THE GENTLEMAN OF THE PRESS: KULDIP NAYAR
Issue 16 | October 04, 2020
With the pandemonium (read, pandemic) surrounding the globe today, another catastrophe that plagues the Indian society is the biased and scathing reportage by the Indian media that has defied all ethical norms of quality journalism. Despite unprecedented issues faced by the country today, the focus of the Indian media is solely on the NCB’s investigation into drug connections in the Bollywood movie industry. In its quest to earn some TRPs, media houses have abused all possible moral codes of conduct and have openly reinforced their patriarchal mindset, their political allegiances and their preference for drama over ethical journalism.
Such a deplorable plight of the press is worrisome especially when we have some prominent journalists such as Vinod Dua, Kuldip Nayar, Pranab Mukherjee, Ganesh Shankar amongst others who have set a benchmark for this country’s journalism to flourish and uphold. It is indeed such an ignominy that late Kuldip Nayar would probably be turning in his grave were he here to note the standards of journalism that we have replicated in this country in the 20th century.
The editor of reputed publications like The Statesman, The Indian Express and regional newspapers, Mr. Kuldip Nayar was one of those few Indian journalists who had the courage to broadcast the rampant human rights violations by the state, particularly during the infamous Emergency for which he had to even be behind bars; as opposed to chasing entertainment and menial gossip columns. Having been partitioned from his ancestral home in Sialkot who began his career with an Urdu newspaper in 1948, his commitment to building the relationship between India and Pakistan was widely known (‘Amar ki Asha’). He was a student of law from the Lahore College and went on to study journalism from Medill School of Journalism, United States in 1952.
This millennial generation would not be as aware of his contributions as probably the previous one since they had the privilege of reading his column ‘Between the Lines’ that was published in over 14 languages across 80 papers and was widely read throughout South Asia. Not only was he a staunch advocate for press freedom and promotion of democratic values of the country, he was also critical of the Hindutva politics of the Modi government. The father of the Indian journalist community, he led the campaign against stringent defamation law as an ‘unreasonable restriction’ on the freedom of press in the 1980s India. As an author, he has multiple books to his credit, on the rising issue of communal harmony and friendly relations with India’s neighbours. His prestige as a diplomat led him to represent India as its Ambassador to the United Kingdom as well as offer him the coveted Rajya Sabha seat. His heartfelt works resonated with people of all religions especially as a remembrance of the apocalypse that the Partition had caused to the now divergent countries, although with the very same people who once constituted the erstwhile British India. He truly was a representation of the transcendental journalist whose writings traversed the lines of language and distanced since it connected people through its sheer simplicity yet brave honesty.
Such was this man’s valour and dedication, he was honoured with the Ramnath Goenka Lifetime Achievement Award for the immense contribution to Indian journalism and his defiance to any authoritative individual. He breathed his last on 23rd August, 2018 but his legacy continues in the form of the Kuldip Nayar Journalism Awards commencing in 2017, to honour those journalists working in vernacular media, reminding us of the role that free press plays in upholding the democratic principles enshrined in the Indian constitution.