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Sunday Special » Columns

Posted at: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM; last updated: Sep 10, 2017, 2:12 AM (IST)
Harish Khare
KAFFEEKLATSCH
Harish Khare

Of Prabhash Joshi… and Gauri Lankesh

Harish Khare

Harish Khare

THREE weeks ago Rajkamal Prakashan, a leading Hindi publishing house, sent me a book, Lok Ka Prabhash. Written by Ramashankar Kushwaha, it is a literary biography of the legendary Hindi journalist, Prabhash Joshi. I have been meaning to write about the book and this week — when Gauri Lankesh has been killed — seems to be the most appropriate time to talk about Prabhash Joshi and the kind of journalism he embodied and promoted. 

With the possible exception of Rajendra Mathur, Prabhash Joshi was the only Hindi editor who made himself read, heard and counted in a journalistic milieu that was dominated overwhelmingly by the English-wallas. His peers respected him, his junior colleagues admired him, and the powers that be learned to appreciate his intrepid approach to men and matters. Prabhash-jee fitted well in the company of the likes of Nikhil Chakravarty, BG Verghese, and Giri Lal Jain.

Lok Ka Prabhash puts together the story of his life. And, this story is a tale of a life anchored in authentic ideas, values, experiences, traditions, dialect of a non-metropolitan India, in rural Malwa.

Ram Bahadur Rai, one of his closest friends and colleagues, has written a longish introduction to this book. And, Rai sahib, perceptively tells us that Prabhash-jee never allowed himself to be mesmerized by Jawaharlal Nehru; he was a Gandhian and he was a Vinoba Bhave man. It was this authenticity that lent so much clarity and so much conviction to his voice. 

I was privileged to know Prabhash-jee for many, many years. He was always very generous to me — with his words of encouragement and approval. He had access to powerful leaders and he never made any bones about it. Yet despite all his proximity to chambers of powers and privileges, he maintained a respectful intellectual and mental distance from the high and mighty. He never allowed himself to be co-opted. No political leader could take him for granted. Till his death in 2009, he was unafraid and unintimidated. 

For example, he was very close to Chandrashekhar. I remember it was Prabhash-jee who had taken me to meet Chandrashekar at his Bhondsi Ashram. I could see the close friendship between the two; but, Prabhash-jee had no hesitation in breaking ranks with him when it appeared that the former prime minister had allowed some of his aides to play hanky-panky with land allotted for a JP memorial. It was classic lesson in fearless and public-spirited journalism. 

He was indeed a role-model for a whole generation of Hindi journalists. This book is a testimonial to the respect and reverence he received and is an effort to keep alive his legacy. 

So, the question arises: how would have Prabhash-jee faired in today’s New India, when likes of Gauri Lankesh invite the silencing gun?

I have no doubt that had he been alive, Prabhash Joshi would have been in the forefront of the journalistic fraternity that had gathered at the Press Club of India protesting Gauri Lankesh’s murder. Had he been around, it is quite possible, he would have raised his voice against the creeping timidity in the mainstream media. 

About a decade earlier, Rajkamal Prakashan had also brought out a collection of Prabhash Joshi’s columns. The collection was provocatively called, Hindu Hone ka dharm (obligations of a Hindu). In a column, dated May 18, 2002 (a few months after the communal riots in Gujarat) he took on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Addressing him as Swayamsevak, Joshi questioned Vajpayee for talking of “militant Islam” and not talking of “militant Hinduism.” Today no journalist or editor dare run the risk of telling a thing or two to the prime minister of India 

I have no doubt that had he been alive Prabhash Joshi would have been meted out the Gauri Lankesh treatment. 

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LAST Friday’s newspapers had published a photograph of our newly appointed Raksha Mantri participating in a puja at her office before assuming the responsibilities of looking after India’s defences. Seeking divine blessings before undertaking a difficult enterprise is perfectly understandable; what is not so understandable is that the new defence minister should have chosen to make a public display of her religious ritual in the official space.

Admittedly, after last Sunday’s reshuffle of portfolios, not all new ministers — all devout and god-fearing men and women, presumably — performed any kind of religious rites in their offices. Most of them just went to the new office, shook hands with the predecessor and began the new innings. It can be safely assumed that many must have done a havan or a puja at home. Individual praying in the privacy of one’s home is part and parcel of our cultural upbringing, across religions. 

When a minister chooses to perform a religious rite in his/her office, it becomes more than a matter of personal preference. It becomes a political statement. 

Perhaps the most assertive such display can be attributed to the new Minister of State for Health, Ashwini Kumar Choubey. According to newspaper reports, the new member of the Council of Ministers brought in a group of priests with him to perform havan at his offices in Nirman Bhavan. The priests also performed Ganesh Puja and “swastivachan.” 

The new Minister of State for Health later told reporters that the rituals performed were for curing all. This is an astounding statement from a health minister. If prayers alone could cure ailments and illnesses, then hundreds of children would not have died in Gorakhpur, which presumably has benefitted for decades from the presence of Yogi Adityanath. 

Public performance of these religious rituals is more than a political statement; these become an advertisement for a decidedly un-scientific attitude. A minister is not just a politician, he is also a public official that too in a country still committed to a secular polity. 

Arti, havan, namaaz, cannot be a substitute for hospitals, doctors, surgeons, cardiologists, clinics and affordable medicines. If the new health minister’s logic has any merit, then this ancient and holy land of ours should not be host to any illness, because we have more purohits, maulvis, priests and granthis than doctors and nurses. Minister Choubey represents a backwardness of mind India can do without. 

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IT can only be a matter of all-round satisfaction that at last the distinguished Punjabi poet Surjit Patar stands ‘confirmed’ as the chairman of the Punjab Kala Parishad. Mr Patar is a respected literary figure and he should have been spared the embarrassment of an entirely avoidable controversy.

The controversy arose because of the concerned minister’s over-enthusiasm and penchant for showmanship. Ministers are political figures and are not expected to be all that well versed in the ‘rules of business.’ The government has a right to affect a change of guards in Kala Parishad, the premier forum for fashioning out a cultural narrative. 

However, the culture minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu, was indeed ill-served by his officials who should have told him that all ministerial discretion and prerogatives are to be exercised in a prescribed manner. Even Chief Minister’s officials are guilty of not applying their mind to the matter before Capt Amarinder Singh put his signature to Surjit Patar’s ‘nomination letter.’

The moral of the story: we are a country of laws; and there are rules and there are regulations which even a minister or a chief minister cannot bypass. And, as citizens we should be grateful for that. 

Now that Mr. Surjit Patar stands installed as the new cultural ‘czar’ he will have the inclination to come and have a cup of coffee with me. Join me. 

kaffeeklatsch@tribuneindia.com

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