What is it that the media has been saying after the death of Koteshwara Rao, alias Krishenji, the killer leader of the Maoist movement, in an encounter with the Combat Battalion for Resolution Action (CBRA) in West Bengal? He was killed in action. But our so-called Human Rights activists wouldn’t believe it. Their charge is that it was a fake encounter in which Krishenji was killed and that must be investigated. Hindustan Times (November 28) asked: “Instead of cold-shouldering such a demand, the government must investigate the killing in a transparent manner”.
As Hindustan Times put it “the Indian Government’s stand on how to deal with the Maoist problem is far from clear”. The paper’s argument is that “victory over the Maoists cannot happen unless and until there is the support of the tribals in the affected areas and that will only come if long-term measures are undertaken” and further that “after all it is the sense that they have no access to a just system that forces many to join the Maoist ranks”. Ergo, while the paper advised that the “Security forces will have to have to resolve and resources to hold on to the ground that has been cleared,” it also said that Maoists must be provided “with the amenities that they most need, schools, hospitals and above all a sense that they will not be branded as Maoists/pro-Maoists at every opportunity”.
If the government of the day manages to follow these principles, said the paper, “peace will come eventually”. The Asian Age (November 27) like other media, said that the report that Kishenji was killed in a ‘fake encounter’ needs to be investigated in the interests of upholding the democratic template” and that, while Kishenji is dead, the Maoist threat is not and there is still a long fight ahead – military, political and ideological – against Maoism. Meanwhile India has done well to convey to China that its bullying in many ways is nto acceptable. This was taken note of by The Asian Age (November 28) and in firm language. It will be remembered that in regard to the Buddhist Religious Conference held in New Delhi, Beijing had first asked New Delhi to get the Dalai Lama not to address it and then, subsequently, had also demanded that the Conference itself be disallowed! Some arrogance and impertinence, that! India, said the paper, “quite correctly declined to entertain China’s “foolish request”. The paper ticked off China for its “unbecoming stubbornness, refusing to understand that India is a democratic country and not a dictatorial or one-party state and added “It is time Beijing grew up”.
At this point may one switch over from politics to something more human-specific, like remembering the great dead. Obituaries are not – as this column has time and again noted – popular in our print media which seems more interested in sex, scandals and high society. What is true of the print media is equally true of our electronic media. How many dailies, for instance, took note of the passing away of Har Gobind Khanna (1922-2011) who was the Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1968 and who deciphered the genetic code RNA?
Deccan Herald (November 19) carried a full PTI report. Which many papers ignored. Sad. Can one believe it, but Khanna came from a poor rural family in Punjab which was, as he himself once said, “the only literate family in the village inhabited by about 100 people”. Shouldn’t his passing away have received due prominence? If the passing away of an Indian Nobel Prize winner gets such poor treatment in the media what else can one expect from it? It was, therefore, somewhat of a pleasant surprise to see that the death of Indira Goswamy, eminent litterateur, Jnanpeeth Laureate and peace-maker between the ULFA and the Centre was noticed, indeed prominently, by The Hindu (November 30). The paper did full justice to her career, calling her “a beloved daughter of Assam”. A writer, Aruni Kashyap wrote: “When she spoke, 31 million people listened… I don’t know of any contemporary author in the world who occupied such a central place and unparalleled popularity in the public imagination”. But not, alas, across the whole of India which largely ignored her passing away.
Day after day we are reminded of Dhoni & Co, but the tendency is to forget the past. The Afternoon Despatch & Courier (October 17) had the good sense to publish an article on Vijay Merchant whose birth centenary fell on October 11. The GenNext probably wouldn’t have heard of him. ADC reminded us that he was “a legend in his lifetime, a multi-faceted personality, one of the finest opening batsmen of his times, an able administrator, sports broadcaster, social worker, successful industrialist and above all great human being.” I was much later to learn that he was as much a fan of me as I was of him! During those days in the early fifties I was editor of the Free Press Bulletin and was writing a regular column called Gaslight Gossip. Merchant would call me almost every other day to say that he enjoyed reading my column and he would invite me to his office which was not too far away from Dalal Street for a cup of coffee and we would talk about his cricket. I remember his once telling me that he got ten rupees a day for his participation in the matches! The ADC gave half a page for a full write-up on Merchant. I would like to make a suggestion to our newspapers, which devote so much space to society rubbish. Why not devote a page at least once a week for writing obituaries of those who have passed away during that period and, in addition observe the centenaries or bicentenaries of famous men and women in every field to remind the new generation of those who helped India to be what it is today? We might then come to know a little more about the Nayudu brothers (CK and CS) and of a man who was once the talk of the town for his cricket commentaries: AFS Talyarkhan. And we might know a little more about authors, writers, dramatists film stars, not to mention journalists themselves of another age and time. To remember the past is to get inspiration for the future. I was greatly touched by an obituary in The Hindu (November 15) on one of its own staffers, R Krishnaswamy who had retired as the paper’s Chief Reporter and served it for forty years. Which other paper would remember its old-timers and record their death?