RIP, Kuldip Nayar

24 Aug,2018


By Ranjona Banerji


“Can the Emergency be reimposed, I have often wondered? The Constitution makes it difficult because of the amendment that the Janata government effected. A Prime Minister has to get the approval of two-thirds of the members of both Houses of Parliament before such a step can be taken.

“But seeing how conformist the press is today, I don’t think it would be necessary for the government to take any extra-constitutional measures. Newspapers and television channels have themselves become so pro-establishment that the government doesn’t have to do anything to make them fall in line.

“However, one current development is ominous. Soft Hindutva is overtaking the print and electronic media. They go out of their way to blackout the minority point of view. One glaring example is a recent statement by a Muslim woman from Mumbai. She said that, as a Muslim, she could not get a house in any posh locality. In contrast, had this statement been made by a Hindu, newspapers and television channels would have reported it and commented for days to express their criticism.

The Muslim woman’s statement was perfunctorily noted, but not debated or discussed. This does not behove a society that has enshrined secularism in the preamble to its Constitution. Still worse is that the excesses committed against the minorities are scantily reported and hardly discussed. Only 70 years ago, when we won independence to establish a secular and democratic state, we took pride in the fact that, despite the demand for Pakistan, the preponderant majority still believed in the idea of India that Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad subscribed to.”


These are excerpts from an opinion piece by Kuldip Nayar, published on June 25, 2015 in the Indian Express, about Indira Gandhi, the Emergency and the Indian media.

As all the tributes pour in for Nayar, who died at the age of 95 on August 23, 2018, his own words are far more significant for Indian journalists today. Sadly, many of the tributes written by former colleagues and proteges include those who follow none of his ideals. They may admire for his wit or his love of food or his compassion but for his journalism? If only he had more followers for that, and perhaps the state of Indian journalism would not be in the pathetic state it is.

Nayar was best known to many for his opposition to the Emergency and the fact that he was jailed. But as every obituary has mentioned, he fought fiercely for the freedom of the press and for civil liberties. Take a look around you and try and identify how many editors you know who do either. Some, sadly, have fallen into that “conformist” mode and many others are directly involved in pushing the Hindutva agenda, soft and hard both.

The Cobrapost sting into how easy it is to bribe media houses to push the Hindutva agenda is a glaring expose into our lack of ethics and please note how we have completely stopped talking about it.

Nayar was also a great proponent of improving India-Pakistan relations and was a regular at candlelit marches at the Wagah border. Just the sort of person that Republic TV, Times Now and their copycats would call an anti-national and a traitor. It is nothing short of despicable, and also a bit amusing, to see tributes to him and his legacy by such “journalists” who are sold out to the powers-that-be and have absolutely no courage when faced with official or government anger.

If indeed Nayar’s legacy of fearless journalism, of compassion, of championing human rights, is to be taken forward, then it cannot be done by most journalists who are in leadership positions today. They are the antithesis of everything that Nayar stood for. The hope, if any, lies with younger journalists who are willing to fight on, regardless of the obstacles ahead.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal.



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