The media moguls in the life of a communist

12 September 2007

Tehelka executive editor Sankarshan Thakur has a compelling profile of Prakash Karat, the bossman of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who has been breathing fire and brimstone at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the proposed Indo-US nuclear deal, in the latest issue.

The sketch is interesting for one other reason: the role two major media domos play in the life of Karat—N. Ram, who will later become the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, and Pronoy Roy, the poster-boy of Indian television, and his wife Radhika Roy, who is Prakash Karat’s sister-in-law.

***

The Ram connection:

“On to the elite Madras Christian College where he [Karat] meets N. Ram and P. Chidambaram. Spark merges with spark and makes a pool of light. It’s a journal called The Radical Review. It has things to sustain it—there’s the affluence of Ram and Chidambaram, there’s the ferment over America’s bull-headed misadventure in Vietnam.

“When he returned home in 1970, he was called in straight to the CPM, which by then had decided to move the Party Centre—the organisation’s ideological engine—from Bengal to New Delhi. He began by assisting parliamentary party leader A.K. Gopalan, but he always remained in the field of vision of the then general secretary, P. Sundaraiyya, soon to become Karat’s favoured instructor.

“Sundaraiyya would have to quit the CPM over ideological differences in 1978, but, to date, the only portrait that adorns Karat’s office is his. Did N. Ram formally hook Karat with the CPM? Nobody’s telling. It’s true, though, that at the time, Ram had known Sundaraiyya better and longer than Karat. And he had a good sense of where Karat’s heart lay, what promise he held…”

***

On the Roy connection:

“If there’s one blemish to him,” he says wistfully, “it is that he continues to live with the Roys.” Reference to PrannoyRadhika Roy, the success-couple behind NDTV, brother-in-law and sister to Brinda [Karat]. Karat retains his spartan party-given flat in the MPS’ hostel at Vitthalbhai Patel House, but home remains the Roys’ residence in South Delhi.”Many find the contradictions between Communism and class comfort disturbing but if there is a disjunct, it remains a finely-managed one. On a day that Karat fires ultimatums at the government, Prannoy comfortably slips into his studio seat to announce that 60 per cent of those aware of the details of the nuclear deal disapprove of the CPM’s stand. Also, that his polls suggest Karat’s tactics will substantially reduce the party’s numbers in parliament.

“Karat, on his part, is able to display his disdain with equal ease. “So NDTV is still doing polls?” he remarked sardonically to a friend upon being told. “Haven’t they learnt any lessons from their embarrassments in UP?” Beyond a point, little that transpires in the Roy-Karat home cramps either side. Beyond a point, how relevant or consequential is it to dwell on the personal in a nation that never seems to mind the presence of family or dynasty in public life?

“Old friend Amesh Dikshit will vouch that the lifestyle of the Roys hasn’t rubbed off on Prakash, personally or politically. ‘He came home for dinner a couple of years ago. He was already a very important man. I knew he declined all VIP treatment the Mulayam Singh government was eager to offer. He came in a friend’s car and returned late at night on the pillion of my nephew’s scooter’.”

Read the full profile here: The commissar in his labyrinth

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