Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee | 19.8.18

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Atalji

Atal Bihari Vajpayee breathed his last on 16 August afternoon in Delhi, when the sky was overcast with dark clouds in Dhenkanal, a small central Odisha town, where I live. The Television channels and news-sites on web were constantly playing programmes on Vajpayee. Since noon- everybody knew it was just matter of time before the announcement was made. He was 93 and was critically ill for last so many days. A pal of gloom enveloped the small town in which I live. The market wore a deserted look. People were glued to television sets wearing sad countenance. Discussions at the town squares, offices and tea shops revolved round the man, whom everybody loved and respected.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the most popular and respected Prime Ministers of India.   He  served as the Prime Minister of India thrice, first for a term of 13 days in 1996, for a period of eleven months from 1998 to 1999, and then for a full term from 1999 to 2004. One can feel the respect and love he commanded from people from the fact that he had retreated from active public life over the last decade following the deterioration of his health and had remained restricted to his residence, but people remembered his works and words. During his second term as prime minister, Vajpayee ordered nuclear tests in May 1998 in a strategic masterstroke to blunt Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. He followed this up with peace overtures to Pakistan, riding on the first direct bus from India to Pakistan in February 1999. His was a liberal voice in the increasingly polarised political environment. His poetry and oratory was balm for ears and hearts. He was the people’s Prime Minister in true spirit.

In one of his poems he says,

kaal ke kapal par likhta-mitatha hun

geeth naya gaatha hun, geeth naya gaata hun

(I am writing and erasing new songs on the forehead of time and singing new songs)

May the songs linger and continue to energise the nation.

Gandhi as a Journalist and Editor

Gandhi occupied a central place in the media history of India and in a significant way of the world – in three ways. First, he reported society.  Second, he created a template that others followed- in terms of content and presentation style. Third, he created news.

In fact Gandhi, the journalist and the media crusader, pre-dated Gandhi, the freedom fighter by at least two decades. In less than a few months’ stay in South Africa in 1903, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi realized the need to become a journalist to fight for the rights of the Indian community. He needed a mouthpiece to reach out to the people. He decided to launch the Indian Opinion. Little did he know at that time that he was about to carve out a path that hundreds of newspapers in different languages would follow in India in course of time. Indian Opinion, a weekly newspaper, disseminated the news of the week among the Indian community. It became an important instrument of education. Through the columns of the newspaper Gandhi tried to educate the readers about sanitation, self-discipline and good citizenship. Gandhi discovered how important the press and public opinion could be in politics. He learnt to use the written word most effectively. He upheld the highest qualities the profession could boast of – courage in the face of adversity, unswerving adherence to truth, pursuit of public causes, and objectivity. In fact Indian Opinion moulded Gandhi, the journalist and also Gandhi the freedom fighter and to a large extent Gandhi, the Mahatma.

In his lifetime Gandhi was actively associated with six newspapers for over four decades. Gandhi was persuaded to take over the editorship of the Young India, which was published by the publishers of Bombay Chronicle in 1919. Simultaneously, he started to edit and write in Navjivan, then a Gujarati monthly. The two journals Young India and Navjivan were used by him to ventilate his views and to educate the public on Satyagraha.  In 1933 Gandhi startedHarijan, Harijanbandhu, Harijansevak in English, Gujarati and Hindi, respectively. These newspapers were the vehicles of his crusade against untouchability and poverty and carrier of his ideas for development of the country. These papers published no advertisements. Often these were very critical of the administration and British rule. His note of defiance and sacrifice gave a new stimulus to the evolution of press as a weapon of Satyagraha.

As Professor K. Swaminathan said in his talk in 1976 at the Nationalist Forum of Journalists held in New Delhi, “While the topics and their treatment in the journals varied according to the historical contingency, there was nevertheless running through them all a common refrain, viz., the insistence on truth and non-violence, on fairness to all and the public good, which provided the first principles, the firm universal framework within which alone Gandhiji’s thinking and acting could function… The regard for truth in the abstract issued in practice as reverence for fact.” (Relevance of Gandhi and other Essays, Gandhigram Trust).

Gandhi as a journalist is a fascinating subject.

Tailpiece 1: Imran Khan

Imran Khan’s ex-wives are now repenting on leaving him. They never knew this man is going to became the PM of Pakistan one day.

So be patient with your husband, Ladies …and support him. You never know he too can be PM.

Elections are due in 2019

Tailpiece 2: Why?

This is epic……

–          Dude, I am sorry about your wife’s death. But how come you married her sister?

–          Bro. I don’t have the strength to cope with a new Mother in law.

(Courtesy: Social Media)

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Mrinal Chatterjee a journalist-turned media academiciabn lives in Dhenkanal, a central Odisha town. He is presently editing a book/monograph on Gandhi as aJournalist and Editor to be published around October 2018. [email protected]

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