Nayar’s scoops exemplified the journalist’s craft

Kuldip Nayar

Kuldip Nayar, who passed away last week, was a rare journalist. Serendipity, integrity, an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, and a bit of luck saw him break many important stories during a career spanning over 70 years. Here, in his own words, are the context of a few of those stories and how they came about. Edited excerpts from his book, Scoop! (Harper Collins, 2006).

The Radcliffe Award

‘I nearly gave you Lahore,’ Justice Lord Cyril Radcliffe, chairman of the Boundary Commission, told me. ‘But, then I realized that Pakistan would not have any large city. I had already marked Calcutta to India’.

This conversation took place in Radcliffe’s flat in London towards the latter half of 1971. Although the Boundary Commission had four more members…Radcliffe was the one who had actually made the decision.

I found to my horror that Radcliffe had had no fixed rules to go by when he drew the boundaries between India and Pakistan. The ticklish part of his assignment, he said, was to partition the last track of Punjab and Bengal on the basis of religion. Therefore, his decision to give Lahore to India and then to reverse it in favour of Pakistan was understandable.

‘The Muslims in Pakistan nurture the grievance that you favoured India,’ I told Radcliffe. He replied that they should be grateful to him because he had gone out of his way to give them Lahore ‘which deserved to go to India. Even otherwise, I favoured the Muslims more than the Hindus’.

What hurt him most was the allegation that he had changed his report at Mountbatten’s instance. The allegation of the Pakistanis was that Mountbatten had put pressure on Radcliffe to give India the Firozepur and Zira tehsils to provide a link with Jammu and Kashmir

The End of the Emergency

It had just started to turn a bit nippy in early November 1977. I was coming out of a social function in Delhi when a police officer from my state, Punjab, tapped my shoulder and whispered that the Emergency was being lifted…Looking at my astonished face the police officer added: ‘We have been told to assess what the chances of a Congress candidate in Delhi will be, if elections are held within the next three months.’

How to check, much less confirm, the information given by the police officer was my predicament. This was the type of story where one could not afford to go wrong…Sanjay Gandhi could even use it as a pretext to close down the paper.

I began the exercise of checking the lead with Kamal Nath. He was a close associate of Sanjay Gandhi…Kamal Nath was a member of the Express board which had been reconstituted during the Emergency with KK Birla of the Hindustan Times in the chair…He had once offered me the Express editorship on the condition that I toed their line. Even my emphatic refusal had not spoilt our relations.

I knocked at Kamal Nath’s residence around 7 am. I put him a straight question: From where was Sanjay Gandhi contesting elections? He was somewhat taken aback. His immediate reaction was: ‘Who told you?’ Before I could reply, he hurriedly added that ‘nothing has been decided yet’. ‘Who told you?’ The words gave Kamal Nath away. Elections were definitely around the corner.

It was a little after midnight when Ram Nath Goenka, the owner of the Express, rang me up from Bombay. His query was simple: whether the story was true. If the story was correct, his days of troubles were over…

The Father of Pakistan’s Atomic Bomb

Mushahid Hussain, Editor of Muslim, was at the airport to receive me. This was on 27 January 1987…I assumed that he had been touched by my travelling all the way to Islamabad to attend his wedding. The moment he embraced me, he whispered in my ear: ‘I have a khas (special) present for you’…‘Dr AQ Khan will meet you today,’ Mushahid said.

Khan lived in a bungalow in a locality just outside Islamabad. He had come a long way from his days in Bhopal where the Partition of India had bruised his sensitivity to such an extent that he had vowed to wreak vengeance on the Hindus for having rendered the Muslim community weak and helpless.

I had heard he was an egoist and he matched the description every inch…The question of whether India had tried to barge into the secret Pakistan nuclear plant pleased him. Laughing, he said that New Delhi had sent some spies, one of whom was a major in the Indian Army. But they were all arrested…

I thought I would provoke him; egoist that he was, he might fall for the bait. He did. I concocted a story, saying that when I was coming to Pakistan, I had run into Dr H Sethna, the father of India’s bomb, who had asked me why I was wasting my time because Pakistan had neither the men nor the material to make the bomb. Khan hit the roof and began pounding the table: ‘Tell them we have it, we have it.’

…Khan now talked like a member of the ruling elite. He warned me: ‘If you ever drive us to the wall, as you did in East Pakistan, we will use the bomb.’

For a long time Mushahid never told me that this meeting had been pre-arranged, but I suspected so all along. Many years later…he said, yes, it had (been).

Bus Diplomacy

On 20 February 1999, I was sitting behind Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the bus going to Lahore, at the invitation of Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. En route, before reaching the Wagah border, Vajpayee beckoned to me and informed me that he had received news about the killing of some 26 Hindus by militants in the Jammu division. He was anguished by the latest killings and wondered whether there was any use in further talks. I tried to reassure him by saying that the militants were so desperate to stall the talks…

…After changing hurriedly, we reached the governor’s house where Vajpayee was staying, to accompany him to the banquet at the Qila (Fort)…The road to the Fort had been, quite literally, taken over by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Its members and supporters had turned back all vehicles and had even stoned some diplomats’ cars…Shabaz Sharif, chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab, told me that the Jamaat had promised to protest only for a few minutes but it had played false.

Vajpayee read out his banquet speech in English. It was flat. Apparently, it had been pieced together by some bureaucrats. The following morning, I met Vajpayee and told him that his speech at the civic reception later in the day should be in his own words, drawn both from Urdu and Hindi. He agreed, and his words went down so well that even today people recall his speech with nostalgia…Earlier, he had written in the visitors’ book at Minar-e-Pakistan, (where the Pakistan Resolution was passed) that the integrity and prosperity of India depended upon the integrity and prosperity of Pakistan.

…When I met Vajpayee after the coup in Pakistan, he said ‘He (Nawaz Sharif) sacrificed himself for us.’ Regarding the settlement on Kashmir, Vajpayee said, ‘We were almost there.’

Reproduced in arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers India Private Limited from the book Scoop authored by Kuldip Nayar and first published by them © Kuldip Nayar, 2006. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying is strictly prohibited. 

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