as the General Secretary of the Centre, took upon himself to resolve the housing problem of the journalist community. He strove hard to persuade colleagues to join in a cooperative society. Then, it was necessary to procure land for building a residential colony. After getting the land, construction had to be supervised. All this was hard and back- breaking work. But, with the support of a few committed co-workers, two residential colonies were built, one in Saket in New Delhi and another n Gurgaon.

In 1987, the repeated communal clashes began to worry him a lot. Thus was born the Forum of Communal Solidarity which he and some of us launched. After a couple of years, however, the name was changed to Society for Communal Harmony. We held several conferences in New Delhi and one in Lucknow as well. The developments connected with the Babri Masjid absorbed lot of the time of the Society. An important seminar that the Society organised was on the Cultural Renaissance of India in November 1998. The President of the Union, K.R. Narayanan, inaugurated it. Speakers included Maulana Nizamuddin Parekh, Swami Agnivesh, Prof Rajni Kothari, Prof U.R. Anathamurthy, A.B. Kannabiran, President of the PUCL, Dr Gopi Chand Narang, Justice Rajindar Sachar and several other persons of national stature. The Society had the stewardship of the famous historian and parliamentarian Dr B.D. Pande, the Arabic scholar and Rector of Nadwa, Lucknow, Ali Mian, the distinguished intellectual-administrator P.N. Haksar, freedom fighter and ex-Governor Sadiq Ali and socialist leader and ex-Speaker of the Lok Sabha Rabi Ray. All these national figures were brought together by Upendra’s incessant effort ably supported by C.B. Tripathy and Abdul Mannan.
After retirement from the HT, Upendra started to write columns for various dailies, but this work had to be done during the time left after the work connected with the National Media Centre. During the decade preceding his demise, he used to suffer from pneumonia.
He also suffered from a cardiac complication. These took toll of his life. An affectionate, generous and sincere person has departed. n

The author is a leading socialist ideologue.

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