‘Even if there isn’t friendship between govt and media, there shouldn’t be animosity’

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Rajnath Singh

Rajnath Singh, the teacher- turned politician, is returning to government in a seamless journey from a party president, under whose stewardship the BJP has returned to power with highest ever tally. 62-year-old Singh, who steadfastly announced Modi’s name as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate despite opposition from seniors like L K Advani, is going to be one of the trusted lieutenants of Prime Minister Modi with a major say in the functioning of the government. Singh, a two-term BJP president, rose from a BJP activists in Gorakhpur, where he tought physics in a local college, to Chief Minister of politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and then Transport and Agriculture Minister in Atal Bihar Vajpayee government. His rise in politics has been gradual and steady during which he had been BJP chief from 2006 to 2009 and earned the reputation of being an able administrator as Union Minister and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Elected to Lok Sabha from Lucknow, Singh has emerged from the ranks as a political heavyweight in the party largely due to his proximity to BJP’s spiritual mentor RSS. After taking over BJP’s reins for the first time from Advani in December 2005, Singh sought to rebuild the party by focusing on basic Hindutva ideologies and said there would be “no compromise” on building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. However, he not only failed to steer the party to power in the 2009 general elections but BJP’s poll tally dropped by 22 seats compared to 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Born on July 10, 1951 at Bhabhaura village in Uttar Pradesh’s Chandauli district, Singh obtained MSc in physics from Gorakhpur University and was appointed lecturer in the K B Post degree college in Mirzapur in 1971. Singh’s association with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh began in 1964 when he was only 13 year old. Even as lecturer he remained attached to RSS. Rising step by step, he began his political innings with BJP’s student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in 1969 as its organising secretary in Gorakhpur and rose to become the secretary of the then Bharatiya Jan Sangh’s Mirzapur unit in 1974. During the Emergency, Singh joined Jaiprakash Narayan’s movement and was arrested in July 1975 before being released in 1977.
Looking at certain leaders sitting before me, I find myself in a piquant situation. If I speak about the late Ramnath Goenka and his role during and after the Emergency, I am going to feel a bit hesitant, given that some of our friends from the Congress are sitting here. You could say that one should speak openly. But you know there is some courtesy one has to extend. Democracy functions through such courtesies. But all of them are friends and they won’t mind whatever I am going to say here, at least at this time.
I would like to say that I feel very happy to be here. Normally, I do not consent to appear at events. But the moment I was told about this programme, I agreed. There was only one reason for that: The great respect I have for Ramnath Goenkaji.It was the time of Emergency. I was in Naini jail. Before that, I had been in solitary confinement. There were teachers from Allahabad University and leaders from various political parties in the Naini Central Jail, and barely a day went by when Goenka was not discussed in the jail. I never met him personally. But whatever I had heard about him in those days had created an impression on me, and that is why I readily agreed to be here.
I congratulate all media persons who have been awarded for their work today. In the world of journalism, Ramnath Goenka was known for his excellence. It is good that the management, and respected Viveck Goenkaji, named the award after Ramnath Goenka and called it “Excellence in Journalism”. The identity of a person or an institution is based on how he deals with crises and overcomes them. Only after determining this can we arrive at the true identity or character of the person.
If I say that that during the Emergency, Ramnath Goenka lit a lamp in the middle of a tempest, it would not be an exaggeration. And the lamp he lit stayed alive despite the tempest. I believe, not only the world of journalism but also the democratic system of this country, will remain eternally grateful for the work that Goenkaji did during and after the Emergency. The line that The Indian Express drew under the leadership of Ramnath Goenka during all that happened during the Emergency, and on issues of corruption in the period after, will remain indelible. I am not saying this because I am at an Indian Express function; I am saying this from the depths of my heart.
Several political leaders were in jail at that time. We did not know what the future will hold for us. But as the public mood began changing, several leaders began hoping for a shot at power after the Emergency. But Ramnath Goenka had no such dreams — even though he would have a major role to play in the regime change, he was not concerned with power. He just continued his struggle. For opposing Emergency, the credibility of The Indian Express reached such heights that the government came to feel the need for The Indian Express, but, even today I can say, The Indian Express does not need the government. Such is the credibility that has been earned by this group.
I still remember when the Rajiv Gandhi government brought the Anti-defamation Bill. That scene is still fresh before my eyes. At that time, an attempt was made to curtail press freedom. Ramnath Goenka did not sit silently and rebelled against the move. I remember he led a delegation that walked to the Parliament. The Indian Express has a special character, and almost 100 per cent contribution towards this is of Ramnath Goenka. You all are aware of what The Indian Express did during the freedom struggle. It was established on the call of Gandhiji who wanted public atrocities to be highlighted. And on Gandhi’s call, The Indian Express had participated in this battle for justice with great vigour. It went on to play an important role in highlighting British atrocities.
People talk about freedom of expression today, but I do not understand where they were then. Did they talk about freedom of expression then? I believe no one needs to answer this question. We should try to look for an answer ourselves. The Indian Express was established in 1932. It was an act of great courage. If I say that courage was in the DNA of Ramnath Goenka, then it would not be an exaggeration. The Indian Express’s tagline is “Journalism of Courage”. It is a reality that was lived by its founder. And this reality is an inspiration to all journalists today.
Even before Independence, newspapers used to be a medium of influencing socio-political consciousness. During the struggle to shape public opinion, several leaders came out with newspapers. Be it Mahatma Gandhi’s Harijan and Young India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Sambad Kaumudi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Kesari, Bipin Chandra Pal’s Paridarshak, Maulana Azad’s Al-Hilal, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi’s Pratap or Madan Mohan Malaviya’s Leader. The British atrocity was at its peak then. I truly believe in what Akbar Allahabadi has said: “Kheencho na kamanon ko na talwar nikalo/Jab tope muqaabil ho to akhbar nikalo” (Neither pull the string of your bow, nor unsheathe your sword/when facing the canon, bring out a newspaper). The way the war of Independence was fought, I think what he said was true. A newspaper not only gives strength to the country but also strengthens democracy.
Sometimes, we see attempts to sensationalise a news item. I believe attempts at sensationalising news or spicing it up are an insult to journalism. And I can say that the late Ramnath Goenka never let journalism be insulted as long as he was alive. There must have been many incidents in the lives of the leaders sitting here. In our lives, too, there have been incidents. A few days ago, a news item unrelated to me appeared on a website. It said that a scamster who had swindled Rs 3,700 crore was close to me. I was shown handing over a memorandum to him. We are representatives and hundreds of people come to meet us. Who has given this memorandum? What is there in it? This can be known only after it comes in hand. Nowadays, everyone has a mobile phone.
Who took this photograph? I can’t say whether I know this man or not. But it would have been better if he had verified it with me. He should have asked whether something like this happened or not. But such things happen sometimes. I believe we should all try to avoid such things. Most people take criticism sportingly, as I have tried to do.