It was last month that my column, ‘Between Us’, crossed 800 weeks of virtually uninterrupted publication in the Hindustan Times. It was perhaps the longest period anyone had written a column based on current affairs in any Indian newspaper. Some days ago, the editor of HT took a decision that there should be a break in its publication. Therefore, the 808th column, which appears today, will probably be my last, at least for some time. I will continue to work for HT and as per the editor’s wishes, concentrate more on breaking news and news analysis based on the political acumen I have acquired over 30 years of perceptive persistence.
I have great satisfaction that my column was accepted as a brand by many HT readers and though I received brickbats and bouquets along the 15-and-a-half years span of ‘Between Us’, I spared no effort in pursuing legitimate and level-headed journalism. I joined this paper on September 1, 1995, as a senior editor-in-charge of Delhi and the NCR after my second stint at The Times of India.
The HT had a long tradition of city coverage chiefs lettering a weekly column on the city’s affairs each Sunday. My predecessor, AR Wig, used to write ‘Take It From Me’ and before him the late Prabha Dutt wrote ‘Follow Me Around’. And then before her, the late Raj Gill wrote his weekly column on Delhi. I started ‘Between Us’ in the second week of September. The column began appearing every Sunday on the top of page three. Subsequently, it carried a logo of the India Gate in the middle. Later, my picture started appearing with the column.
I took up a lot of city issues every week, without no thought to who occupied what position. I wrote critically at times about the policies and actions of powerful people including chief ministers, lieutenant-governors, police chiefs and many civil administrators. In the late 90s, when Delhi faced a huge power crisis due to a faulty distribution and transmission system, I took the then CM, Sahib Singh Verma, to task. I was equally critical of Sushma Swaraj during her brief tenure. I minced no words in taking on the present chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, when I felt that she did not live up to the promise she showed after occupying the same seat.
I gave up my supervision of the city and NCR affairs in September 2001, and was made the political editor. My column thereafter shifted its focus from city to national affairs. It continued to appear every Sunday but gradually moved to Monday on the edit page, then to the oped page and back to the edit page. Though my focus had changed, I continued to write committedly about powerful political players. Narendra Modi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were some of the top BJP leaders I assessed critically during the NDA’s tenure. In fact, when no one thought that the NDA would lose the parliamentary polls in 2004, I was perhaps the only journalist who wrote not once but twice, five or six months ahead of the polls, that the ‘shining India’ and ‘feel good factor’ campaign of the BJP was going to boomerang and that the Congress would emerge as the single-largest party.
Many readers have repeatedly accused me of being soft on the Congress and, so, being harsh on the BJP. But there were others who thought that I never hesitated in writing the bare facts. My principle was that politics had to be comprehended through the prism of Niccolo Machiavelli, the statecraft tsar. Meaning: people, by and large, were weak and wanted a strong ruler and that political power does not lie with the person who holds the position but elsewhere. These were the kind of hometruths that needed to be understood and interpreted in simple words for the reader.
During the past year, I could sense the disappointment of people over how the government was run and how the Congress, the grand old party, was deviating from its core beliefs. The criticism was sharp and hard-hitting and I did not mince words in decrying the state of the government or the party.
Kya puchte ho haal mere karobaar ka, andhon ke shahar mein aaina bechta hoon (When you ask what is my vocation, I want to inform you that I sell mirrors in the city of the blind).
As I bid goodbye for now, my commitment to free, frank and fearless journalism will continue. Between us.