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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 28

Nikhil Chakravartty

Monday 2 July 2007


[(On June 27 this year falls Nikhil Chakravartty’s ninth death anniversary. On this occasion we reproduce the ‘Political Notebook’ by S. Viswam in the first issue of Mainstream to appear on July 4, 1998 following N.C.’s demise, the then President K.R. Narayanan’s message on N.C.’s death, and two articles by P.C. Joshi and Lalit Uniyal on N.C. (published in Mainstream, July 11, 1998).

Death snatched away from Indian journalism last week (June 27, 1998) one of its most illustrious practitioners. In the passing away of Nikhil Chakravartty India lost not only a distinguished representative of the journalistic profession but an ardent advocate and promoter of social concerns. For more than half a century, Nikhilda, as he was affectionately known, strode across the Indian media firmament like a bright star, enriching public life with his luminous writings. Nikhilda was beyond compare, head and shoulders above his colleagues but inspiring them towards the common goal of taking India to greater and greater heights. While many members of the fraternity tended to be swept off their feet by the weaknesses and shortcomings and betrayals of the political class, or were drawn to be part of the same milieu, Nikhilda was swayed neither by anger nor by despair and continued till his last breath to kindle hopes among his devoted readers of a brighter and more meaningful tomorrow. Whether as a journalist or a public figure or as a concerned citizen, Nikhilda never stayed on the sidelines but plunged into and involved himself in a variety of activities with the tireless energy of a young person. Even till the last few days before being admitted into hospital Nikhilda wa associated with and deeply involved in numerous causes dedicated to the betterment of the political, social and cultural environment. To each of these causes, Nikhilda was equally generous with his time, attention and counsel. It was not surprising therefore that in course of time Nikhilda was looked up to as not only symbolising the conscience of the profession but of the society as a whole, and thus was regarded and accepted as the natural leader of that section of the media which remained committed to press freedom and journalism of courage and high moral values. It was this acceptance that made him the natural choice for the chairmanship of the Prasar Bharati Board into whose hands the autonomy and independence of the electronic media was entrusted after the long struggle for liberating the media from government control.

Nikhilda has been variously described as a communist, socialist, rebel, historian, scholar, trade unionist, teacher and media professional. In a sense, he was all these and yet, in another sense, he was more than the combination of all. His sights were always fixed on the struggle for freeing the country from the ills which afflicted it and stalled its progress. It is the thrust and push of this struggle which came to be increasingly reflected in his writings which dealt with an amazing range of subjects from politics to history to ecology, but at the core of which remained his passion for cleansing the society. The combination of intense patriotism, intense compassion, intense feeling for the oppressed, and the intense contempt for corruption and wrong-doing made him the fearless champion against injustice in any form.

In an age when people tend to stray into politics from journalism, Nikhilda did the reverse—he strayed into journalism from politics, and stayed there, making journalism the instrument of political and social change. He was by inclination a teacher, and teaching History may have given him greater “job satisfaction”, but it was typical of his versatility that he exploited journalism too to the fullest extent to convey to his readers the value and worth of values in public life and public conduct. In his writings he neither preached nor pontificated, but he always indicated, soberly and repeatedly, the direction towards which Free India should move for giving to its citizens full benefits of democracy, freedom and justice within a secular and liberal social order. For a man who displayed in his writings an extraordinary passion and commitment to these attributes, in his dealings and discourse with fellow citizens, Nikhilda displayed amazing tolerance of the shortcomings and faults of others. He was always willing to listen to the other man’s point of view and on occasions even allowed his own assessments to be influenced by the merit in the opposite point of view. It is perhaps this quality that made him a natural “consensus man”, and it is this quality that pre-empted the intrusion of malice and harshness in his writings. He could, however, be unsparing in criticism, but his barbs were aimed at the head rather than at the heart and though his words had the sharpness of the rapier, they were clothed in a sheath of gentleness and fairness. This is what earned him the esteem and respect of his readers, friends and admirers whose numbers grew with his increasing interest and involvement in public concerns.

Nikhilda was, and liked to call himself, a reporter. He never lost his intellectual curiosity in finding out the happenings behind the event. He could always be depended upon to give you that little nugget of information which made two and two into four of a story or a new and surprising development. He moved among the mightiest among politicians and the tallest among intellectuals, but he always retained the plebian touch giving in neither to arrogance nor to pride. Moe than anything else, it was great fun to converse and interact with Nikhilda; his anecdotes, sourced from the pages of ancient and contemporary history, laced with his typical subtle humour and wit, kept one absorbed and enthralled.

Journalism owes a deep debt of gratitude to Nikhilda. His inputs into evolving a good working base for the profession as a member of the Press Commission and the Press Council of India, President of the Editors Guild of India were constructive. As Chairman of the Namedia Foundation, he pioneered a style of media interaction which has set in a new tradition of bringing media practitioners together on a common platform to discuss matters of immediate concern to the professionals not only within India but the subcontinent itself.

Men like Nikhilda appear but rarely, and men like Nikhilda never die. They leave behind a part of them in their writings, in their activities, in their public roles and above all in the gifts of their friendships and personal associations. Mainstream, which is his child, dips its banner in salute to the memory of this great journalist, great son of India and a great human being. RIP.

July 1 S.V. (Mainstream July 4, 1998)

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