Kuldip Nayar: A Tribute To The People’s Journalist

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by Yusuf Jameel

The very first time we met I was at Aftab and was introduced to Kuldip Nayar by its editor Khawaja Sannaullah Bhat as ‘the boy sitting in that corner who does it’.

The introduction was in response to Nayar Sahib’s question about who translated his syndicate column Between the Lines for the popular Srinagar Urdu daily. The question perturbed me but it became the basis of a relationship that lasted for several decades.

Nayar Sahib informed Khawaja Sahib that his weekly column is published by over eighty newspapers in 14 languages including Urdu across India and abroad but it was Aftab where it is translated properly and without changing the fundamental meaning of the message it carries. He then quoted the famous rule ‘Translation is not about words. It’s about what the words are about’. I heaved a sigh of relief and felt happy and proud. I could see my editor’s face lighting up.

Nayar Sahib invited me for coffee at the Broadway Hotel where he was staying. During our one-to-one that evening, he suggested that I should try my hand at English (language) journalism as well “if you want to be read widely and that also beyond the Valley.” He also said that he himself had started his career as a reporter with Urdu newspaper Anjam. He was born in Sialkot of undivided Punjab (now in Pakistan) on August 14, 1923. He completed his BA (Hons) from the Forman Christian College, Lahore and LLB from the Law College, Lahore.

Following the Partition, he migrated to Delhi and later went to the USA where he studied journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University on a scholarship.

After a spell abroad, he worked as information officer of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Govind Ballabh Pant and eventually became Resident Editor of The Statesman and managing editor of the news agency United News of India (UNI). He also worked as the correspondent for The Times for twenty-five years and later served as Indian High Commissioner to the UK during the V P Singh government.

A few years after our formal meeting, Nayar Sahib introduced me to M J Akbar who willingly appointed me as J&K reporter for The Telegraph he was editing exceptionally and with his own style and flair from Kolkata. Those were the days when I was struggling to get a job with some reputable media organization after my over a four-year stint in Aftab.

Nayar Sahib and I used to meet frequently during his Kashmir trips and, whenever in Delhi, I would try to call on him at the first opportunity. Most of these meetings took place at his Sunder Nagar abode where from he shifted to another New Delhi area later.

He was a ‘people’s journalist’, a glorified soul and a crusader for civil rights and press freedom. He was widely respected for his columns and reportage and wrote several books – each one of these does justice with the subject-matter. He would not hesitate in ‘calling a spade a spade’ openly even in difficult situations and for this reason, he was jailed during the Emergency.

However post-1990, one could feel that as peace activist his ‘patriotism’ is prevailing over logic and everything else vis-à-vis the issue of Kashmir. I asked him about it and he tried to justify his views by calling them ‘realism and pragmatism’. He said and would assert it in public discourses and through his writings too that India does not want another Partition “as it will have disastrous consequences in the country” and that the Kashmir issue “can be solved by granting full autonomy to the State within the country.” He had to face a hostile crowd of mainly students at a media conference in Srinagar a few years ago when he said the Kashmiris should forget about getting freedom.

At the same time, he was quite unhappy at the handling of Kashmir by New Delhi and would assert that the government’s policy towards the restive state is flawed and that the problem cannot be solved by using force only. Nayar Sahib, throughout his life, stood for journalism of courage. A line in his autobiography Beyond the Lines (Roli Books Private Limited-2012) reads, “If ever the history of zulum by the Army is recorded, the interrogation centres in Kashmir will rank quite high up the ladder.”

Nayar Sahib was in the forefront of the Indian civil society which about twenty four years ago convinced Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Muhammad Yasin Malik and his comrades to abandon their armed struggle and start non-violent movement on the premise that it would earn them support of the people of the country for their political cause.

It was in 1993 when Nayar Sahib had met Malik in a hospital where he had been shifted from prison. He had told him ‘If you could trust white men, why not us?’ Earlier diplomats of the USA and UK had made similar statements before the JKLF leadership. This prompted the pro-independence JKLF to declare a unilateral ceasefire in 1994. Rest is history.

Yusuf Jameel

Before our formal meeting during my Aftab days, I had seen Nayar Sahib first time at the coronation of Farooq Abdullah at Srinagar’s now Iqbal Park way back in August 1980. As Farooq’s appointment as the National Conference president replacing his father Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was not any different from “taj pooshi” of the heir apparent, the veteran journalist had commented satirically “Farooq badshah bangaya”.

Last time we met was on May 8, 2016, at the anniversary function of Valley’s Urdu magazine Be-Laag Sahafat during which I received an award in journalism from Nayar Sahib. Indeed ‘lifetime achievement’ and the memory attached to the doyen of journalism I will always cherish.

(Yusuf Jameel is Kashmir’s most prominent journalists who earlier reported for world’s most reputed media organisations.)

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