Kuldip Nayar is a veteran journalist, author and human rights activist.
He briefly served as India’s high commissioner in Britain.
Apart from contributing articles to at least 80 newspapers in different languages, Nayar had also served as press officer with former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, and many believe that it was his report that he got published by a news agency that led to Shastri’s selection as the PM after the death of Nehru, against the candidature of Morarji Desai.
Rakib Altaf spoke to Nayar on the sidelines of an event in Chandigarh.
You have watched the growth of Indian media for many decades. When did the media disturb you the most, if ever?
Well, I’m pretty much disturbed now because the media is getting more and more parochialised… more and more influenced by religion.
That is terrifying.
What are the strong points of the Indian media?
The good news is that the regional media is growing, language journalism is coming up. The weak point is that it has got too politicised… this wasn’t the case earlier.
Today, the media sets the political agenda. Do you think it should be as powerful as it is?
The problem is that all others - political leaders and parties - have lost the credibility. It (media) reaches peoples’ homes, so this has some instant influence, but not long-term I must say.
But is it okay if the media sets the political agenda?
I don’t think the media sets political agenda…
For instance, we had a furore in the media over the release of a separatist leader in Kashmir, Masarat Alam. He is since back in prison.
No, that is because the media on this side… when a Pakistani flag is hoisted, they play it up unnecessarily.
They should have ignored it.
Some people say media don’t allow elbow room for non-populist measures taken by the government, which could be good for the country?
Yes, they don’t go whole hog with it. Because some have their own interests to pursue and for the others, criticising the establishment is a selling point.
Many believe it was your story that helped Lal Bahadur Shastri become the PM instead of Morarji Desai in 1964. Desai was hurt; he thought Shastri had used the media. Do you think what you did was right?
I had an exclusive, and I put it up the wire. If it helped Shastri, that was unwitting.
Kamraj later told me that the election for the leadership was over. But it wasn’t because of Shastri that I did it… I had just come to PIB (press information bureau), I didn’t know print medium was so powerful.
You grew up with the print media. How do you see its future?
No doubt people are taking to social media and television, but I think that print has a future, because these (TV, online) are fleeting and people make up their mind after reading the printed word. They rely more on newspapers.