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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 37 New Delhi September 1, 2018

The Doyen is Dead, Long Live the Reporter

Sunday 2 September 2018, by John Dayal


Of course we will miss Kuldip Nayar. He was already a journalist perhaps a few months into the profession when I was born, and an editor when I became a reporter.

In the fifty or so years I knew him and received the warmth of his friendship, I never worked with him in the profession. Indeed, I never worked in the newspapers and agencies he went to head as editor.

But I did not have to, to recognise the subtle way he would mentor the reporters, or correspondents if you so wish to describe them. He did so by precept, by example, by never being caught out on facts, or making do with the approximations and guesses that go so often for lazy journalism.

He was no G.K. Reddy, the chief of bureau of The Hindu, of whom it was said he knew the government policy before the Joint Secretary concerned had finished finalising the Cabinet note. Nor indeed was he like his contemporary Surinder Nihal Singh with a turn of phrase and a taste for the finer things in life and literature.

Perhaps he was more akin to the man he most respected, Nikhil Chakravartty, poles apart perhaps in their ideological worldviews, but similarly penetrating deep into the national political churning without ever forgetting their first loyalty to the reader.

If Nikhil did not seek political office, Kuldip did. “John, you left journalism too soon,” the older man often told me. “Kuldip, you’ve been in government too often,” I’d retort. Kuldip was Information Advisor to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri, had a term in the Rajya Sabha, was High Commissioner to the Court of St James, in London. Could have been more if he desired.

But Kuldip Nayar was our connect with Partition, forgiveness, and the unrelenting pursuit of peace. He, Janardhan Thakur, the father of editor Sankarshan Thakur, Ajoy Bose and I were the clutch of journalists who wrote books on the Emergency. Sometimes we would discuss that period and its long shadow on Indian politics, which legitimised the RSS, made Atal Vajpayee Foreign Minister and L.K. Advani Information Minister. Advani fathered the saffron media, whose spawn we see today, fomenting hate, triggering murder.

The seniors are now gone, with memories remaining not of famous exclusive news-breaking stories, or books they wrote, the institutions they founded or worked with, but of their love of their profession, and of their country.

In the Editors Guild, now a pale shadow of itself though it never was a roaring tiger, they did try to formulate a Code of Ethics for themselves and for their employers, and they fought hard to retain the very vulnerable freedom of the press they had seen so easily crushed by Indira Gandhi’s henchmen V.C. Shukla and his IAS-IPS lackeys in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

They failed in making the Editors Guild and its Code into a strong shield that could defend journalism from the multi-pronged onslaught it now faces, where the media is to sell a packet of soap or Ayurveda, or to protect the businessman-employer. It was the collective fault of all of us in the Guild, which had many more concerned for the businessman boss than the profession.

But despite recent revelations by sacked TV anchors, there will perhaps never again be the sort of censorship seen in the Emergency, or tried by Rajiv Gandhi in his Press Bill, or insidiously attempted by incompetent Chief Ministers. They did make sure of this.

But do not make an obituary of Kuldip Nayar into a Requiem for the Reporter.

The Doyen is Dead, Long Live the Reporter, I say.

For journalism, media by any other name, lives in the foot soldier, the small-time reporter in a mofussil town ferreting news of marginalisation and corruption in circumstances where he can be as dead as any war correspondent on the battle-fronts of Syria. It lives in the district correspondents who cover the session courts and the antics of the Minister in charge, resisting rebuke-send temptation. I know reporters who have been reduced from regular staff to stringers, but are treading the pavements as they always did, their nose to the ground, smelling the bad odour of corruption and high-handedness.

Their hard work makes the people in State capitals and the national Capital seem like glorified clerks, for the most, covering the sayings of famous people, and passing off handouts as exclusives—ten channels and six newspapers have the identical scanned copy of the note, for instance.

And taking selfies on board VIP planes, or with Ministers at their birthday parties. No one has a selfie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi other than when he makes an appearance at his party HQ on some auspicious day. One reason, perhaps, is that Mr Modi does not hold press conferences.

These ill-paid, overworked, neglected and un-mentored Reporters, now many women among them, are the ones who insure Indian media’s integrity, and will ensure its longevity.

And these are the ones who will, I dare say, perpetuate Kuldip Nayar’s memory. For, essentially he was a Reporter at heart as reflected in his writings.

The author is a senior journalist, human rights activist and member of the National Integration Council.

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