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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 28, June 29, 2013

N.C.—the Idealist and Model Journalist

Monday 1 July 2013, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

In 1940, just after doing my matriculation, I received several back issues of Calcutta’s Presidency College magazine, through the courtesy of two co-villagers who were then studying at Presidency College. Those back issues were edited by one Nikhilnath Chakravartty. The college had a tradition of appointing as the editor if its college magazine, a student who had put up a brilliant academic performance in the year just past. This was perhaps the said college’s way of grooming students as future authors and leaders of thought.

What struck me was the editorial’s uprightness, balance, concern for truth and natural justice. The values that got ingrained in this young editor’s mind guided him all throughout his life.

This Nikhilnath, who later became my –– and countless other people’s –– Nikhilda, always sought to counter the influence of vested interest of every kind. In the post-Second World War period, when the world print media were circulating news suitable to imperial interests, he took the initiative to set up NAMEDIA (non-aligned media). It was an extraordinarily bold effort, requiring resources more than what he could garner. When the governments of the three founder countries of non-alignment movement—India, Yugoslavia and Egypt—themselves began partially aligning with one or the other superpower, NAMEDIA faded out. But the idea of non-alignment, both in politics and in service of news, still survives and pops up in critical times.

Even if the NAMEDIA effort did not succeed, Nikhilda had started the India Press Agency (IPA) and succeeded in enrolling a significant number of newspapers as its subscribers. He knew that running a news agency to uphold the interests of natural-resource-rich, yet low-income nations, and particularly of the poor sections of a vast country like India, was beyond the reach of one individual’s efforts. But he also knew that sharing the risks and entering into partnership would inevitably demand dilution of his ideal. Hence he did not tread that path. As a result, IPA is just languishing. To him, journalism without the ideal of service to the poor was not worthwhile. Historians of Indian journalism will call him a visionary, a journalist unlike most specimens of journalism today.

Nikhilda knew that vested interests cannot be fought by mere circulation of unbiased news. These needed to be fought ideologically and politically, by exposure of their game-plans and by explaining the alternatives open to the people. Hence he started the journal Mainstream which, without the support of large business groups’ advertisements, has been making wholesome impacts on the nation’s politico-economic and social thinking for the last 51 years. This is possibly the major independent weekly, unaffiliated to any party, written in non-scholastic language which enlightened laymen can follow.

Nikhil Chakravartty never betrayed anybody’s confidence. Journalists, as a tribe, are crazy about scoops. In this craze, most of them do not desist from publishing what was told them off-the-record. Since Nikhil was free from this vice, statesmen could tell him things freely, without the fear of their leakage. This gave him scope for better understanding and better anticipation of future events.

A keen student of history, he had a sense of history. Hence, as an observer of world events, he could foresee the things coming, so much so that 15 years after his demise, his writings on many issues have remained relevant. Mainstream can glory in reproducing in its every issue N.C.’s writings which have stood the test of time. Very few journals can claim similar attainment.

A unique aspect of this extraordinary reporter-cum-editor-cum-columnist was his conviction that journalists should never accept any gift of honour or any honorific title from any state body or state dignitary. When the Government of India offered him the Indian Republic’s second highest honour, Padma Vibhushan (second only to Bharat Ratna), he instantly declined it. He felt that it could not but cast an influence on the deep subconscious layer of the recipient’s mind, even if he consciously struggles against it.

The qualities of his head and heart and the strength of his character earned him universal respect. He was elected President of the Editors’ Guild of India. The way he conducted its affairs was acclaimed by many as most effectual as well as democratic.

This was Nikhil Chakravartty—the idealist, the pioneer in new types of media ventures, the crusader for justice, and a model for journalists.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environ-mentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendernathg@gmail.com

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