Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Prabhash Joshi : An uncomrpomising person

Tribute to An uncompromising media institution: Prabhash Joshi

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

1980s were the most turbulent days in the history of Independent India. Indira Gandhi’s return of power after emergency was not great. Her grip over power was slipping. Sanjay Gandhi had died in a tragic air crash leaving a vacuum for the youth Congress leaders. The separatist Khalistan movement was growing in Punjab. Delhi had probably turn into a unsafe place with bomb blasts in buses, trains and other places became a regular feature. The issue of Kashmir was growing and in Assam we had seen he worst ever massacre where thousands of Muslims were butchered to death in Nellie, with state just witnessing it helplessly. In between, some happy moments happened like the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982 which changed the city and the historic moment of 1983 world cup triumph under Kapil Dev at Lords. Amidst this was one more happening in the Hindi heartland. It was the emergence of a new daily ‘ Jansatta’ under Prabhash Joshi. I know buying a paper was out of reach for me hence I used to sit at a chai-shop to wait for my turn to read it. The two papers that would come there was Navbharat Times and Jansatta. And NBT which was the flagship of Times group under the veteran Rajendra Mathur while Jansatta was the new beginning made by unstoppable Ramnath Goenka, the owner of Indian Express group of newspapers.

But with in a very short span of time, Jansatta became the hot issue itself and it left behind the other papers in the market for its contents and news items. The lay out was wonderful and the most important thing was a complete change in the language of journalism. It was not a language which we all were habitual of listening to All India Radio and Doordarshan. It was refreshingly a language which we call ‘vox-populi’ and Prabhash Joshi was a master in it. Whether writing on cricket or politics, Joshi’s idioms and terms had the reader wondering and asking for more.

In 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Delhi witnessed the worst ever massacre of Sikhs in the street. It was a horrific moment for all of us who thought whether India as a nation would survive or not. In far away places, people developed a frenzy against Sikhs and the state were all supporting it. The newspapers were not able to do justice except that Indian Express and Jansatta carried stories about these ghastly murders. In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi came to power with a massive mandate, unimaginable now. It uprooted many opposition stalwarts and made him think that nothing is beyond his reach. He started with a good intention but was highly uncomfortable with uncomfortable questions. His friendship circle was of charming Doon school friends which became a problem for him later. Corruption was growing in his government and VP Singh’s campaign for clean polity was getting wider support. On the other side, human rights groups were asking for justice to Sikh families killed in the massacre in Delhi. And in this Indian Express group provided them the platform. Indian Express started a series of article to save Kehar Singh and Balwant Singh from hanging. Efforts were also made by the paper to raise the issue of Sikhs. On October 31st, 1985, Rajiv addressed the first gathering to commemorate Indira’s death anniversary saying,’ jab bada ped girta hai to dharati hilti hai..’ when a big tree falls the earth shakes.

The Indian Express group had launched a campaign for probity in public life and wholeheartedly supported the Income Tax raids in the Industrial houses. Soon, V.P.Singh was shunted out of finance ministry and income tax sleuths raided Indian Express offices all over the country. Rajiv’s advisers asked him to bring a ‘defamation bill’. Unlike the unity in emergency, this time only a few editors were against it. Indian Express, Hindu, the Statesman were some of the groups which went against it. Most of the other caved in, though the government had to withdraw the bill. One may remember Rajiv Gandhi’s famous statement ‘ hamare dushmano ko hum nani yaad kar denge’.

Along with Arun Shourie, Prabhash Joshi spearheaded the campaign against Rajiv’s government but unlike Arun Shourie, he was not really ready to write Fatwas guiding the political leaders. In the post Boforse situation in India, media was used by congress party to the best of its knowledge for character assassination of the opponent particular VP Singh who was posing a threat to Rajiv Gandhi. Senior Journalists like M.J.Akbar, who was editor of Telegraph, Kolkata, were misused their positions and actually brought ‘breaking news’ of VP Singh’s account in St Kitts. Notorious Chandraswamy was the henchmen who brought such information in connivance with country’s top journalists. It is the peak time to see how Indian media caves in under government pressure. How news was being created in Delhi with country’s journalists sitting in the headquarter of Congress party and writing stories. In fact later the Sangh Parivar used the same tactics in communalizing the media and today a number of those who could not find favor with Congress are with the Sangh Parivar.

In 1990, a decision by the National Front government to implement Mandal Commission report exposed Arun Shourie and his racist ideas. Arun Shourie became a ring leader of anti mandal forces in the media and tried his best to scuttle the implementation of the government. Indian Express became vehicle to support Adwani and his vicious propaganda with Arun Shourie actively promoting the hate campaign against Muslims, much against the policy of the group. Soon, when the Hindutva’s forces started their w(rath) Yatra, Arun Shourie wrote some of the worst pieces in the Express forcing his expulsion from the paper.

In the mean while Jansatta continued to be the voice of intelligentsia. Prabhash Joshi was writing on politics, cricket and all the major issues. Unlike Arun Shourie and his highly self promoting individualistic style, Prabhash created a team of youngsters. Though Joshi himself was anti mandal once upon a time, he had the courage to publish article in support of Mandal as a majority of writers in Jansatta came from socialist leaning. I still remember his series of article against it. A large number of readers wrote angry mail to him condemning his position yet he got them published in the form of an article named as ‘ jaat pe naa jao meri baat pe aao’. I read that piece and got annoyed since I felt Joshi was making a debating issue with young readers and in any news paper it is the editor’s word which are final so what is new if Prabhash Joshi criticize his readers who criticized his position. I wrote a letter to him criticizing his position and his inability to listen to criticism. It was quite surprised that after a few days, I got a neatly hand written letter asking me to meet him and telling me that we should speak on the issues and not on individual’s identity. He said when he was raising the issue of Devi Lal or V.P.Singh, nobody said whose caste they were ? After all, they were not Brahmins.

Prabhash Joshi was actually a die hard Brahmin, who was very proud of his association with Vinoba, JP and Ramnath Goyanka. We all know his peculiar views on Sati after Rupkunwar was forced to commit Sati, he supported. Perhaps getting influence by the argument of Vijaya Raje Scindia who had openly supported Sati as the best tradition of sacrifice of Bharatiya Naari i.e Indian woman.

But Joshi’s finest hours in the journalism came after 1992. Actually, in 1983 when Jansatta was launched and after which the whole campaign against government and Ambani brothers, it was Arun Shourie who was leading the campaign. Joshi remain a pale shadow that time. Yet, after the demolition of Babari Mosque on December 6th, 1992, Jansatta was perhaps the only paper which became the biggest voices of the secular forces apart from Vinod Mehta’s Pioneer. Most of the other news papers including Indian Express had turned saffron as they might have seen the change in the wind and growth of Hindutva in India. Editors were singing praise of Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee but Prabhash Joshi became more vocal. He wrote against Sangh Parivar and all those journalists who went to the brigade for green pasture. None had the capacity to call those who demolished the Babari Mosque as ‘terrorists’.

One may disagree with his arguments as coming from a Gandhian view point, he felt that RSS and other members of the Parivar do not represent the Hindu view of life. He wrote ‘ Hindu hone ka dard’ which many of the media friends describe as one of the finest book in recent years on the growth of Hindu fundamentalism and what should we do. He got numerous hate mail from the Hindutva’s professional letter writers but Joshi was powerful enough to respond them in their own language.

In the recent year, Prabhash Joshi was more and more interacting with communities. He had closely associated with late prime minister VP Singh and social movements against WTO, SEZs, land acquisitions and media manipulations by the industrial houses. He had been travelling a lot and his voice mattered a lot in these matters. Among the current day journalists he was the only one who could write with authority on the issue of land acquisition. In fact, despite Jansatta’s shrinking market, it never compromised with quality of contents in it while its counterpart Indian Express was busy in glorification of business interest and open loot of the land.

As I wrote earlier, Prabhash Joshi considered himself a puritan Brahmin who was concerned about the growing communal situation in the country and continuous assault on our natural resources. You may disagree with his view. I never liked his preaching of Sanatan dharma and boasting of ‘Hindu’ ‘liberal’ values which I felt imposing the brahmanical values on us but definitely as an editor he was extraordinary. In his thoughts he did not come close to his contemporary Rajendra Mathur who was highly talented and much stronger on ideological side yet Prabhash Joshi was far more ahead in interaction with people and making a people friendly Jansatta. He was a journalist with a mission. Many of his contemporaries adjusted with those in power, never speak of people ( Arun Shourie is best example who talk of Hindutva yet never really raised people’s issues, supported disinvestment and globalization, went to Ambanis and forgot his vicious campaign against the brothers in 1985 and never ever promoted any youngster in the organisation). While Shourie’s hatred grew against Dalits, Christians and Muslims, Prabhash Joshi never used such vulgar language and that is why the Hindustan’s high priests found it difficult to counter him.

In his last important intervention, Prabhash Joshi wrote against selling of space in media. He has been touring all over the country. He would always write his column in Jansatta and every Sunday people would wait for his column. And definitely he changed how cricket was reported. His narration of cricket matches were the finest as the description had the sweet fragrance of ‘Malwa’. He was always in touch with his roots and felt proud of it. Whether you subscribe to his views, I dare to say that the biggest contribution of Prabhash Joshi to Indian media is its secular character, its freedom of ideas, creation of a few professionals who are now everywhere in media and developing a language which changed the spectrum of Hindi media and forced those in power to give respect to vernacular view points and most importantly in the age of marketing where everything is a product fixed by the market, Prabhash Joshi remained an unpurchaseable brand of Indian media.

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