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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 28, June 27, 2009

He Always Thought of People’s Welfare

Thursday 2 July 2009, by Sailen Chatterjee

Nikhilda was a rare type of journalist. He always tried to use his pen for the welfare of the people.

Whenever I met him, he expressed his concern for the people—how people were suffering. He always told me that I was fortunate to tour with Mahatma Gandhi for three years and also to have witnessed how the Mahatma worked as a journalist, and guided me in my work as a young journalist.

When I informed him that Gandhiji told me that the sole aim of journalism is service, Nikhilda said what the Mahatma had stressed should be the real object of journalism. And I found that through his powerful pen, he followed the Mahatma’s words that a journalist’s main aim should be service—service to the people.

He was a champion of freedom of the press. I had the privilege of discussing with him how I, as a journalist who served the Press Council of India as a member for four terms, found the Council helping in the maintenance of freedom of the press. He appreciated the work done by the Press Council.

He was a fearless journalist and cherished journalistic values in writing without fear and favour.

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In December 1996, Nikhilda sent me a letter which he wrote to the Member-Secretary of the National Committee for the Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of India’s Independence.

He said that the list of the members of the National Committee “is extremely unsatisfactory”.

In his letter, he wrote:

I find no reason why the heads of such noted centres of learning which had contributed in various ways towards influencing the nation’s struggle for Independence such as Benaras Hindu University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Vishwa Bharati, Aligarh Muslim University, and Jadavpur University have been left out of this long list.

He further said in his letter:

In the section, “Gandhians and Freedom Fighters”, the veteran Gandhian, perhaps the oldest among the living Smt. Usha Mehta’s name of missing….

In the section on “media”, one does not find the name of Shri Sailen Chatterjee who steadfastly covered Gandhi’s activities till the last moment of his life. It is surprising that a political leader who actively participated in freedom struggle like Biju Patnaik is not invited to participate in this Committee.

Dedicated leaders in the service of the common people such as Sunderlal Bahuguna, Medha Patekar, Natwar Thakkar, Nanaji Deshmukh and Swamy Agnivesh are conspicuous by their absence from the list.

In the section on “Judiciary and Law”, one does not find the names of those who upheld by their example, the freedom of the judiciary even during the dark days of the Emergency such as Justices H.R. Khanna and V.R. Krishna Iyer. Nobody has been included from among those who have actively helped our freedom struggle from abroad.

Nikhil Chakravartty then observed:

I consider it a sacrilege that a Committee called for the sacred purpose of celebrating the golden jubilee of the country’s Independence should contain names of persons facing before law courts charges of corruption and forgery. I would not like to name anybody in particular but it is amazing that the list includes names of persons who have had nothing to do with the struggle for independence or any service to the nation except being the consort of an assassinated Prime Minister.

He said that “as a mark of distress”, he was sorry that he shall have to abstain from joining the proposed National Committee and participating in its deliberations.

The above letter showed how Nikhilda was concerned about the welfare of the country and for celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our independence in a befitting manner and he wanted the noted freedom fighters and Gandhians to participate in the National Committee.

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Nikhilda has passed into history. His life and writings will inspire journalists for generations to come. He steadfastly adhered to the principle of service to the people. Respected by all, he contributed to the issues relating to social justice, secularism, human rights and tolerance. He had set certain standards of the noble profession of journalism. He was an honest journalist and his integrity was impeccable.

Soft spoken, he was always ready to meet journalists and listen to their problems and tried to help them. He believed in simple living.

The President, K.R. Narayanan, while paying warm tributes to Nikhilda, said his was the “most seasoned voice in Indian journalism”.

I pay my tributes to this doyen of journalism whose contribution will always be remembered.

(Mainstream, August 1, 1998)

The author was a veteran journalist who was close to Mahatma Gandhi and covered Gandhiji’s epic march for communal harmony and peace in Noakhali in 1946.

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