With the passing away of Kuldip Nayar, the sub-continent has lost a great human being, champion of peace and freedom of speech and expression. His was a journalism of courage. Personally, I have lost a mentor. I had an opportunity of travelling with him few times in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He was a fearless and prepared to pay price for it. Journalism has become poor with his death. Also, the sub-continent has lost a champion of peace.
He had titled his autobiography ‘A Lifetime is not Enough’ but taking a cue from his popular column ‘Between the Lines’, publisher preferred ‘Beyond the Lines’. The autobiography is candid and it narrates the history of India since his childhood. He was born in Sialkot (now in Pakistan) before independence. He had a law degree from Lahore. He wanted to be a lawyer. But, India was divided. His family migrated to India some time after partition. He always narrates his experience of migrating to India from Sialkot. On the way, he saw bodies of people killed by fanatic mobs. He saw sufferings and decided to work for the peace in the region. When he crossed over to India, he never felt that he had left an ‘enemy’ country, but a country full of friends. In Delhi, he found a job in an Urdu daily Anjam (end).
On January 30, 1948, when he heard Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead, he immediately rushed to Birla House. He writes, “There was not much of a crowd. I could see Nehru, Patel and Defence Minister Baldev Singh overcome by grief and their loss was palpable. I saw Azad sitting beneath a tree all on his own, lost deep in thought”. He heard Nehru saying in a broken voice,” The light has gone out of our lives. Bapu is no more.” He filed news for his paper Anjam. In the evening, he got the news that some people were happy with the assassination of Mahatma and they distributed sweets in some parts of Maharashtra. He was disturbed with the news and said to himself how people can be happy with the assassination of Mahatma. He was upset and did not write a word on the distribution of sweets. Years later, in a chat, he said it was a mistake. As a journalist, one should not get too emotional while filing news. He said, “I should have carried that horrible thing people did.”
He was Editor of The Indian Express and fought Emergency. He was fully backed by the owner Ramnath Goenka. During those black days, The Indian Express and The Statesman came out with different techniques and fought Emergency for the freedom of expression and speech. He was a Gandhian and always raisee the issues of farmers, Dalits, women and marginalised section of the society. He along with Ajit Bhattacharjee, Prabhash Joshi and others were also concerned about paid news especially during the time of elections. They met Election Commission of India, Press Council of India to see how this ‘evil’ can be removed.
He always encouraged young and women journalists. His house was always open to friends, journalists and activists. Such attitude towards young and aspiring journalists, activists is missing in today’s journalism.
Nayar saab along with Ramesh Yadav, Manak started jointly celebrating India and Pakistan’s Independence Days 23 years ago at the Attari / Wagah border on the midnight of 14-15 August. I regularly participate in this unique ceremony. Film maker Mahesh Bhatt also participated many times. Nayar saab was committed to the peace between India and Pakistan. He worked very hard towards this goal. We used to celebrate his birthday in Amritsar as he was born on August 14. Because of ill health, he could not come to the border for last couple of years but he was always with us in the spirit. This time also we missed him. But, we will continue it for years and see both the countries become true friends. I had an opportunity to meet Nawaz Sharif at his Raiwind house, near Lahore. I witnessed the close relations Nayar Saab had with Nawaz. Our meeting lasted for more than an hour. We primarily discussed how to build trust between two countries. On March 23, 2011 (Pakistan’s National Day) Kuldip Nayar, Mahesh Bhatt, myself and couple of friends met Yusuf Reza Gilani, then PM of Pakistan. Gilani told us that the dialogue is the only way to make progress in India-Pakistan relations.
In January 1987, AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, gave interview to Kuldip Nayar. Very smartly, Nayar saab compelled AQ Khan to say that “Pakistan had already developed a nuclear capability”. It was immediately reported in India. Zia ul Haq, then President of Pakistan, was angry with Khan as he revealed the secret. Khan was told by Zia ‘to grow up and start behaving like an adult’.
He was media advisor of Lal Bahadur Shastri, then PM, when he died in Tashkent on January 11, 1966. He was in Tashkent for a summit with Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan. Under the agreement, both countries agreed that their armies would return to the positions they held on August 5 1965. Nayar said, “Shastri believed India could make peace with Pakistan”.We will always miss Nayar Saab (as I used to call him). But, we will see that his dream of Indo-Pak peace becomes a reality.