says author can identify with the account of Emergency Nehru’s true legacy is democracy, observes Prem Prakash
NEW DELHI: India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday said that he can “readily identify” with the account of Emergency in the book ‘Reporting India: My Seventy-Year Journey as a Journalist’ by ANI Chairman Prem Prakash and the chapter by the veteran journalist is “both very personal and passionate”.
Launching the book through video conferencing, the minister said that he was also struck “by the singular absence of post-partition nostalgia that one would have expected from someone from his generation”.
He said the book is pretty much history of India from a foreign policy perspective for half-a-century and the domestic aspects of his journalistic work are no less interesting. The minister said the author was present at “all the key moments” of the country’s history and his interviews in many cases have themselves played a part in the history.
Jaishankar noted that he was in the university during Emergency but was familiar with the press. “Naturally, as a journalist, the chapter on emergency is very personal and very passionate. I can tell as someone who was at university at that time but was familiar with press, this is a chapter in account with which I can readily identify. The cumulative pictures of Prem Prakash-ji is a great record or our times. Clearly being at the right place at the right time is not an accident. He gives us how the hard one has to work to make that happen,” the minister said.
“I was also struck by the singular absence of post-partition nostalgia that one would have expected from someone of his generation. I only wish there were more like him,” he added.
The minister said what comes through in the book is “deep underlying optimism that continues to permeate his outlook even now” and the author is very confident that current India has the ability to set the wrongs right. “As someone who knows him from years, I can completely understand why Prem Prakashji has built a solid legacy in the ANI. The 75 years journey is one of the memorable moments of unique experience and a great accomplishment,” he said.
The minister said while the event was the release of the book, it was the celebration of the author’s life. He said the author has present to cover momentous events including the liberation of Goa and the 1962 war with China. “He climbed the Haji Pir pass during the 1965 war, was present in Tashkent when Lal Bhadurji passed away and covered the Bangladesh war from inside at great personal risk.”
The minister said the author was present when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was attacked during the guard of honour ceremony in Colombo and has also extensively covered the Afghan war.
“I was particularly taken in by how he has defined his own ambition early in his life to shape the image of India. I can say from my perspective that the country has gained enormously from his efforts,” the minister said. He noted the author has interacted with almost all prime ministers of the country.
The launch of the book was followed by a discussion in which the author took questions. The event was organised in association with Prabha Khaitan Foundation. The 225-page book has been published by Penguin India and is also available on Amazon and Flipkart.
Expressing his views, Prem Prakash said that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru saw the country through three general elections which left people with a habit of going to the polls and electing a government and infact the democracy was his “true legacy”.
Answering questions during the discussion after launch of his book ‘ Reporting India: My Seventy-Year Journey as a Journalist’ by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, he said Nehru did not expect to go to war with China and thought the issues will be resolved through diplomacy.
The ANI Chairman also said that India has had a history of “romanticising its international ties” due to which it has lost “negotiations at tables” despite “winning on fields”.
“His (Nehru’s) true legacy is democracy. He saw us as a nation through three general elections which left India’s people with a habit of going to the polls and electing a government. He was always in Parliament, always interacting with media, always attending annual dinners at Foreign Correspondents Club. I don’t think any other Prime Minister attended as many annual dinners at the club,” the author said.
“Pandit Nehru used to say that he is happy with the free and irresponsible press, rather than a controlled press,” he added.
The veteran journalist said Nehru did not expect war with China.
“Both he and Krishna Menon thought that the world has seen too much with World War II and would not go into war. Therefore, they did not strengthen the army,” he said.
The author said Indian leaders romanticized their relationship with foreign countries, especially China.
“I have wondered are we Indians as a race very sympathetic or friendly. We have been very sympathetic to China as well.”
“General Thimayya mentioned China as a threat, but I don’t know why we romanticised it.”
Referring to the India-Pakistan war of 1965, he said Indian army climbed the Haji Pir Pass with a lot of difficulties and was not ready to give up. “The Indian army was not in favour of signing the (Tashkent) agreement but under Soviet pressure, the peak was given up and the agreement was signed,” he said.
Answering a query about how three prime ministers from the Nehru-Gandhi family treated media, he said Nehru was the most regular Prime Minister to attend the press conference in history. “Mrs Gandhi was good to in the beginning, but things changed with the Emergency. Rajiv Gandhi was good with media too, a very practical man. I feel if he had not been assassinated and came back for the next term, then India’s growth would have been faster,” he said.
Asked about some suggestions that Nehru died of shock in 1964 following India’s defeat in the 1962 war with China, the author said, “he (Nehru) died because he overworked himself”.
“When I was interviewing him on Kennedy’s death, he fell asleep in the middle of the interview because he was so overworked. His staff used to tell me that (in his last few years) he used to sleep for only three to four hours.”
Asked about his advice to young journalists, he said they should go to the location to report. “They need to read more, go on the ground, and report. Advocacy and activism is politics, not journalism,” he said.
Senior journalist Sheela Bhatt and Sushant Sareen, Senior Fellow, ORF, took part in the discussion while Aakriti Periwal conducted the proceedings. (ANI)