‘Arun Shourie: a Hindu right-wing pamphleteer’

3 October 2011

There are few more polarising figures in Indian journalism than Arun Shourie.

For many of his professional peers, he is everything a journalist should not be: a wonky-eyed, hired gun of the Hindu right, selectively and deviously using facts to push its ideological and political agendas.

Arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial, .

For multitudes more, he is the proverbial Sancho Panza, tilting at the windmills of political correctness, shining light on the dark corners of Indian political and business life, with his exposes and editorials.

Saying it like it is, without fear or favour.

In his just released memoirs, Ink in my Veins, the veteran editor Surendra Nihal Singh, who was Shourie’s boss at the Indian Express, dismisses Shourie as a pamphleteer who thought “a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office… and used journalism to achieve his political ambitions.”

***

By S. NIHAL SINGH

My experience with Arun Shourie was not happy.

To begin with, he had got used to doing pretty much what he wanted because S. Mulgaonkar [who Nihal Singh replaced as Express editor at his recommendation] had been ailing for long and usually made only a brief morning appearance to do an edit if he felt like it.

To have to work with a hands-on editor who oversaw the news and editorial sections was an irksome burden for Shourie.

Our objectives collided.

My efforts were directed to making the Express a better paper, while he was basically a pamphleteer who was ideologically close to the Hindu right. Even while he oversaw a string of reporters’ stories, which drew national attention (for which he claimed more credit that was his due), his aim was to spread the message.

Goenka himself could be swayed by Hindu ideology. In one instance, he sent me a draft editorial from Madras full of all the cliches of the Hindu right. One of Goenka’s men in the southern city was S. Gurumurthy, a sympathiser of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a pro-Hindu organisation.

The issue was the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam at Meenakshipuram (in Tamil Nadu) in June 1981. I put two and two together and it added up to Gurumurthy’s handiwork. I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket. And I did not hear a word about it from Goenka.

Shourie exploited his proximity to Goenka to terrorise the reporters and subeditors. As executive editor, he was the No.2 man in the editorial hierarchy but often assumed the airs of a prima donna. His office being twice as large as the editor’s room and far better furnished always puzzled me.

Shourie believe that rules were made for others, and our clash began when he took umbrage over my cutting his extensive opinion piece to conform to the paper’s style. On one occasion, I had to spike a piece he had written on Indira Gandhi, in language unbecoming of any civilised newspaper.

In an underhand move, he quietly sent it to the magazine section, printed in Bombay, without inviting a censure from Goenka.

To a professional journalist, some of Shourie’s arguments sound decidedly odd. He declared, “When an editor stops a story, I go and give it to another newspaper. I am no karamchari [worker] of anybody’s. Whether I work in your organisation or not, I really look upon myself as a citizen or first as a human being, and then as a citizen, and as nothing else. If I happen to work for Facets [a journal in which his extensive piece appeared as its January-February 1983 issue], I will still behave the same way. If you use my happening to work for you as a device to shut my mouth, I’ll certainly shout, scream, and kick you in the shins.”

Shourie told the same journal that he had no compunction in mixing his editorial and managerial function ‘because the Indian Express is in an absolutely chaotic state. Ther is no management worth the name. Anyone wanting to help it must also help solve the management problems.’

To give him his due, Shourie had many good qualities. He was a hard worker and often did his homework before writing. However, we could never agree on the paper’s outlook because, for him, a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office.

For me the integrity of a newspaper was worth fighting for.

Goenka swayed between these points of view. He used to tell me: ‘Not even five per cent readers look at the editorials.’ He called Frank Moraes, a distinguished former editor of the Indian Express, ‘my race horse’. Shourie he once described to me as a ‘two-horse tonga‘ (horse carriage).

Shourie later distinguished himself in the political field under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); he even achieved the position of a cabinet minister. In effect, he successfully employed journalism to achieve his political ambition.

***

(Editor of The Statesman, The Indian Express and The Indian Post, Surendra Nihal Singh served in Singapore, Islamabad, Moscow, London, New York, Paris and Dubai. He received the International Editor of the Year award in 1978 for his role as editor of The Statesman during the Emergency)

(Excerpted from Ink in my Veins, A life in Journalism, by S. Nihal Singh, Hay House, 308 pages, price Rs 499)

Also read: Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie: ‘Intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’

How Arun Shourie became Express editor

Arun Shourie: The three lessons of failure

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15 Responses to “‘Arun Shourie: a Hindu right-wing pamphleteer’”


  1. Arun Shourie is one of the best writers, editors and journalists in the history of this country.

    At the time when a vast majority of the journalistic community were busy prostrating before the Emergency Regime of the 1970s, Shourie stood up. He kept his journalist integrity and he spoke for the truth.

    It is because of people like him that we can still have some respect for the media profession. Perhaps The Indian Express is the only newspaper with a “backbone” in this country.

    • SoBha Says:

      If I had not known that Shourie will not stoop so low, I would have thought he himself wrote this comment. He too would have been surprised at this praise.

      Arun Shourie, who used to write ten-column long articles and demand that the entire piece be carriedon front page (which had less than 8 columns, counting the masthead) himself usedd to tell chief subs end news editors that he was no professional editor like them, for whom he had only contempt.

      You kmay agree with his views, but still hold he was no journalist.

      If one has strong beliefs, was impervious to any argument against those beliefs, and insisted on publishing them, one can only be called a pamphleteer. Nihal Singh is right.

  2. vaidya Says:

    “The issue was the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam at Meenakshipuram (in Tamil Nadu) in June 1981. I put two and two together and it added up to Gurumurthy’s handiwork. I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket. And I did not hear a word about it from Goenka.”

    Am confused about this paragraph. Is he saying that that incident did not happen? Or is he saying that the paper had an ideology that was different from that of the article.

    If it was based on incidents which did not happen, I agree with his actions. If it did not match up to the standards of the newspaper, it’s a different issue. I believe an editorial is a point of view on a piece of news. A newspaper should be willing to publish it as well as any edits which offer a counter-opinion. That’s how you form an interesting debate. Suppressing one side and playing up another just forms a different ideology of its own.

  3. Rajeev Says:

    The author thinks its a crime to publish any of the right wing or pro-hindu views? He has not given facts…just abusing using phrases “Arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial,”

    In fact the Author himself is arrogant when he says ” I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket”.
    Whats wrong in publishing such a view?

  4. gaurav Says:

    the person who writes this blog is a frustu.He,like this some Nihal Singh or whatever(how many people heard of this chap before)can’t digest the fact that Shourie is admired by millions for his uprightness,his intellectual honesty,his integrity and his probity while chaps like the blog owner and this Nihal Singh have been consigned to the waste basket of history.

  5. VOXINDICA Says:

    Arun Shourie arrived on the scene at a time when democratic institutions were systematically being decimated. He may have had Goenka’s full backing but Shourie provided a bulwark against totalitarian forces. He erased the stigma of Indian journalism that it was mere ‘hand-out journalism’, and earned it respectability. As a journalist and editor, Shourie was like a beacon light that shone for democratic values, upholding justice and exposing venality and corruption of the political class. Singh seems to have forgotten that Shourie chucked a plush World Bank job to enter Indian journalism. For all of his fulminations, Nihal Singh cannot hold a candle to Shourie.

    No wonder S. Nihal Singh hates Arun Shourie and uses his ‘tell-all’ memoirs to vent his bile at him. Nihal Singh had to wait all these years to do so but, Shourie called him a ‘Chaprasi’ in an interview long ago. This happened soon after the two had a spat over Singh axing a major portion of an article Shourie wrote. Further as Shourie said, he did it behind his back by sending a telex to publishing centres to exclude ‘the following eight paragraphs of Mr. Arun Shourie’s article’. He told Shourie he was using his ‘editorial discretion’ only after being accosted. Nihal Singh’s jealousy is quite apparent when had to say this now: “His office being twice as large as the editor’s room and far better furnished always puzzled me.” If he felt slighted at Shourie being accorded a special status or the clout he enjoyed, Singh should have taken it up with Goenka, then.

    As Vaidya pointed out above, one doesn’t understand what point Singh wished to make on the issue of Meenakshipuram mass conversions; or S. Gurumurthy’s alleged role in writing an editorial on it. Did not the conversions take place? If yes, why should the ‘Indian Express’ fight shy of writing an editorial on it?

    What does our worthy Nihal Singh mean by this: ‘As executive editor, he was the No.2 man in the editorial hierarchy but often assumed the airs of a prima donna.’ Isn’t a ‘prima donna’ a diva, a female?

    The accusation of Shourie’s political ambitions is made only with the knowledge of hindsight. Back in 1977, when Shourie made his debut as a journalist, no one in his right mind would have predicted the rise of a right wing party that would make him a minister. What is Nihal Singh’s motive in attacking Shourie in his memoirs? Attacking a soft target? Sensationalizing to sell more copies? Or pleasing the powers-that-be for pelf? Is he after a government sinecure like Dilip Padgaonkar?

  6. N D Sharma Says:

    Arun Shourie is, above all, a psychopathic case

  7. Jay Ravi Says:

    This is another article full of self-righteous opinions and bigotry. We readers too may have an opinion of Nihal Singh and his gibberish. Many of us are free to conclude that he has groin-level intellect. Any problem with that?

  8. Krishna Kumar Says:

    1. Arun Shourie may have been ‘arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’, I don’t know. But, to the best of my knowledge, he became ‘a Hindu right-wing pamphleteer’, long after he left Indian Express.

    2. Much of what Nihal Singh writes about Shourie is equally applicable to N. Ram of The Hindu. But, nobody calls him a ‘left-wing pamphleteer’ or accuses him of being ‘arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’!

    3. Nihal Singh survived in the Indian Express after throwing an editorial sent by Goenka into a waste-basket. Can an editor survive in a similar situation in the TOI, HT or The Hindu?

  9. N D Sharma Says:

    There is apparently a slight inaccuracy in Nihal Singh’s “race-horse” observation. The epithet was used by Goenka in an interview to “Sunday”magazine not for Frank Moraes but for Arun Shourie. Goenka was asked why he did not elevate Shourie to the post of editor (rather than bring Nihal Singh). His reply was that for his organisation he wanted a tonga-horse and not race-horse who would break the tonga.

  10. kaangeya Says:

    Arun Shourie is what a journalist should be tireless, uncompromising, analytically brilliant and progressive. He’s proven himself many times over. First as an economist, then as a journalist, and then again as a historian, and then as one of India’s finest economics ministers heading the Disinvestment Ministry. He has never been refuted, and his dogged pursuit of fact, evidence and analysis flattens every debater who has had the misfortune to challenge him; and has deterred some other wannabes (Ram Guha. Praful Bidwai, Sukumar Muralidharan and suchlike) from even trying. The only way left for the many he has bested or left feeling like fools is to resort to invective. Guha resorts to schoolboy taunts in that Congress-Sonia rag Telegraph. Sukumar left speechless by Shourie’s critique of Ambedkar was left whimpering in a weak beer review of the book, claiming that so what, except Gandhi, everyone had their less appealing side. Bidwai that blundering bully doesn’t dare try take on Shourie – discretion (fortified by a 1/2 of Old Monk) is preferable to valour!

    And by the way, Nihal who?

  11. abhishek sharman Says:

    <<<<<he is the proverbial Sancho Panza, tilting at the windmills of political correctness,

    Whoever has written it, he is not aware that it was Don Quixote who was proverbially tilting at the windmills and not Sancho Panza

  12. Sam Says:

    For those of you are confused about the following -

    “… The issue was the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam at Meenakshipuram (in Tamil Nadu) in June 1981. I put two and two together and it added up to Gurumurthy’s handiwork. I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket …

    - is explained in the post itself –

    For many of his professional peers, he is everything a journalist should not be: a wonky-eyed, hired gun of the Hindu right, selectively and deviously using facts to push its ideological and political agendas. (Emphasis mine).

    Hence, the reason he didn’t publish the article was because he recognized that Arun Shourie, in consultation with the RSS member Mr. Gurumurthy, was just twisting facts to further RSS propaganda.

    Correction: Arun Shourie is not related to the conversion article. It was some other Sangh sympathizer known to Goenka.

  13. Jesse James Says:

    2 years to respond … followed by a correction within 5 min … sums up the competence of the opinion (and its provider)

  14. Dr V. Shukla Says:

    If anyone has heard Arun Shourie he’d realize how much bias the writer carries against him. Writer seems frustrated and this article is nothing more than venom spewing.


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