NEW DELHI: Kalinga Literary Festival hosted veteran author and journalist Prem Prakash, Chairman, ANI along with Kanchan Gupta (journalist, senior advisor to Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt of India), and Rasheed Kidwai (journalist and political commentator).
The session highlighted the journey of Prem Prakash and his book ‘Reporting India’. The session began with the welcome address by Rasheed Kidwai followed by Kanchan Gupta.
Kanchan said, “The book has been authored by Mr. Prem Prakash. Every profession has its own individual icons, and Mr. Prem Singh is such a figure. He doesn’t fit into the description of a journalist as we know them today. He is an old fashioned journalist who did the old fashioned journalism, and that is why this book is so fascinating. This book is something from which one learns a lot. It is very important for a book to offer some insights and aspects about the world we live in, the world from which reporters report their stories. I have had an exciting read of this book.”
“After decades of independence, what was the press like in those days? Because most of were legacy media. How did they fit into a newly independent country,” asked Kanchan.
Prem replied, “I started my career soon after independence. India was very young and innocent country. Many opportunities opened up after independence, but yet I chose what wanted. And I really enjoyed being in journalism. I got this opportunity to witness the change that our country was undergoing because of our leaders from where we had inherited from the British. It was a privilege for me that I was able to cover all the events in films, photographs and writing. I feel lucky that I moved into journalist unions and took keen interest in that.”
Kanchan went on asking, “Since you said, India was a young country back then, how (from colonial/pro-colonial press to independent India press) did the press make the transition?”
“The transition happened immediately by itself. There were newspapers like Statesman, which were British-owned had a bit of a problem while bringing about the change. But there were ‘The Hindu’, ‘Hindustan Times’ etc. for whom moving on was not a tough task,” stated Prem.
Asking about the Indo-China war tension, Kanchan said, “Indo-China war turned the placidity upside down. In true sense, India has never been the same again in terms of government, politics, or the way Delhi operates. What are your memories of that period?”
Prem stated, “Upto 1962 before the war, I think Pandit ji believed that the world had seen so much horror during the World War 2 that the war isn’t an option to sort out any political problem. Panditji knew the seriousness of the problem, and though he gave in. But however, the government might have gone wrong as it was the succession government of the British government. It did not patrol in the dark. Remember, Gen. Zorawar Singh and Ranjeet Singh had captured Ladakh. We thought it was peaceful, Chinese had moved in there already. So when the first police patrol went there, the Chinese ambushed it and 9 soldiers were killed. Tragically, the bodies were given back to India on the birthday of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. India had to take action against what China was doing.”
“First it was 1962, then immediately after that 1967, Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji’s passing away, followed by a political turmoil, Indira Gandhi stepping in, splitting of Congress. It must have been a crucial and exciting time when you actually history and evolution of India in terms of socio-politico-economic happening simultaneously,” Kanchan went on.
“Yes, it was changing rapidly. During the war of 1965, our forces were well armed by that time. It happened due to Panditji. As soon as he died, Ayub first made his move towards Rann of Kutch and partly captured it. Then he made his move towards Kashmir. When I arrived there, my car was hit by bullets. That means the Pak army in civil clothes had reached Srinagar. All said and done, Shastri ji led it very well. Our army did extremely well. We were on the outskirts of Sialkot, Lahore and the Indian Army’s reputation was absolutely restored by that victory.”
“In your book, you have given a candid and graphic approach to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death. Do you have any suspicion that it wasn’t a natural death,” asked Rasheed.
“There is a disturbing aspect in the sense that why Shastri ji was alone in there. Why his doctor wasn’t there? Why did he die in the hands of a Soviet security man? Why his security persons weren’t there? Shastri ji was a very generous person. After the Tashkent agreement was signed, I and Narayan of the films division met Shastri ji at the reception. After the filming, I and Narayan doubted because Shastri Ji’s staff wasn’t with him. Shastri ji was pressurized to sign that agreement.”
“That time journalism used to be open, we could meet and sit with leaders. I have spent my time majorly in that way. The agreement was not supposed to be signed. But while we were in Soviet union’s market, officials informed that the agreement would be signed at 5 o’clock. We were shocked. We couldn’t figure out what pressure was that. It might be the then ambassador’s call who was a bit too close to Soviets,” answered Prem.
“What exactly were the Soviets driving at? Why would they wanted Shastri ji to compromise on this,” Kanchan questioned.
Prem replied, “Peshawar was the base for U2 planes that used to fly over the Soviet Union. And there was nothing that the Soviet Union could do about it. They didn’t have the right kind of missiles to bring the planes down. Their research were being seen by the Americans. They thought, by putting pressure on India and getting Pakistan all that it wanted, the Soviet could win Pakistan away from Americans and bring them into fight. That didn’t happen.”
“1971 was a short period when everything looked so bright. Bangladesh was liberated and Sheikh Mujib’s assassination. What is your take on it,” Kanchan questioned while moving on towards next subject about emergency.
“What Sheikh Mujib forgot, that though he has won all the seats, he had gotten over 40% votes against him which was from Pakistan. That lobby was still very strong there as well as in Bangladesh army which was originally Pakistan army. Those forces began to gain power as Sheikh couldn’t handle the administration well. People’s expectations in Bangladesh were very high. It was that which led it to happen. It was there and not executed externally and plotted in Dhaka. ISI, Pakistan was very active, said Prem.
Sharing his memories of Emergency, he said, “During the period of emergency, I have suffered a lot. That’s because I was getting away what I would call murder. I was ashamed, I was at Indira Gandhi’s house where 9 editors turned up there to extend the support. She came, looked at them, and walked away. It was shameful. ‘Media was asked to bend but it chose to crawl’.”
“I believe that Atal ji’s tenure was the finest in reviving India. Undoubtedly, Panditji led the foundation but the revival happened during Atal ji’s time,” concluded Prem. (ANI)