Re­porter Who De­served To Be­come Edi­tor!

In­dia’s “scoop-man” of­ten re­gret­ted that the ti­tle of Edi­tor eluded him. But Kuldip Na­yar more than made up for that in fame as a colum­nist, diplo­mat, MP and peace ac­tivist

The Day After - - CONTENT - By DANFES

Ear­lier this week, The New York Times sur­prised its read­ers, and shocked the re­porters’ com­mu­nity by drop­ping its re­porters’ by­lines on sto­ries fea­tured on its home page. The fol­low­ing day, its ed­i­tors came up with the rea­son­ing: Many more read­ers now ac­cess the news­pa­per on their mo­biles than the desk­top. We adore our re­porters, but their by­line on top of the sum­mary isn’t the best way to dis­play a story dig­i­tally. Good point, you might have said but, only if you missed the fact that the op-ed writ­ers’ by­lines are there as be­fore.

We bring this up in this trib­ute to Late Kuldip Na­yar, be­cause re­porter/news gath­erer ver­sus the ed­i­to­ri­al­ist is the old­est power tus­sle in the news­room. The lat­ter, with their su­pe­rior in­tel­lect, weighty ar­gu­ments, and fine turn of phrase have mostly won it. Their dom­i­na­tion was to­tal in In­dia, un­til Na­yar broke it in 1970-80.

He was In­dian jour­nal­ism’s first rock star in an era when any edi­tor would have taken um­brage at be­ing de­scribed as such. Na­yar’s rise as In­dia’s pre-em­i­nent by­line came when there was no news TV, glossy mag­a­zine pro­files, and three decades be­fore Twit­ter. And for our jour­nal­ism school, in the prison and out of it that year, Na­yar’s was the most in­spi­ra­tional story. More stir­ring than even the then re­cent Bob Wood­ward, Carl Bern­stein and the Water­gate ex­pose.

He is In­dia’s great­est “scoop-man” ever, our teacher, late Prof. BS Thakur, would say to his stu­dents, most of whom had strayed into his jour­nal­ism class for fail­ing to get into some­thing more worth­while, to teach them that “scoop” also meant some­thing even sweeter than a mere dol­lop of ice cream. There were class­room de­bates on what the Emer­gency meant for the press and es­pe­cially for our em­ploy­ment prospects. The en­tire In­dian press had caved in, but some had shown that a fight-back was pos­si­ble. Af­ter all, Na­yar had even gone to jail.

The end of the Emer­gency be­gan the first golden era of In­dian jour­nal­ism. Pre­cen­sor­ship had sen­si­tized the peo­ple to the value of a free press. If The In­dian Ex­press was the Emer­gency’s shin­ing star, Na­yar was its face. Never mind that in the Ex­press’s for­mi­da­ble ed­i­to­rial star-cast, he fea­tured third, af­ter Edi­tor-in-Chief S Mul­gaonkar and Edi­tor, Ajit Bhat­tachar­jee; Na­yar was Edi­tor, Ex­press News Ser­vice. But he was the pa­per’s real mast­head. His ear­lier books, Be­tween The Lines, In­dia: The Crit­i­cal Years, Dis­tant Neigh­bour had also brought him greater in­tel­lec­tual heft than those above him, “in spite of be­ing a mere re­porter”.

His pres­ence in the news­room was elec­tric and his net­work of con­tacts

the stuff of leg­ends. “Ar­rey kya, Ge­orge (Fer­nan­des), why are you bent on break­ing the (Janata) Party,” you’d over­hear him ad­mon­ish­ing the great So­cial­ist. Or, “Hello, Idris, (Air Chief Mar­shal, Idris Hassan Latif), I hope you and Bilquees know Chandigarh is such a bor­ing place.” Later, around mid­night, he walked in to give Mrs Latif a post-pran­dial tour of the news­room and its hot-metal press un­der­neath. His hu­man rights/civil lib­er­ties phase also be­gan in these heady months. He was a mem­ber of the Jus­tice VM Tarkunde Com­mit­tee prob­ing the killings of Nax­alites in fake en­coun­ters.

The best and the fairest trib­ute to Na­yar would be that he made the re­porter the prince of the In­dian news­room. The In­dian Ex­press it­self pro­duced a stel­lar team of young re­porters un­der him, many of who rose to ed­i­tor­ships later. Three other young ed­i­tors who emerged in that era, Arun Shourie, Aroon Purie and MJ Ak­bar then made Na­yar’s re­porter-prince the king.

Ram­nath Goenka had a great eye for ed­i­to­rial tal­ent. He brought Shourie into jour­nal­ism from schol­arly ac­tivism, as Ex­ec­u­tive Edi­tor in 1979. Sud­denly, from num­ber 3, Na­yar was 4, de­spite his star­dom. More im­por­tantly, Shourie was more ac­ces­si­ble, less dis­tracted, brim­ming with new ideas and en­ergy. Younger re­porters grav­i­tated to­ward him. Goenka wanted to mod­ern­ize his pa­per. He saw Shourie, 37, as the man for it, not Na­yar at 57. Plus, as is of­ten the case with own­ers, he wasn’t par­tic­u­larly im­pressed, but im­pa­tient with Na­yar’s new fame. Soon enough, all of other ed­i­tors were side­lined and some, in­clud­ing Na­yar, were let go. It’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter that within three years Goenka de­vel­oped in­se­cu­ri­ties with Shourie as well and dis­missed him peremp­to­rily. Sev­eral of us re­porters too left in Shourie’s wake.

Na­yar re­turned to the news­room in the sum­mer of 2014 “for the first time af­ter 1980” (1981, ac­tu­ally) for a con­ver­sa­tion with the ed­i­to­rial team while pro­mot­ing his mem­oir Be­yond The Lines. He be­gan that con­ver­sa­tion by ru­ing that he had been fired by Goenka be­cause Indira re­turned to power in 1980 and he wanted to make peace with her by sac­ri­fic­ing him. This part of the record­ing has been re-pub­lished by the pa­per with its re­port on his pass­ing away. This was un­true. It sim­ply isn’t in that pa­per’s DNA to fire ed­i­tors to please gov­ern­ments. Some of us did, re­spect­fully, say this to Na­yar.

Na­yar also said, in the same recorded chat, that he re­gret­ted that “no­body of­fered me any job af­ter 1980”. It ran­kled with him. As did the fact that many who worked at en­try lev­els un­der him, and who he be­lieved were way lesser jour­nal­ists than him, rose to be ed­i­tors of news­pa­pers, a ti­tle that eluded him, al­though he had been edi­tor of the Delhi edi­tion of The States­man. He had the in­no­cence and hon­esty to say this of­ten to many of us. He later be­came High Com­mis­sioner in Lon­don, a Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber, but all this new em­i­nence wouldn’t com­pen­sate for the ti­tle he had missed. The Ex­press did make it up to him, at least sym­bol­i­cally by con­fer­ring the Ram­nath Goenka Life­time Achieve­ment Award to him in 2015.

What he missed by way of an ed­i­to­rial ti­tle, Na­yar more than made up in fame, both as a colum­nist and sub-con­ti­nen­tal peace ac­tivist. Crit­ics joked about him be­ing the ‘neta’ of the ‘mom­batti’ (can­dle­light marchers at Wa­gah) gang. But he was un­fazed in his com­mit­ment to an Indo-Pak rap­proche­ment. This peace-mak­ing, af­ter di­plo­macy and Par­lia­ment be­came his new call­ing and took him away too early in his ca­reer from the kind of jour­nal­ism he was best at. He was in­deed never of­fered a job af­ter 1980, but it isn’t be­cause he had be­come un­em­ploy­able. He had cho­sen a more var­ied life and ex­celled in it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.