When journalism was a mission…

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Editorials, columns, biographical sketches, interviews…SK Rau was a consummate editor and his views on various governors and politicians are a good reflection of days gone by

By MR Dua


JOURNALISM is considered to be the rough draft of history. A good newspaper is obliged to faithfully record and publish the correct account of important events and political developments of the times. How far this is covered comprehensively depends on the foresight and skill of the editor.
This book reflects on important happenings that occurred during India’s post-Independence years, through the writings of the prolific and eminent editor, Seshagiri Krishna Rau. Rau edited half-a-dozen newspapers and worked in Karachi, Bangalore, Patna, New Delhi and Lucknow. He edited The Pioneer for over 20 years in Lucknow.

VERSATILE EDITOR

Rau could comfortably reel out an editorial, accompanied by a regular column every day; a humorous piece along with a special article; and a biographical sketch along with an interview. The book, complied by Rau’s son, Keshav Rau, is divided into four sections. It encompasses Rau’s pithy comments and views on how various governors of Uttar Pradesh like Sarojini Naidu, HP Mody, KM Munshi and VV Giri discharged their gubernatorial functions. In an article titled, “Governors as Jokers”, Rau reproduced a conversation between the then governors KN Katju and Sarojini Naidu. Sarojini told Katju: “My dear fellow Governor, you are a joker, I am a joker and governors are nothing but jokers in free India.”

Rau lauded the work of the then UP chief minister Sampurnanand, who believed in astrology and Ayurveda. He branded VV Giri as a “chip off the old block” but eulogized his qualities as an eminent labor leader. While giving prodigious credit to many senior journalists and editors, who left a lasting imprint on Indian journalism, Rau mentions Kunduri Iswara Dutt as a “literary artist”.

Pothan Joseph, noted Rau, was the “first to introduce a humor column and also popularized cartoons as a daily feature in Indian newspapers”. His daily column, “Over a Cup of Tea”, accompanied by Shankar’s cartoon was said to have helped Hindustan Times swell its circulation manifold. “His humor never hurt anybody, even those at whom it was aimed at,” remarked Rau. Among the editors of language papers, Rau thought highly of Subramaniam Srinivasan and R (Kalki) Krishnamurthy who launched Tamil monthly journals. Rau slammed The Indian Express owner Ramnath Goenka, and MSM Sarma who edited a British-owned paper, The Daily Gazette of Karachi, and branded Sarma as “an editor who believed in stunts in an age of sober journalism”.

STRONG OPINIONS

Rau’s decisive opinions made or marred the political careers of many politicians. He wrote in praise of Charan Singh: “If Charan Singh continues to head the government for the next five years, a good deal of economic imbalance is bound to disappear and along with it, the movement for the division of the state”.

Rau seemed to be fond of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, who got a doctorate degree in economics from Berlin. He called Lohia “well-read, impulsive, dogmatic and an uncompromising socialist”. As Lohia came from a poor family, he had frequent tiffs with “aristocratic” Nehru’s economic policies. Rau says of Lohia: “He wanted an entirely new economic set-up.”
Lohia once successfully sued the reputed US weekly, Time, for publishing a “damaging” story about Nehru’s sister, alleging that “Lohia had cautioned people against Vijayalakshmi, asking them not to be captivated by her beauty because it was not real as she had undergone plastic surgery”.

Rau’s comments on “the maverick politician” Raj Narain, who set a record as a legislator, exhibiting his eccentric actions inside and outside the legislative assembly sessions, are interesting. Narain was known to create chaos and disorder by numerous and sudden walk-outs.
The book takes the reader back to the good old days, when journalism was deemed to be a mission and not an industry. Any old hand will be reminded of so many tidbits about fellow pen-pushers of yesteryears.

It should be a must read for journalism students researching Indian print media’s illustrious history. Dating the various chapters would have added perspective to the reader; an index too would have enhanced its value. Some misprints spoil the flow of the text.