A rare personage who straddled the Indian press horizon for seven decades post-independence; a towering journalist who had the opportunity to talk to prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh; a writer who wrote unpleasant truths without bending before governments or corporates; above all a warrior who persistently raised his voice for secular democracy and against dictatorial trends – so go the epithets than can describe Kuldip Nayar who passed away on Thursday at 94.
One who had a first-hand experience of the tragedy of India's partition which ended the lives of over a million people, Nayar migrated from his native Sialkot to Delhi. Ever since then, unlike other refugees of the time, he used his powerful pen to heal the wounds caused by the religious divide, and to re-establish peace and friendship between the two countries in the sub-continent. He was one who felt sad whenever India-Pak conflicts erupted or wars were fought. And whenever talks for restoration of peace happened and bilateral agreements signed, he became joyous. Every reader of his regular syndicated column 'Between the Lines' - shared by 80 newspapers in India and abroad - would have sensed his underlying and steady yearning for India-Pak friendship.
He condemned the extremists standing againsnt peace in both countries. Rarely can we find a journalist who had such an unyileding commitment to democracy and secularism. When Indira Gandhi imposed censorship following declaration of Emergency, he severaly criticised that, naturally much to her displeasure. It was typical of her to muzzle any one who opposed her. Indira arrested him along with numerous leaders including Jaya Prakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Raj Narain and George Fernandez. But when it was smelt that the repercussions of his arrest would not be helpful, she had to relese him within a few days. He hit out at the actions of Indira and her son Sanjay under the cover of Emergency, also also strongly opposed the 44th amendment of the Constitution. During the 1977 general elections, he played a role in his own way in forming an opposition against Emergency, and in the eventual defeat of Indira Congress in the polls. That was followed by his appointment as India's High Commissioner in Britain. His work 'The Judgment: Inside Story of the Emergency in India' is a graphic account of the background of Emergency, events around that and the political undercurrents of the time.
The seasoned journalist in Nayar never hesitated to point his fingers at the degeneration and servility that has plagued journalism. It was during the Emergency that Indian press showed its naked face of servility before government. Although newspapers celebrated when the people threw the Emergency to Arabian Sea, he used to point out with examples that the media had no qualms about hushing up truths unpalatable to rulers and corporates, and to hide or twist news in line with their vested interests.
'Paid news' is a notorious phenomenon that Indian Press Council has not only been unable to put an end to, but during the Modi aera, it is advancing unhindered beyond all bounds. In his autobiography, Nayar makes a reference to that as well. Madhyamam has also to make a mention that Nayar, who released the inaugural issue of Madhyamam daily 31 years ago, did consistently maintain an emotional attachment to this paper, and was happy to continue his column "Between the Lines' for us till the end of his life.
Following the demolition of Babari masjid, and the vitiated communal atmosphere that followed it, he plalyed a crucial role, along with human rights champions like Justice Rajinder Sachar, Justice VC Krishna Iyer and Muchkund Dubey, in forming the Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA) in 1993 for the goals of democracy and inter-religious friendship. We record our deep grief on the departure of that lover of humanity who lent light and strength to value-based journalism.