Prabhash Joshi as I remember him-1
Posted November 21, 2009on:
Prabhash Joshi died on November 5 at the age of 72. He scoffed at English language and English journalism and became editor of an English newspaper. Just as he had established himself in English journalism, he launched “Jansatta” which instantly captured the attention of the Hindi-speaking people for its being unlike any other Hindi newspaper. He was a Gandhian, was drawn to Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution and became a fanatic Hindu zealot in his later years. Here is the first part of a two-part summation of the man.
For the first time Prabhash Joshi appeared uncertain of himself when I went to his Nizamuddin house one December day in 1975.
I had known him for several years and had always found him sprightly, his ebullience always infectious. There was a time when I was going through the worst period of my life, having undergone a major operation and being without a steady job. Whenever I went to see Prabhash Joshi at his Gandhi Smarak Nidhi residence, I returned with my spirits uplifted, at least for the next few days. He had a sneering view of the existing political system and social customs and was always bubbling with new ideas.
He joined Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution movement because he was convinced that the system needed to be completely overhauled and JP had the potential to bring it about. He came in contact with Ram Nath Goenka (RNG) through JP and was made editor of “Prajaniti” when RNG started the Hindi weekly to carry on JP’s message. RNG was much impressed by Joshi’s capacity for hard work and his views on the contemporary developments. RNG would occasionally invite him, with family, for dinner to have a leisurely talk with him.U772YDKESP8G
Prabhash Joshi had, meanwhile, taken a house (on company lease) at Nizamuddin. Once in a while I would take my family to his Nizamuddin house and sometimes he would drop in with his family at my place. We two, however, met more often either in his (Express building) office or at my Raisina Road office to discuss the developments over cups of tea.
The declaration of Emergency on June 25, 1975 changed everything. JP and hundreds of others, who did not conform to the system, were arrested. Censorship was imposed on the Press. “Prajaniti” had to fold up. In its place was started another, non-political, weekly, “Aaspas”. Continuation of even that was becoming difficult because of the squeeze on the Indian Express. Credit facilities had been denied to the company. K.K.Birla had become its chairman but the financial management was still in the hands of RNG. The financial condition of the company had become so precarious that even the cheque issued to the newspaper’s editor, S.Mulgaonkar, had bounced back as had the one issued to Gen. Chaudhary for his contribution. The other contributors had not been paid for long.
It was in this gloomy atmosphere that I paid a family visit to Joshi’s house at Nizamuddin on Sunday, December 14,1975. While the two women busied themselves in the kitchen and the children got involved in their own rackets, we discussed the prevailing situation. For the first time I found Joshi without his usual élan; for the first time he did not appear certain of himself or of anything concerning him. About “Aaspas”, he said: “it may continue; it may be shifted to Bombay; or it may be closed down”. About himself he said: “I may be absorbed in the Indian Express; I may start a sort of feature syndicate for developmental news; I may go back to Gandhi Peace Foundation; or I may go back to Nai Duniya, Indore (where he had started his journalistic career); nothing is certain yet”.
“Aaspas”, too, closed down eventually as the financial condition of the Indian Express had further deteriorated. Joshi had to leave his Nizamuddin house. He shifted to a backroom in the Gandhi Peace Foundation, which was heavily guarded by several layers of uniformed men. There was generally no restriction on anyone visiting the Gandhi Peace Foundation but a uniformed man would note down the name and address of the visitor, as well as the name of the person to be visited and the purpose of the visit. In those harrowing day of the Emergency, this was a potent deterrent against any one visiting the Gandhi Peace Foundation. Joshi, his wife Usha, and their children thus remained almost cut off from their world. Only a few close friends visited them occasionally.
Indira Gandhi’s rout
After the Indira Gandhi government was routed in the polls and the Emergency was lifted, RNG again remembered Prabhash Joshi. He joined the chairman’s office. He helped RNG in sundry ways till he was asked to look after the Chandigarh edition of the Indian Express which was not doing well. It was not an easy assignment for Joshi. There was a stiff competition from The Tribune which was The Paper for the people of Punjab. Some senior level editorial staff members of The Tribune were lured away by the Indian Express but it did not help much. As the next step, Joshi undertook extensive tours across Punjab, visiting almost every town and talking to the agents and hawkers, negotiating with them and promising them incentives for the sale of the Indian Express copies.
The Indian Express could not make an appreciable dent into the circulation of The Tribune but acquired its own respectable circulation in a matter of months. Joshi was then appointed resident editor of the Chandigarh edition and he did a pretty good job there. When S.Nihal Singh was appointed editor of the Indian Express to succeed Mulgaonkar, Nihal Singh shifted Prabhash Joshi to Delhi as resident editor mainly to counterbalance the knavish machinations of Arun Shourie.
Prabhash Joshi’s real talent found manifestation when he started “Jansatta”, the Indian Express group’s Hindi daily, in the early eighties. In no time had this Hindi daily captured the imagination of the Hindi-speaking population because of the bold and fearless reports on the issues affecting the people, written in simple, spoken Hindi. A time had come when even an Indian Express reporter was identified by the people in villages in the Hindi-speaking States with “Jansatta”.
Prabhash Joshi stood solidly, as few other editors have done, behind his reporters who had incurred the wrath of the politicians, bureaucrats and others for their writings. For all his vision and intention, Joshi edited “Jansatta” virtually in a personalised manner and somehow failed to convert it into a lasting institution. Another thing: his support to the “Jansatta” reporters went in some cases beyond limit. A “Jansatta” reporter, for instance, had booked all the top hotels in his town for his marriage. His guests included Prabhash Joshi and Usha Joshi who were put up in a five-star hotel. Joshi did not pause to think how the reporter could afford all this with the salary of a few thousand of rupees he was paying him. Another reporter once invited Usha and Prabhash Joshi to his house in Delhi for some celebration. Later Usha Joshi told me that she was awestruck by the luxuries in the reporter’s house; even his bathroom was air-conditioned.