Issue :   
October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:October' 2018


More than “a typical journalist”

Mahedra Ved

Going by Arunaji, one of my oldest well-wishers in Delhi and wife of late Upendra Vajpayi, he once called me "a typical journalist." She did not elaborate as I guess it may have been an off-the-cuff remark. It is a matter of honour and personal satisfaction for me.
I never worked under him or with him. I was not part of any of the projects he had worked on. He had retired from The Hindustan Times that I joined in 1984, soon after marrying Arunaji, making for an affectionate behen-jeeja relationship.

So here is a tribute by "a typical journalist" to a man who was much more than just "a typical journalist". He was also a freedom fighter, a political worker, social activist and one who put his immense energy in a frail body to work for others. Long after retirement, he would be seen at various government offices, pushing this welfare project or that.
I say this because these qualities, are by and large, lacking in the present-day journalists who are born and grow in the profession as mercenaries, quitting it if there is more money anywhere else, often reveling in selfimportance and ready to cashin on their status.
The recourse to political or social work is for self-gain. Proximity to high-ups, individual politicians and parties is flaunted and nurtured with the hope of getting some privileged position.

The memoirs, which is a bunch of articles, essays, interviews and pen pictures of personalities Upenji dealt with, allows a measure of understanding of post-independence India that, to my mind, is sorely needed in the new century.

Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai I learnt more about Upendra Vajpayi from the late Dipta Sen, my peer, friend and guide during my Dhaka posting, and late Chand Joshi, long before I joined HT, then the national capital’s largest and most influential daily. Of course, one is talking of pre-reforms era after which the shape and the role of the media radically changed. That era comes forth with all its simplicity and complexities in Upenji's memoirs, "Moments in Life…", painstakingly compiled and published after his death by Arunaji and Nishu Verma. It covers a vast period in that it details the way politics occurred and the way media grew around it during the freedom movement, especially in Uttar Pradesh, when his father, Ambika Prasad Vajpayi, was a leading light.Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai

Charan Singh From thereon, Upenji deals with the people and events he witnessed and wrote about. It is a treasure trove for anyone interested in India’s contemporary history, particularly about Uttar Pradesh.
It gives glimpses of why and how people from this populous, politically most crucial state, a world unto itself, both furthered and failed the nation. That old political adage, "India, that is Bharat, that is Uttar Pradesh," of which the present generation may not be aware, comes to mind.

Tarakeshwari Sinha The memoirs, which is a bunch of articles, essays, interviews and pen pictures of personalities Upenji dealt with, allows a measure of understanding of postindependence India that, to my mind, is sorely needed in the new century. Uttar Pradesh (I do not hail from it) is not to be dismissed as "Ulta Pradesh."
Watching politicians at close quarters was Upenji’s forte. From Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai to Charan Singh, he has analyzed them all through pithy comments.

Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna His writings give an idea of how politicians in general, those from UP especially, behaved in public and private and treated their colleagues. Although he does not say it directly, but surmises that through all the rivalries and settling of many a score, governance and development were casualty.
He caught up with Tarakeshwari Sinha after she quit politics and took to social work.One of the most vivacious personalities Indian Parliament has ever seen, she was the star attraction during the Nehru era. He records her charming response for changing her life’s course. Taking up politics, she was told, was madness. And quitting it 35 years later was also madness. In her inimitable style using an Urdu couplet, she says, “pagal hi rehne do.”
Upenji was that quintessential journalist who loved his calling. Hence, there are nuggets of Mahatma Gandhi as a journalist. A whole chapter is devoted to “Patrakar Gandhi.” He emphasize show leaders of the freedom movement stressed on journalism and publishing newspapers, using their frugal resources, even though the literacy rate was low in those times.
It is from him that we learn some lesser known facts. The Emergency era produced two types of journalists. Those who succumbed to pressures, whom BJP veteran L K Advani later famously descried as the ones who, asked to bend, crawled. There were a few who defied the Emergency, had their papers closed down and went to jail and\or suffered. But there was a third motley group, of which Vajpayi was a part that stayed active and held out quietly and resolutely. In it were A. Raghavan, Ranajit Roy S C Kala and C P Ramachaandran. A pen picture of ‘CP’, his colleague at HT, is endearing. He calls him ‘unconventional and non-conformist”. He maintained a respectable distance from all political parties applauding and admonishing them in his writings as and when required. “

What is constant, then and now, are personal egos, caste and class considerations and a serious lack of vision for India of tomorrow.

Lal Bahadur Shastri “Potential prime minister” Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna was “a one-man crusade.” A Nehruite, he imbibed some of the best qualities of other peers as well and developed a national vision qnd persona. “He continued to be the most eligible person to be the PrimeMinister as long as he lived.”
Babu Jagjivan Ram, the “play safe” man, Upenji writes, lost the prime minister’s race in 1977 because of the ‘taint’ of having moved resolution wholeheartedly endorsing Emergency. Also, because he had not gone to jail like other Janata leaders.

Jawaharlal Nehru That his quitting Indira Gandhi at a crucial stage, a step that lent credibility and strength to the Janata campaign was conveniently forgotten after the election was won. And finally, the caste/class factor that had been shunned during the polls campaign resurfaced. The Congress(O) was bent on making Morarji Desai the prime minister, something Charan Singh also wanted if only to keep Jagjivan Ram out.
Desai, he writes, was convinced for much of his political career that he was “God’s gift” to the nation and was destined to be the Prime Minster. Excluded by “Kamraj Plan” in 1964, he once again lost in 1966 when Lal Bahadur Shastri died and did take it to heart. He contested and lost in 1967. Seeds of what happened in 1977 were sown then.
Serious temperamental differences between the three top leaders, each of whom had made unprincipled compromises, worked before, during and after the Janata experiment that eventually failed and brought Mrs Gandhi back to power.
He concludes that the “most agonizing ” part of the 19 month first non-Congress rule was that “no other team, not even Jawaharlal Nehru’s successive governments had received such thunderous and voluntary support of the people… and yet to failed to encash such daring resurgence.The socalled Total Revolution disappeared in the quagmire of a depraved polity.”
The present-day alignments, with many of the Janata splinters and personalities still active, have changed. The BJP is in power and a depleted Congress is in the opposition seeking to align with the very forces it has fought, many of them products of and nurtured by anti-Congressism.
What is constant, then and now, are personal egos, caste and class considerations and a serious lack of vision for India of tomorrow. Closely read, the memoirs have some lessons for the present-day political leaders.