Indian journalists based in London are “more than a mainstream player”, according to finance minister Arun Jaitley, who marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of Indian Journalists Association (IJA) with a special mention during his four-day visit here.
IJA was founded on May 29, 1947 — mere weeks before India’s independence — as a representative body for Britain-based correspondents and journalists reporting on and covering India- and South Asia-related issues.
Its membership today comprises representatives of major media outlets focused on covering stories from Britain and Europe with an Indian perspective. Prominent names in Indian journalism have been its members and presidents over the decades.
Recalling its 1947 founding, Jaitley said at an event at St James’ Court: “That must have been a period when your counterparts at that time may not have exactly been in the same frame of mind as you are today.”
“In 1947, though, the decision had been taken that India will get independence, the Radcliff mission must have been working, there would have been a lot of tension as to what goes to what is now Pakistan and what comes to India. At least the border cities were living on the edge. Those were the days when the size of the media itself was very small.”
During his visits to London over the last 25 years, Jaitley said he would meet the Indian media fraternity around a small table. But technology and economy had changed the news media over the years, and also the size of the fraternity.
“Almost in real time, you get to know what is happening in India and you can echo from here what is of relevance to India. Limitations of 300 or 500 words do not exist anymore because you can send as much as you want; even if the papers don’t print it – that’s only a small part of the game now,” Jaitley said.
The large Indian diaspora in Britain had also increased interest in what appears in Indian papers, he noted, adding that the economy of the news media had increased the size of organisations and the number of newspapers, television channels and websites.
“From a relatively important but suppressed role in the past, you are more than a mainstream player now, because London is unquestionably one of the most important news centres of the world”, he said.
IJA president Ashis Ray said there were plans to mark the founding day on May 29 with a special event, and a commemoration banquet later in the year. The plans include an international seminar on a news media-related topic.
Over the years, heads of state, heads of government, members of royal families and eminent persons in various walks of life have attended IJA events, which have ranged from media conferences to celebrated annual dinners.
Guests have included Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, P V Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Clement Atlee, Harold McMillan, Alec Douglas Home, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Two-time British prime minister Wilson said at an IJA event: “I must record the great debt both India and Britain owe to your association, which does so much to enable our peoples to understand each other, and by so understanding, come even closer together.”
Some of the earliest IJA members were K Shelvankar of The Hindu (later ambassador to the USSR), Sundar Kabadi of Amrita Bazar Patrika, Tarapada Basu of Ananda Bazar Patrika and Iqbal Singh of Patriot.
Other prominent members included S Nihal Singh (The Statesman), Sunanda K Datta-Ray (The Statesman), JD Singh (The Times of India), Rakshat Puri (Hindustan Times), MK Razdan (Press Trust of India) and Batuk Gathani (The Hindu).