Baleshwar Agrawal:Founder of modern journalism in Nepal
It may sound as an unbelievable story at this point of time, but those of Baleshwar Agrawal’s journalists friends, who had manned the Hindusthan Samachar (HS) bureau at Kathmandu in the 1950s and later, such as this scribe, would recall with fond memories the role of HS in enabling newspapers of Kathmandu publish them every evening with news items supplied mainly by HS. The editors/publishers were taking the trouble of providing only the editorials and nothing else. Not merely the editors/publishers of privately owned single-page affairs, but even Radio Nepal, which was Government owned, would send people to the office of the Hindusthan Samachar every morning to collect news items for their morning and other bulletins and broadcast at 8 A.M and later in the day.
Even when Nepal introduced Parliamentary democracy in 1959, Hindusthan Samachar had to provide reports of the proceedings although they were in Nepali language with which we were not yet fully conversant. It was only in the mid 1960s that local newspapers had started to cover the Parliament proceedings by their own reporters which were reluctantly opened in Nepal for the outside world in early 1951 , after an armed insurrection led by the Nepali Congress Party succeeded in defeating the oligarchic Rana rule of 104 years and opening Nepal to India and the world by February 1951.
Baleshwarji had taken keen interest in these developments and managed to reach Kathmandu. The HS had started functioning very soon after the revolution with Baleshwarji setting up an office in 1955 or so.
The more resourceful Press Trust of India (PTI) also had an office at Kathmandu but it did not cater to local Nepali newspapers as HS used to do. It catered to the needs of Indian newspapers for news from Nepal. We were thus not subjected to competition from this financially strong PTI. We used to provide the needs of Nepali newspapers for news originating not only from capital Kathmandu but also from interior districts too from where news items originating even a fortnight earlier would land in our Kathmandu office. These news items connected interior Nepal with the outside world. Till after 1960s,Nepal did not have an international postal service of its own. The Post and Telegraph office attached to the Indian Embassy used to provide postal and telegraph services for the people of Kathmandu.
Indian newspapers used to post their reporters at Kathmandu since the late 1950s and early 1960s.Some of these special correspondents would maintain friendly relationship with HS office often helping them with facts for their stories. HS reporters posted in Kathmandu often used to brief Special Correspondents of Indian newspapers for their stories. We used to keep constant touch with sources of news in Kathmandu which had proved to be very helpful for coverage of news originating in Kathmandu or elsewhere in Nepal.
When Nepal held general elections in early 1959 and a Parliament of two Houses came into being, mostly Hindusthan Samachar reporters used to cover the proceedings in both Houses, despite difficulties in following the proceedings in Nepali language. Even with inadequate knowledge of Nepali language we had to cover the two Houses because our subscribers had no means to appoint reporters for covering the Parliamentary proceedings.
I was in Hindusthan Samachar in Kathmandu in December 1960 .By then Parliamentary set-up had laid strong foundation. Parliament was in recess and Indian journalists were taking things somewhat easy. However, Hindusthan Samachar could not take things easy. We still had local subscribers who had expected us to cover even insignificant events such as the launching of the Nepal Tarun Dal by the ruling Nepali Congress Party.
After Prime Minister Koirala delivered his speech and a Nepal Tarun Dal leader was to address his young colleagues the proceedings were marred by the presence of a Palace Army officers who made Koirala and three other top leaders to follow him to the jeep outside the venue of the meeting. The meeting broke up since the King had taken power in his hands This was the end of the experience of Parliamentary democracy in Nepal.
Since PTI correspondent had left Kathmandu for two days, the event of the day remained unreported till the evening by the time the PTI correspondent returned to Kathmandu. Hindusthan Samachar had covered half of India with this news.
Months later, when I had met Baleshwarji at Patna and discussed the events of December 15, 1960 at Kathmandu, Baleshwarji just opened his 1960 diary and showed a marking on the date, November 15, 1960 telling me that this royal takeover was to take place on November 15. For some reason, the date was changed to December 15, 1960. Baleshwarji knew about this royal takeover months earlier but had not disclosed it to anyone including his man in Kathmandu. A true journalist if there was one.
Condolence meetings in Delhi
Two condolence meetings were held in Delhi to pay homage to senior journalist Baleshwar Agrawal. The first meeting was held at Pravasi Bhavan by Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad on May 26. Many leading journalists from Delhi including Shri Devendra Swarup, Shri Ram Bahadur Rai, Shri Rakesh Pande, Dr Ravindra Agrawal, Shri Sanjay Gupta paid tribute. Many distinguished personalities including Dr Harsha Vardhan, Shri Ravindra Nagar, VHP patron Shri Ashok Singhal, ARSP president Shri Shashank, former ARSP president Shri LL Mehrotra, former president Sushri Sarojini Mahishi, former Indian High Commissioner in FIJI Shri Ajay Singh, Dr Ashok Chauhan of Amity International School, Shri Seshadri Chari, Shri Shyam Singh ‘Shashi’ were also present on the occasion. The second condolence meeting was held by the Hindusthan Samachar multi lingual news agency at Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) on June 2. Prominent among those who paid tribute included Shri Ram Bahadur Rai, Shri Alok Mehta, Shri Sanjay Joshi, Uttar Kshetra Sanghachalak Dr Bajranglal Gupt, Dr Nanda Kishore Trikha and many others. The condolence meeting began with the tribute by senior journalist of Punjab Kesari Shri Manmohan Sharma. He recalled the role of Baleshwarji in expansion of Hindusthan Samachar. Shri Arabinda Ghosh described Baleshwarji as father of modern journalism in Nepal. Dr Nand Kishore Trikha described Hindusthan Samachar as a factory of journalists. Shri Ram Bahadur Rai described him as a saint journalist. Shri Alok Mehta said Baleshwarji was free from any kind of bias. (FOC)