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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 28, New Delhi June 30, 2018

A Truly Wonderful Person

Saturday 30 June 2018, by Ashok Parthasarathi


Nikhilda (Respected Nikhil), as he was widely known and referred to, much as his close compatriot G. Parthasarathi was better known as G.P., was a wonderful many-sided personality like his colleagues and compatriots—of whom G.P. and his “brother” P.N. Haksar were the key figures. Nikhil (who was about the same age) was a product of the radical 1930s when Left-wing political, economic and social views were the norm. To Nikhilda, the anti-Fascist movement worldwide was integrally connected to our own freedom stuggle. When Gandhiji gave his thundering call to the Colonial British: “Quit India“ at his historic and huge (at least five lakh attendees) public meeting at Gowalia tank in Mumbai in August 1942, Nikhilda, who like G.P., was “covering” the historic meeting for People’s War coming out of Mumbai (G.P. was covering the event for our national daily — The Hindu of Madras) Nikhil wrote: “Gandhiji’s clarion call not only sounds the death knell of British Colonialism in our country, but of Colonialism, Imperialism and Fascism worldwide.” It was then that Nikhilda had formally joined the Communist Party of India (CPI).

When Aruna Asaf ali, a freedom fighter in her own right and wife of the famous Mumbai lawyer Asaf Ali established in Delhi, set up the to-be very famous Left-wing daily called Patriot, in 1963, Nikhilda was among the first journalists to assist it. The redoubtable Edatata Narayanan was the newspaper’s first Editor.

1950 was the year in which Mao-tse-tung, the “Boss” of the newly “Liberated Communist China”, invaded and annexed Tibet. Subsequently Nikhilda was the only journalist in the country to use that event to write a long article analysing Soviet and Chinese Communism on a comparative basis. What is more, so sharp was his understanding of both Communist governments as to predict, in that very year, the Sino-Soviet split of 1960—a whole decade earlier!!

Nehru made his first visit to Communist China in 1952, After ten days there during which he met all the top Chinese leaders—Mao, Chou-en-Lai, Liu Shao Chi and Peng de Huai, he returned home in an exuberant mood, hopeful of good relations with China. It was Nikhil who wrote a long piece warning Nehru, not to take the Chinese Leaders at their face value and be vigilant about Chinese intensions and actions. When Nehru and Chou-en-Lai signed the Panch Sheel (Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence) Agreement in 1954, Nikhilda was again the only senior journalist to warn Nehru about the Chinese.

Over the years, Nikhilda’s standing in the Media Fraternity was so high and his style so persuasive that he was invariably the one to get the “hottest” news first.

Around the mid-1950s Aruna Asif Ali, with strong support from both Nehru and Indira Gandhi, launched, also in Delhi, a weekly called Link Many of the journalists on the Patriot’s payroll also wrote for Link.

A short flash-back. In 1959, Indira Gandhi, who was then the President of the Congress Party, got removed, the legally elected the Communist Government headed by the veteran Communist leader, E.M.S Namboodiripad and “installed” a Congress Government led by the veteran Kerala Congress leader K. Karunakaran. Patriot had not yet been established. So Nikhilda wrote, as a free-lance journalist, a stinging article against Indira’s action which was “picked up” by almost the entire English and vernacular Press and published on their front pages. It caused a furore and Indira “escaped” only because Parliament was not in session.

Initially, Indira was very angry with Nikhilda, but through his usual persuasive and low-key diplomacy, G.P. was able to bring Indira and Nikhilda together. Thereafter, right till her assassination in 1984, the two were the best of friends. In 1962 Nikhlda was known well enough at home and abroad to bring out his own weekly, which was aptly called Mainstream. Again, both Nehru and Indira helped in various ways to get Mainstream launched and grow.

Nikhilda was an inveterate traveller and covered the remotest and most unusual places. I remember having a long talk with him in 1974 when he had just returned from five days in, of all places, Sinkiang!! His description of what he saw, his conversations (of course through an interpreter) with local Uighur people, of their warmth Nusj and friendliness and the fact that many of them (though not all) had heard of India. Most unfortunately Nikhilda did not take a camera with him and so could not take photographs!

I cannot conclude this tribute to Nikhilda on the 20th anniversary of the most tragic passing away without refering to the “three Musketeers”—Haksar, G.P. and Nikhilda. They were so close that they could have been “Biological Brothers”. At least two of them used to meet each other regularly within two or three days. These men, different from each other in many ways but whose common world-view and over-all comraderie was so great that they were truly “Three Musketeers”. Our nation owes them all a great debt. The three fully reflect what Winston Churchill said about the 200 odd fighter pilots of the Royal (British) Air Force after the 200 put up such a superb defence of their homeland against a German Air Force ten times their size and staved off Hitler’s invasion of Britain: “Never before in the History of the World have so many (meaning the British people) owed so much to so few.”

The author is a former S & T Adviser to the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

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