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Kuldip Nayar, Apr 25, 2012 :

VKN: A journalist of great courage

An editor like him should have been honoured in public for the service he rendered to the press.

V K Narasimhan has not got his due for the role he played during the Emergency. He was editor of The Indian Express throughout the period.

The admiration which the paper has received for its courageous stand during the days when practically all had caved in is entirely Narasimhan’s. He was the editor of The Financial Express but made chief editor of Indian Express when S Mulgaonkar was asked to quit.

 The government at that time re-organised the board looking after The Indian Express and appointed K K Birla as chairman, the darling of the establishment.

Protests by us, the senior staff at the Express, against the induction of a film critic as the chief editor, made Sanjay Gandhi and his cohorts to combine the two post of editor at The Financial Express and The Indian Express to appoint Narasimhan, a quite elderly person who was considered harmless.

They rued the day when they appointed him because he was relentless in criticising the Emergency in one way or the other without inviting any ‘advice’ from the chief censor. Narasimhan knew how to convey things between the lines.

Making a difference

After a brief stint in jail I was back at the Express writing my column ‘Between the Lines.’ Narasimhan was the one who made the language stronger even when I preferred to go easy to pass the censor’s strict standards. His additions made all the difference.

 Narasimhan’s commitment to the freedom of the press was so deep and intense that he saw to it that he would sustain peoples’ faith in the freedom of expression and credibility in The Indian Express.

It was a tremendous feat to keep the torch of free press burning on the one hand and not inviting the wrath of censor on the others. The newspaper’s circulation increased fourfold from 50,000 to 2 lakh copies because his credibility and clarity had won the general admiration.

The circulation would have gone still higher but Ramnath Goenka, the proprietor, said he had no money to purchase more newsprint.

An editor like him should have been honoured in public for the service he rendered to the press, particularly The Indian Express. But he was humiliated because the day Mrs Gandhi was defeated at the polls he was ousted to bring in Mulgaonkar. Goenka explained that this was his obligation because Mulgaonkar had been forced to quit during the Emergency.

 Goenka had a point but what annoyed everyone was the abrupt change made even in the print line without Narasimhan’s knowledge. In protest he left the paper. Senior staff was at Goenka’s throat for the unceremonious departure of a person who had led them in the fight against the Emergency at a time when editors had compromised with the establishment. 

I was deputed by Goenka to bring back Narasimhan as editor of The Financial Express, his original position but he refused to return because of the manner in which he was treated by Goenka.

I was greatly disappointed because the paper had lost a great editor and a loving fatherly figure. I can never forget the scene when I left his house: Narasimhan and his wife were sitting on the floor of their tiny kitchen and sipping coffee.

He had no job, no position. Nor did he care because persons like Narasimhan drew strength from their faith in values which today’s journalists generally do not pursue, much less cherish them.


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