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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 28

Nikhil Chakravartty : I Salute You

Monday 30 June 2008, by V R Krishna Iyer

Nikhil Chakravartty was a great journalist, a clear thinker, an authentic socialist, a public figure beyond party purchase, and, above all, a noble human being whom ambition could not buy. I had known Nikhil for several decades at an intimate personal level. The finest virtue of a journalist is integrity, impartiality, freedom of thought and commitment to facts and principles. He possessed all these values in silent plenty. The professional glory of a media marvel is veracious functionalism without fear or favour, affection or illwill. Nikhil Chakravartty was a paradigm in these plural dimensions; and so, his luminous pen, like it or not, never compromised even a wee-bit to please or placate, to wound or sting. Rarest of the rare is such a person whatever be his profession, and that is why Nikhil, who passed away ten years ago, still shines through his Mainstream editorials, lucid writings and splendid simple speeches. Mortality is an inevitability and, in this materialist sense, Nikhil Chakravartty left us a decade ago. But it is blaspheme to say that he is dead. He lives in moral lustre and intellectual sharpness in the minds and hearts of those with whom he had been cast during his lifetime, as friend or foe, or as a leader of the Left or fighter for a cause. So transparent he was that he commanded access to Prime Ministers and Presidents without sacrificing his principles. His scholarship and humour were fascinating and his likes and dislikes had an ethical neutrality and freedom from flattery.

HE was my friend because we were of the same mental, moral, ideological wavelength. So he agreed to inaugurate my campaign as a Presidential Candidate decades back, although both of us knew that, pitted against Rajiv Gandhi’s furious offensive and all-out campaign in favour of his nominee, my defeat was a tragic certainty and perhaps a national loss in the long run. The speech Nikhil made at Thiruvananthapuram opening my candidature was great, not because he glorified me—he did not— but since he revealed many facts about former Presidents which few but he did know. In that sense, Sri Chakravartty was very knowledgeable and was aware where Communist leaders were political deviants from ideology and where they failed the battle for socialist transformation to cling to power. His profound commitments attracted me. His truthfulness was so unblemished that he had no enemy. This journalist was beyond purchase by offer of office or honour or power politics. That was why when, on his death, a conference was held, leading editors of all shades of opinion and political convictions attended to do reverence to a man who commanded their admiration. Some of them did not appreciate his incorruptible individuality and blunt truths but none failed to respect him. I have a hundred personal anecdotes about him, but I am too old and ill to narrate them here. After all, anecdotage is evidence of dotage and should be avoided at my advanced age. You are ever my cherished comrade, Nikhil, and never my allergy even where we disagree.

I can never forget the affection with which Nikhil came all the way to Thalassery (Malabar) to inaugurate a seminar organised by the Sharada Krishna Iyer Memorial Society. More than the excellent speech he made it was the extreme sacrifice he suffered in consenting to travel long and honour the memory of my wife. This was in the early seventies. Again, what a wonder that Nikhil should decline Padmabhushan, a State privilege which the Union Cabinet confers as a tribute on VIPs many of whom crazily seek to wear this gilt-edged ornament. Nikhil was made of a different stuff. Ambition never could eclipse his humility nor flattery ever become his frailty.

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