Reporting Politics: Of Being Envious and Not to Be

Pradeep  Mathur

I must confess that at times I get a little envious of the present generation of journalists, many of whom are my own students. The reason is not the fat salaries they get or the positions they hold. We also did quite well in our days. The reason is that while we had to slog together facts and background to do our stories the present-day journalists get all the information at the click of a button. They do not have to go to libraries, dig their heads in books, talk to people and pester their seniors to do their stories. Then after a day’s hard work to gather the story they do not have to tire themselves out at heavy manual typewriters as we had to do.
Now mobiles have also made the reporting job so easy for journalists. They can talk to a VIP and take his interview on the phone by making a video call. No appointment seeking and tension to reach his place on time beating the rush hour traffic.
Such ease of job and comfortable working was unthinkable in our time. Today the time and effort the journalists thus save they invest in enhancing their knowledge base and widening their contact circle. No wonder they are better informed and more resourceful than the journalists of my generation.
However, let me not think small. Time always changes and change brings new developments in technology. Perhaps we were luckier than a generation before us. Let us think of the good things we had in our time instead of feeling envious of what our youngsters have in the present time.
I think we were singularly lucky in having interacted with political leaders who were far more intelligent, knowledgeable and graceful than present-day politicians. It was a pleasure to have interacted with politicians like H.N. Bahuguna, Chandra Shekhar, I.K. Gujral, Padamkant Malviya, Pillo Mody, K,R Malkhani, J.P.Mathur, Ladli Mohan Nigam, Somnath Chatterjee Indrajeet Gupta and Surendra Mohan to name a few.
They were decent and committed people and their conduct was worth emulating. Their sagacity, sense of justice, balanced outlook, self-assurance and sense of humor gave them a certain of grace which was truly remarkable. And this was perhaps our biggest gain out of our interaction that certainly helped us in our growth as good professionals and better human beings.
I think the present generation of journalists is not so lucky. They have to interact with politicians who are mean, totally self-centered, semi-literate, uncouth and graceless. I think instead of being envious of young journalists, I should better sympathize with them. I now realize how lucky we were to be reporting on politics in that era of graceful leaders, which is now sadly becoming a forgotten chapter in our political history
Talking of my years in field of Journalism in the decades of 1960s, 70s and 80s, I can think of no politician more graceful than Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Whatever her shortcomings, whatever ups and downs she saw in her political career, Mrs. Indira Gandhi always conducted herself with unmatched grace.
But she was not the only politician who acted with grace even when provoked. There were many others in her party as well as in the Opposition that time.
In the second half of the year 1980 the Bareilly Lok Sabha seat in U.P. fell vacant. The Congress party of Mrs. Indira Gandhi fielded Begum Abida Ahmed, widow of President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad in the by-election. Her principal rival was a bearded Muslim candidate, Mohd Saleem ( correct me if I am wrong) fielded by the Congress (u), the breakaway Congress faction led by Mr. Devraj Urs, former chief minister of Karnataka and one- time protege of Mrs. Gandhi. I was deputed by my newspaper to cover the election.
It was not an easy election to cover. The political wave which returned Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress party to power after the Janta Party rule had passed away and the party organization was rudderless after Sanjay Gandhi’s death. Rajiv Gandhi had still not arrived on the scene.
Moradabad District in Western U.P., about 80 kilometers from Bareilly had witnessed communal riots shortly before the by-election. Both communities had suffered violence and casualties. The Congress (u) candidate and his supporters were reportedly showing blood-stained clothes to people in order to get support of Muslim voters in Bareilly.
After visiting several places in the constituency and talking to a lot many people from all walks of life for my election stories, I decided to interview Devraj Urs, who had come to Bareilly to campaign for his party candidate?
As I entered a small room in the party office to meet Mr. Urs I found myself before a heavy-built graceful man who had a regal presence. Mr. Urs welcome me in a low soft voice.
As we settle down to break the ice, I asked him it was his first visit to West U.P. I also asked him how comfortable he was in Hindi. He patiently answered me. We discussed issues involved in the electoral politics of the day.
Then towards the end I asked him: “ Is showing blood-stained clothes at public meetings should be the right thing for his party’s election campaign”.
Mr. Urs was obviously embarrassed. I had put him on the defensive He said we are also raising other substantive issues. We are raising the issue of rise in sugar prices. Then in a challenging tone he asked me: “Do not you think it is an issue”.
No, Sir. It is not an issue here. I replied.
Mr. Urs, looked shocked. What do you say sugar price rise is not an issue, he asked me and raised his head for the first time to look straight into my eyes.
“No, it is not an issue here. I belong to Western U.P. and I know that more than 60 per cent of voters in this constituency are so poor that they hardly buy sugar. Only well-off people consume sugar and sugar price does not matter to them.” I replied.
Mr. Urs looked shocked beyond words. He closed his eyes, raised his palm and hit his forehead against It. In a painful voice he murmured: Oh God. This is the condition of my countrymen.
There was a pin-drop silence in the room. I waited for a moment and looked at Mr. Urs. With eyes closed, forehead on the palm and a pensive face, he looked as a hero of some Greek tragedy. I stood up, said thank you and came out of the room. I had to catch the train for return journey to Delhi.
On way back, I thought I must meet Mr. Urs again to do a personality profile of him and talk to him in detail about his background, early years in politics and his vision of future India. But it was not to be. I got busy with my affairs and got no time or opportunity to go to Bangalore. Mr. Urs did not come to Delhi after that. He passed away in June 2002.

Pradeep Mathur
Pradeep Mathur

 

(The author, a veteran journalist and a former Professor at IIMC, New Delhi, is editor of Mediamap, a monthly thought journal on current affairs.He is also Chairman of the School for International Media Studies( SIMS)).

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