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Issue No.: 574 | April 2015
 

A JOURNALIST REFLECTS ON EMINENT GOVERNORS, EDITORS AND POLITICIANS

S. K. Rau
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A JOURNALIST REFLECTS ON EMINENT GOVERNORS, EDITORS AND POLITICIANS: A Birth Centenary Commemoration Collection by S. K. Rau, former Editor, Searchlight, Patna and News Editor, The Pioneer, Lucknow,  Avichal Publishing Company, pp. 253 , Rs. 450

Reviewed by SHARAD BAILUR author, freelance journalist and a member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First was Senior General Manager, National Dairy Development Board. Email: sharad.bailur@gmail.com
In his capacity as the news editor of The Pioneer in Lucknow, S. K. Rau was a contemporary of my father who was the resident editor of the National Herald in Lucknow. He had three children – the two boys and a girl. My father had three children – two boys and a girl. Both families were ‘Madrasi’ (anyone who belonged to a place south of Agra was, in those days, a ‘Madrasi’) and had their origins in Karnataka. Both families had moved extensively over many parts of India, Rau's family perhaps more than ours. There the resemblances ended. I personally knew Raghunath Rau, the elder son because he was a year or two senior to me. He went on to become one of India's star sports reporters. The second son, Keshav Rau, closer to me in age, was just a year behind me in college. He went on to rise to be a General Manager in the State Bank of India before he retired. This commemorative volume of the articles of their father has been a labour of love and respect for their father.

A word about Keshav Rau before I take up the main issue. Keshav Rau, easily one of the most brilliant among my contemporaries in the State Bank of India, we both joined as Probationary Officers in the same year is an astonishingly good writer. (a talent wasted in the SBI, as I found out, to my cost, quite early) Keshav was careful, much more careful than me, about using his writing skills, so long as he worked for the SBI. It is only now that he is beginning to flower out. This is clearly visible in this book. An understated humour and discomfort with hero worship laces his outstanding introductory article at the beginning.  

Keshav had to contend with a huge pile of stuff his father wrote over the decades. That he was able to distil the essence of his writings into three main subjects itself is surprising. He has done it with professional ease. The three main subjects are Eminent Governors, Eminent Editors and Politicians. S. K Rau worked with and politicians he got to know and understand during his tenure in The Pioneer.

S. K. Rau's journalistic career was restricted to print journalism and that too newspapers. He probably never worked for a magazine. His articles therefore reflect first-hand experience that is very rarely seen in the more relaxed environs of a magazine. They, therefore, remain fresh and alive in a manner which I found interesting for another reason. Having myself grown up in the same milieu at the same time and in the same place, I feel a certain easy familiarity with the subjects that he has dealt with. Rau's felicity with the pen also brings his subjects alive as it does the events that occurred in full three dimensional colours. And yet the care taken to ensure that nothing is sensationalised comes from hard training and a deep understanding of the profession that made up his life. Those were the days of journalism restricted to print. It was therefore much more restrained. A certain respect for authenticity made for genuine broad based research before anything was put to paper.   

Rau is kind as he brings out the best points in his subjects beginning with the tenures of Sarojini Naidu who apparently did nothing much except act the prima donna when she was the governor to Sir Homi Mody who went on to act the "latt-saaheb” during his tenure. The impression I get is that Mrs. Naidu felt as if the nation owed her, and itself, the honour of making her a Governor. While in Sir Homi's case he comes off as someone rather surprised at having been suddenly pitchforked into a position he felt he did not quite deserve. That his family's aristocratic background facilitated a Governor's mien probably made it easier to fulfil the role.

Hesitatingly as it were, it is with K. M. Munshi that the politician governor and the Governor as a representative of the Centre comes to the fore, a Governor who decides that he as a personality  with little to do will be a self-starter and make work for himself. In spite of his personal accomplishments I did not think too highly of Munshi and his weakness for astrology and 'baba-santism'. As a Governor he indulged in all of his pet fantasies apparently with uninhibited abandon. 

The politicising of the Universities, and of Lucknow University in particular, started in Munshi’s time. From the Governor as Chancellor to C. B. Gupta as Treasurer, the long road downhill had begun. By the time I had the misfortune of doing my BA and MA there, it was already scraping the bottom in terms of merit. The only two teachers who evoked respect in the Arts Faculty were Rajendra Avasthi in Political Science and Dr. Baljit Singh who headed the Economics Department. The rest of the lecturers wouldn’t have stood a chance as undergraduates in any respectable university abroad.

If anyone brought a sense of purpose to the position of Governor, it was V. V. Giri who succeeded K. M. Munshi. A voluble bluff no nonsense man, Giri took his duties with the same seriousness as he had taken his trade union activities in an earlier avatar. As Rau says, "No humour, no brilliance and no controversy was his motto.”

The volume then turns to the Editors of various newspapers. A varied phalanx of extraordinary journalistic skill is discussed in this section. Among those who get very honourable mention are K. Iswar Dutt, whose highly developed aesthetic sense thought of journalism as an exercise in artistic writing, K. Subba Rau who brooked no interference from anyone in his work, to A. A. Hayles the celebrated Editor of The Mail of Madras, M. S. Kamath, R. Krishnamurthy (Kalki),  K Gopalaswami, the first Indian Editor of The Times of India and MSM Sarma who went on to become the Editor of The Daily Gazette of Karachi in 1940. Writing about one's colleagues, especially when one has worked closely with them often throws objectivity out of the window. Luckily Rau's articles on his colleagues stand the test of time even if it is at the cost of a certain distance that the reader finds him maintaining in his treatment of them.  

Among the politicians discussed are Dr. Sampurnanand, C. B. Gupta and Chaudhary Charan Singh. Dr. Sampurnanand was a scholar, a scientist, and astrologer, (though reconciling these two contradictory strands must have called for mental acrobatics of a schizophrenic nature. But most well-read people in those days in India seemed to manage the tightrope with a panache that would not have stood the test of close questioning and logic in today's world). He was perhaps the last politician from UP who was held in high regard by Jawaharlal Nehru. Unlike him, C. B. Gupta, the quintessential baniya, understood the true meaning of "Economic Determinism” and was perhaps ideal in the position of Treasurer of Lucknow University. And yet he came from humble beginnings and worked with socialists in the Congress like Acharya Narendra Dev and Minoo Masani. His austere lifestyle and his open frankness was liked by his colleagues and at the peak of his popularity he was celebrated all over UP as a politician with a great future, much to the chagrin perhaps of his rival and fellow politician Kamlapati Tripathi. He had been picked up by Govind Vallabh Pant and given his head, he knew the directions he would use it. And he did. His biggest political mistake was in backing the Morarji Desai led Cong (O) against the Indira Gandhi led Cong (I) and the subsequent eclipse that the party suffered.

Chaudhary Charan Singh did the unthinkable in those days. He crossed the floor with a few followers to bring the government of C. B. Gupta down. The cult of ‘Ayaram Gayaram'’was born from this original move. Charan Singh was a farmer and economist of some merit. He fought his way up the greasy political pole that was the Centre and became the Prime Minister even if it was only for a short while. For more details about his activities in the corridors of power you must read S. K. Rau's book.   

The insights offered by Rau are actually a chronicle of history seen in close up by one privileged to do so and who had the journalistic acumen to analyse and tease apart various strands of the political fabric in his time. Having known the Rau family and having Keshav Rau as a very close friend may make this review slightly suspect in view of the obvious conflict of interest, but I have tried to keep a careful distance in my approach to the book and perhaps not given the book its due by leaning too far backwards.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and I might add, to me personally, a nostalgic stroll through areas of my own experience that I had long forgotten.
 
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The Rural Perspective

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Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

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Pakistan’s Quest for Nationhood

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Warriors after War

 

Book Review

A JOURNALIST REFLECTS ON EMINENT GOVERNORS, EDITORS AND POLITICIANS

S. K. Rau
 

ONE LIFE IS NOT ENOUGH: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

K. Natwar Singh
 

Educating Adults

Three Emerging Religious Icons for Maharashtra Politics

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Shortage of Qualified Teachers

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The Right to Sanitation as a Human Right

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