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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 42, October 8, 2011

A Saga of Struggle

Saturday 8 October 2011, by S.K. Pande


It was Friday, August 3, amidst the cacophony of a variety of sounds in busy Karolbagh, in a small apartment, with a few books, very few belongings and not even a phone, leave alone a car, a small modest man, a common person’s editor lay peacefully in deep sleep. The small apartment, the quietness and modesty of the family and the discipline were reminiscent of that seemingly small but giant colossus, an editor who inspired but did not roar, an editor who seldom surrendered his viewpoints, who could be tough without being a bully, and an editor who earned every penny that he had through his writings which were never on sale to the highest bidder.

C.N.Chitta Ranjan, 69, is no more and leaves behind him a saga of struggle for his colleagues and fellow workers. His was a life which spurned self-advertisement and publicity. His was a pen that identified with the downtrodden and the teeming millions, and championed secular democratic causes, which he stood for.

Behind the soft-spoken visage was a a man of steel determination. No razzle-dazzle person this, no tom-tommer of his work and struggles. And yet behind him lay a saga of struggle from the freedom movement to journalism, from brief but meaningful interventions in the journalists’ movement to the years when he remained always a journalist and nothing added to it. All these were interludes in some ways. For his principal avocation was journalism till his death.

The small, silent gathering at the electric crematorium that bade him a tearful adieu was reflective in many ways of his reach. These were Congressmen, Socialists, Marxists, colleagues and press workers from newspapers where he worked and of course from the Delhi Union of Journalists whose affairs he presided over in his own ‘genteel manner’ having on one occasion declined the Secretary-Generalship of the then premier organisation of journalists, the Indian Federation of Working Journalists, to ensure that more time was devoted to the organisation than he possibly could. And in the organisation too despite failing health, he was always to be seen in most functions, giving a few words of advice whenever necessary and somewhat pained at the split in the working journalists’ movement. One of the last DUJ functions that he attended was a farewell to another veteran C.P. Ramachandran shortly before the latter left for Kerala and therein he made a small intervention to let the younger generation know that CPR was not just a journalist but one with a struggling past that had experienced torture by the British. And on another occasion, almost a decade back, he woke a sleeping President of the DUJ much younger than him when he caught him napping during a seminar. Through constant chants from behind of ‘Mr Chairman,’ ‘Mr Chairman’, ‘Mr Chairman’, Chitta Ranjan finally compelled the gentleman to open his eyes.

On all issues, CNC had a stand. As one of his contemporaries, K.L. Kapur, put it, he took a stand and defended it relentlessly. He set before himself certain principles on which he never compromised and suffered in the process. As the DUJ said in its release, “He always provided a good and balanced advice to newspaper unions and actively participated in campaigns and programmes till he physically could.”

Veterans connected with him in his early days—among whom were M.K. Ramamurthy, J.P. Chaturvedi—still remember his historic battle with the Goenkas, his brief stint with The Hindustan Times and his efforts at trying to realise a newspaper cooperative free from business control. Ramamurthy recalls a session of journalists at which chappals were thrown, but where he stuck to his viewpoint. At that time he maintained that jouirnalists should not lead or hold dual membership by being in the newspaper and plant unions too, a viewpoint that he later changed. They also recall that while journalists in Madras were preferring to be in ivory tower cocoons, he persuaded them to make their journalists’ organisation both a professional as well as a trade union body. That was when journalists seemed to clinch the issue the other way with the cry “professional body yes—trade unionism no”. He persuasively tilted the scales—by being the tip of the balance—in favour of healthy trade unionism combined with professionalism. In his historic struggle with the Goenkas which lasted for four years, he had active allies in Babu Bhaskar and M.V. Rao (who later joined him in Link and Patriot), and behind the scenes S. Mohan Kumaramangalam.

TO the younger crop of journalists, CNC, as he was affectionately called, was a real source of inspiration. For some, a model of hard work, for others a person who could inspire to bring out the best in others by egging them on. A freedom fighter-cum-photographer, V.M. Saluja, recalls how once while clicking the last day of the late Ram Manohar Lohia on behalf of Patriot, he bumped into a scoop, a Cabinet meeting of the then Bihar SVD Ministry held on the lawns of the hospital where Lohia lay dying. Saluja gave a blow-by-blow version to Chitta Ranjan (then the Patriot Assistant Editor) to find his bylined story on page one. (In those days, bylines were rare.)

Similarly, working with him in Patriot I had the dual experience of his editing an entire copy and giving me a byline for a good story and gently returning others with suggestions as to how it should be done all over again. One could also see his friendly streak as he shared his cigarettes and kept an eagle eye on what he felt would be a good story, always offering ideas.

To some friends, he was too much a crusader and too rigid a journalist. Yes, he was a crusader and being a crusader, somewhat rigid, rigid to to lose his job more than occasionally, rigid enough to forget that often his bank balance was reaching the zero level, rigid enough to have dual approach to the Emergency where he saw the son as a demon and the mother as well-meaning. But that was his stance and he tried it even in the National Herald. And guts too: when floods hit Lucknow and the Mayor threw a lavish party on the subject, he came out with the talk-of-the-town piece “The Mayor’s Cup of Tea”.

Today, I salute a friend, an elderly friend and an editor with whom I often disagreed but whom I loved. I salute a moderating influence on the journalists’ movement, I salute a freedom fighter journalist who was a commoner among editors and stood by the workers when so many editors are known to carry the brief for vested interests and managements. I salute a man who tried to be the poor man’s guardian, writing just what he felt and experimented with laudable ideas such as a cooperative of newspapers, which almost ticked.

Fortunatley, he saw the birth and death of many of his ideas and ideals—a Link, a Patriot, which he visualised as a ‘people’s paper’ and left when he felt what happened there was not to his liking. And he always maintained a link with the Mainstream group just as he always tried to be with the Mainstream journalists and workers.

The second phase of his life or the evening was a cyclical return to a group where he fitted in most easily—IPA-Mainstream—with his brand of Gandhism, a penchant for often seemingly lost causes, a touch of socialism, Marxism, Nehruism, with traits of his freedom struggle days and a rare humanism and accessibility. He received no awards and attended few functions. Even when he served as the Associate Editor of a daily and weekly more often than not he boarded the bus back home. That sense of austerity remained with him till the very end.
I conclude with the words of Faiz:

My tablet and my pen,
My two cherished treasures
Are snatched from me,
But does it matter?
For I have dipped my fingers
In the blood of my heart;
My tongue they sealed
But does it matter? For,
I have placed a tongue
In every link of chain
That fetters me.

A rare honest gem and the journalistic link with the freedom struggle has gone; a whiff of fresh air with a life of few compromises. Goodbye Chitta Ranjan. Rest in peace!

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