There are various ways of writing history, as anybody can tell. One is linear history; it starts from a given date and traces the events that happened sequentially upto a given period of time. Thus, one can write the history of Indian starting from August 15, 1947 and ending on August 15, 2007, a celebratory period of sixty years. There is a second way, which traces the development of ideas and concepts in all fields of human activity whether political, economic, social and developmental. One might call it sectoral history, even if it sounds disjointed.
Nirmala Lakshman has chosen to provide the reader with not so much a history of journalism as much as a collection of viewpoints on various issues and diverse subjects, not necessarily unbiased but commanding attention all the same. It is history of sorts seen through the eyes of journalists, academics, activists, politicians and ideologues. The book is divided into six parts. Part I deals with Constructing A Democracy. Part II deals with Nurturing a Free Press; Part III headless problems associated with a divided society. Part IV discusses Corruption and Culpability. Part V is concerned with India'srelations with the world and the last part speaks of a Wealth of Spirit, shown by models like M.F. Husain.
One can'tthink of a better approach to the study of India in its multifaceted forms than this Anthology. Purists may cavill at the choice of some columnists. An older generation may ask why the fiery writings of such distinguished?and brave?old-timers like S.Sadanand, Stalin Srinivasah or M. Chalapathi Rao have been ignored, though one is glad to read Khasa Subba Rao's article originally published in Swarajya (Annual Number 1972) on Preserving The Freedom of the Press. And how truthful are his observations! Says he: ?Editor is the linchpin of a newspaper. He is now hemmed in between the government, the proprietor, and the journalists. The men in power expect him to support them, the proprietor commands him to write editorials in a particular way and the journalists seeks to control his discretion?. For all that Nirmala Lakshman has a ready apology. She soothingly points out that the anthology is ?by no means a comprehensive compilation but is only representative of certain themes that have been inextricably bound with democratic discourse?, adding that ?Indian journalism reflects the multi-layered strands that constitutes its heterogeneity. Reading these select columns one gets a rough picture of sixty years of independent Indian in all its shabbiness and occasional splendor.
The columns?or essays?are essentially opinionated. Most of them are short and to the point. The 1900 generation is represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, J.B.Kripalani, K.M.Munshi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Naturally they are dated, as is Jayaprakash Naryan'scritical essay on Bihar written on May 11, 1975 in which he frankly admits that his ideas on social, political and economic development of the state, as indeed of India may go the way of all such ideas, into oblivion. His modesty, however, is apparent when he says that he ?cannot hope to succeed where Gandhiji failed?. By the time India became independent Gandhiji had already been marginalised anyway and one must take JP'sidealism for what it just amounts to?idealism. He must have been day-dreaming, when he wrote that piece for The Sunday Standard. Significantly the book carries an article from another old-timer, C. Rajagopalachari also known as Rajaji and C.R. Its significance lies in the fact that he was opposed to the imposition of Hindi on the entire country, insisting that ?the change from English to Hindi will seriously affect the interests of the non-Hindi people and will break the unity of the nation?. He could foresee what might happen if the Hindi protagonists had their way.
The inclusion of an article by Jawaharlal Nehru first published in National Herald (October 6, 1938) reads somewhat out-of-place. India in 1938 was still a colony and while the relevance of the article at the time when it was first published cannot be challenged, it is really a period piece despits its great significance. What is disturbing is that in choosing the articles one notices a certain bias against right wing politics making the compilation less holistic. It shows an unwillingness to face facts that does no credit to the editor. In a work of this kind the reader must have the final word. That said, acknowledgement must still be made of the space given to contrary views and concepts such as on Tehelka and the freedom of the media.
Thus, included is and article by Bharma Kumar strongly critical of a columnist in The Times of India who seemed to support the killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Dharma Kumar'sargument is ?why should every Sikh be responsible for the doings of all other Sikhs?. A good question. In chosing articles for this anthology Nirmala Lakshman must have spent some sleepless nights. No matter how fair one tries to be there will always be some who will argue that the editor has not done justice to this or that view. Surely an Atal Bihari Vajpayee or a L.K. Advani or even a Prafull Goradia has some worthy views to express? Why should the reader be denied access to their thoughts? Was this a deliberate act of malfeasance or just accidental?a case of forgetfulness? No matter.
After all, one must respect the right of an editor on what should go into a compilation and what needs to be omitted. The important point is that this book is reader-friendly. Very few articles are longer than three pages and the thoughts are well-compressed. They follow a familiar pattern developed by journalists who know how to project profound thoughts in easily assailable language. In that sense one should be grateful to Nirmala Lakshman for presenting a picture of intellectual India in its many shades and contours. In the immediate aftermath of Independence the Indian media was both caring and daring, reporting on the tremendous challenges ahead of the nation, truly reflecting the voice of the people. One looks back nostalgically to those times which may not come again. Stuck as we are to Page 3 journalism. Hopefully, things will change.
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