Tag Archives: B.G. Verghese

When B.G. Verghese is drawn into row, it’s news

Nobody is safe in the treacherous minefield that is Jammu & Kashmir. Not even B.G. Verghese.

The Magsaysay Award-winning editor of the Hindustan Times, who was sacked from the Birla-owned paper when he stated that Indira Gandhi‘s annexation of Sikkim was “less than proper” —and a welcome voice of sobriety in a mediascape populated by shriekers and attention-seekers—has been draw into a messy debate by a retired Kashmiri government officer.

Syed Mohammed Yasin, the former deputy commissioner of Kupwara, where 32 Kashmiri between 13 and 60 years of age were raped by Army men in 1991, tells the Kashmir Reader today, that the Press Council of India (PCI) team, which Verghese headed, did not do its job properly by giving a clean chit to the men in uniform.

“Yasin said the Press Council of India team led by senior journalist B.G. Varghese, which later gave a clean chit to the Army, had asked him to “save the soldiers in the national interest.”

“I told him (Varghese) ‘are you not ashamed of what your Army has done in Kunan-Poshpora?’

However, he started threatening me and my family. Even the Special Secretary tried to persuade me to close the case. However, I refused to do so. Later, I was transferred from one place to another but I never comprised over my report.”

Also read: A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

As the year ends, a lament for the media

How Arun Shourie slighted B.G. Verghese et al

N.S. Jagannathan, ex-editor, Indian Express: RIP

sans serif records with regret the passing away of N.S. Jagannathan, former editor-in-chief of The Indian Express and Financial Express, in Bangalore on Saturday, 24 December 2011. He was 89 years old.

NSJ, as he was known to friends and colleagues, succeeded Arun Shourie in the Express chair and held the post till 1992 after which he shifted to Bangalore.

T.C.A Srinivasa Raghavan writes in The Hindu Business Line:

“NSJ started his working life as a member of the Indian Revenue Service, a calling that soon palled on his finely developed senses. So he quit and became a writer for a small economic journal in Calcutta.

“From there he moved as Assistant Editor to the Hindustan Times in the late 1960sand to Delhi…. But in the mid-1970s the paper made a series of misjudgements, one of which was the summary removal of the Editor, B. G. Verghese, because he had the temerity to utter some home truths about Indira Gandhi’s style of governing.

“NSJ was appalled and chose to quit as well. He joined the Statesman and stayed there till 1980 when he retired. A few months later, he became the editor of the Financial Express where he stayed till he became the editor of the Indian Express for a few months preceding the death of Ram Nath Goenka, the owner.”

Mr Jagannathan edited Kamba Ramayana, the 12th century version of the epic, translated by his friend, P.S. Sundaram.

Photograph: courtesy The Indian Express

External reading: N.S. Jagannathan on Tambrahms

N.S. Jagannathan on the year 2003

The saplings Usha Rai planted on our Fleet Street

Delhi is celebrating its centenary as the capital of India, and a number of newspapers led by the Hindustan Times have been using the opportunity to take a stroll down memory lane.

 The Hindu Business Line too is running a series, and the sports journalist Norris Pritam (left) turned his eyes on the Fleet Street of India—Bahadurshah Zafar Marg—where a number of newspapers (The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Pioneer, et al) and their allied publications are headquartered.

Pritam’s reminiscence contains a number of anecdotes from some of the more permanent residents of the lane, who have watched the B.Z. Marg scenery change in more ways than one.

# “In the good old days, just three cars were parked in front of Indian Express,” recalls R. Ramachandran, who worked as editorial assistant with seven editors. “It was an Italian Fiat of S. Mulgaonkar, a Premier Padmini of Ramnath Goenka and a Dodge of Saroj Goenka.”

# Satya Dev Prasad, popularly known as Panditji, has been running a paan shop outside Express since 1977. “Why just the traffic, even journalists have changed. “Now you don’t have people like Verghese saheb (B.G. Verghese). When his son was getting married he (Verghese) asked me to photocopy some wedding ceremony papers on office machine, but paid for it.”

# For some of the young and more enterprising, the walks also afforded a brief ogling session. I won’t reveal more, but let me confess we were quite intrigued by a young girl in black tights who used to come out of the Times Building. Very quiet and serious looking, she always carried some fancy files and books. I never got a chance to ask her about those files. Now I find her anchoring CNN-IBN talk shows with aplomb! Yes, Sagarika Ghose it was.

# Fleet Street has an even stronger connection with NDTV. In the 1980s, Radhika Roy was chief sub-editor at the Express and Prannoy Roy, now founder and chairman NDTV, used to pick her up after work. In white shorts and T-shirt, after a session of squash I guess, he would often come to me at the sports desk to check county cricket results. It was still the days of old-fashioned PTI ticker and I gave him the teleprinter copies.

# Amidst all the drastic changes, perhaps the only thing that remains unchanged, apart from the buildings, are the few trees that Usha Rai (left) had planted in front of TOI and Express building. The saplings have turned into mature trees and provide much-wanted shade to the paan shops run by Panditji and his colleague Birbal. “I wish there were more Usha Rais in the profession,” sighs Panditji.

Map: courtesy Maps of India

Read the full article: Delhi’s Akhbaar road

‘Indira exploited Western media outrage in ’75’

William Rees-Mogg, the former editor of The Times, London, on the Emergency of 1975 and media censorship, in his book, Memoirs, to be published by Harper Collins on July 7:

“We attacked in a Times leader Mrs Indira Gandhi‘s suspension of Indian democracy. I only saw Mrs Gandhi once. She was insufferably arrogant, and very conscious of her image in the world. Our own correspondent in India, Peter Hazelhurst, had been ordered out of the country in the early Seventies.

“Because of consistent condemnation in the Western press, Indians were able to use the sense of moral outrage that existed in Western newspapers, rather the same way as the anti-apartheid campaigners were able to use the sense of moral outrage that apartheid caused.”

Also read: B.G.Verghese on the night Emergency was declared

Kuldip Nayar: The Hindu and Hindustan Times were worst offenders

Did we fight Emergency for this kind of media?

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

When Indira Gandhi introduced media censorship as part of the Emergency in 1975, Indian newspapers ran blank editorials as a form of protest.

The Kannada newspaper Vijaya Karnataka, belonging to The Times of India group, runs a blank (and black) editorial today, in protest against what happened in the State legislative assembly on Monday, during the trust vote moved by the chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa.

And in white type set on 60% black, editor Vishweshwar Bhat writes this small footnote at the bottom:

“The unseemly occurrences in the assembly on Monday should make every citizen bow his head in shame. The manner in which our elected representatives behaved is unpardonable. They have dealt a deadly blow to democracy. While criticising this, we symbolically represent the silent outrage of the people in this form.”

Also read: B.G. Verghese on the introduction of Emergency

Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975

H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India

B.G. VERGHESE: The declaration of Emergency

The former Indian Express and Hindustan Times editor B.G. Verghese has just released his memoirs, First Draft (Tranquebar). This excerpt, carried by HT last week, captures the declaration of Emergency and the introduction of press censorship by Indira Gandhi‘s regime in 1975.

***

By B.G. VERGHESE

A little before 2 am on June 26 [1975], the phone rang in my bedroom. It was Abhay Chajjlani, editor of Nai Dunia from Indore. Was anything happening in Delhi, he asked anxiously? I asked why he thought so. He said his premises, like those of other newspapers in Indore, had been raided, the presses stopped and all newspaper bundles seized. Political leaders had been arrested.

I said I would find out and call back if I could.

Another call followed immediately thereafter from Romesh Chandra of The Hind Samachar, Jullundur, sounding a similar alarm. I rang Romesh Thapar, who exclaimed, “My God, so it’s happened!”

I called the HT. The city edition was still in the midst of its first run. I asked the news editor to summon the bureau chief, chief reporter, photographers and all possible hands to scour the city and to alert our state correspondents and be prepared to run a new late edition or a special supplement. I would be coming over immediately.

…I got to the HT by 2.30 am by when one or two others had trickled in. We added a ‘stop press’ insertion to the late city edition under printing. We also prepared to bring out an early-morning supplement, to hit the streets as soon as possible with whatever news we could gather, and with whatever staff was available, as many sub-editors, compositors and press workers had gone off the night shift.

A reporter rang to say the Cabinet had been summoned for an urgent meeting at 6 am at the prime minister’s residence…. The promulgation of the internal Emergency was conveyed to a subdued Cabinet on the 26th morning with only Swaran Singh raising a mildly questioning voice.

Meanwhile, the first posters went up in the HT press noticeboards stating that the editor and a clique of anti-people journalists could not put the livelihood of the press workers and staff in jeopardy. By now the management was astir and had summoned the watch and ward to bar us from entry to the press, and shut it off.

With great difficulty we managed to get, maybe, a couple of hundred copies of our June 26 Emergency Supplement printed before the rotary ground to a halt. We collected those precious copies and carried them out for selective private distribution by journalist staff.

I retained a copy. It is probably now a collector’s item.

Photograph: Femina editor Vimla Patil interviews Indira Gandhi, with H.Y. Sharada Prasad, then the prime minister’s press secretary, in the background, in 1974 (courtesy Vimla Patil)

Also read: A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975

H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India

A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

B.G. Verghese, the Magsaysay Award-winning editor, author and columnist, has penned his memoirs, First Draft, “a worm’s eye-view of history as an individual saw it“.

“George”, as Mr Verghese is better known, did a stint as media advisor to then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Appointed editor of the Congress-friendly Hindustan Times in 1969, he grew critical of her actions. When he suggested that “her annexation of Sikkim was less than proper”, the K.K. Birla-owned paper sacked him.

The veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George pays tribute to a gentle giant who stands tall.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Out of the blue, as it were, a new and wholly unexpected voice broke above the newspaper din in India in 1959.

In a politics-obsessed world, this voice began talking about development projects—Bhakra Nangal, Damodar valley, Hirakund, Nagarjunasagar—and then about “brand names of distinction” like HAL, HMT, BHEL, ONGC etc.

These were all new terms at that time and the overall picture that came through was that of a massive change under way in the thinking as well as structural composition of India.

It was as good as a scoop.

That was B.G. Verghese’s entry into public attention. He had entered journalism ten years earlier, unplanned and unprepared, and spent time writing editorial notes until he got himself transferred to reporting. His ground-breaking reportage on “the temples of Modern India” was a departure for journalism itself.

Verghese’s editors in the Times of India recognised this and published his series on the front page. (Those were days when the ToI was a NEWSpaper led by some of the finest journalists India has known.)

The freshness of his “Bharat Darshan” tours and the importance of the message his reports conveyed remained the trademarks of Verghese’s journalism ever since. It made him a unique institution not comparable to anybody else in the vast galaxy of Indian journalism.

It gave his career a historical edge.

Hence the relevance of his just-published autobiography, a big-ticket 573-page tome called First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India (Tranquebar).

Frank Moraes, once Verghese’s editor, titled his political autobiography Witness to an Era. Both men were witnesses to great events and both were professionals to the core. But there the comparison ends. Moraes was ideologically partisan: Pro-American, pro-big business, anti-communist.

Verghese has strong views, but no ideological hangups.

Verghese crammed several lives into one. He was a reporter, an editor, a traveller, a bureaucrat as information adviser to the Prime Minister, visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, fellow of the Administrative Staff College of India, Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission and of course author.

The journalist prevails over all others in the writing of this autobiography. So his account of events, his references to the dramatis personae and his summing-up observations have the appeal of honesty, not the evasiveness of diplomacy.

His stint as adviser to Indira Gandhi allows him to speak frankly about the reality of high-level activities—how drafts for after-dinner speeches are finalised only after the dinner has started, how the Government does not work out a world view and relies instead on tired slogans, “the haphazard manner in which government functioned and the Prime Minister’s inexperience in so many matters”.

Verghese’ assessment of Indira Gandhi is a highlight of the book. He pays tribute to her qualities of leadership, the dignity of her deportment, her pride in India. But he is unsparing in his condemnation of the Emergency, the “savage and thoroughly illegal demolition orgy” of Sanjay Gandhi and of Indira’s own “split personality”.

B.G.Verghese is a serious person, concerned with serious, “un-sexy” topics like water resources. That makes his humour more appealing. The quality of his mind is reflected in the lightness with which he describes his introduction to the Prime Minister’s secretariat.

“There was no airconditioner in the room as the previous incumbent was a mere deputy secretary who ‘as per rules’ was not entitled to feel overly hot. The official theory was that the blood grew thinner with ascending seniority, entitling the officer to one, two or more airconditioners. The same theory worked for arm rests, back rests and foot rests….. Nor did I allow my chaprassi to hover around the car park in the morning to relieve me of my briefcase the moment I arrived. Official research had established that senior officers carry so much responsibility that the weight of a briefcase could do incalculable damage to their spine.”

His briefcase tightly held in his own hand, Verghese kept his spine straight and walked tall.

Photograph: B.G. Verghese with grand-daughters Naina and Diya at the launch of his memoirs, First Draft, in New Delhi on Wednesday (courtesy Oinam Anand/ The Indian Express)

Also read: As the year ends, a lament for the media

How Arun Shourie slighted B.G. Verghese et al