Skip to main content

Will this Ahmedabad memorial follow Kanti Bhatt-type journalism for subalterns?

By Rajiv Shah  

Let me begin with a sharp admission: I know very little  Gujarati journalism, even though I do know a few (though not many) Gujarati journalists and have been reading Gujarati news in dailies and  portals. To me, Gujarati, which is supposed to be my mother tongue, became a sort of “alien” language very early, not because of my choice, but because I was born (as would happen in traditional houses, where women go to parents’ house during child birth) in Ahmedabad, but brought up in Delhi, where my parents taught art education in Jamia Millia Islamia.
Not that I could not read Gujarati – I secured the highest marks (68%) in 8th class in Gujarati, the language that I chose to study in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, an elite school founded ex-ICS (equivalent to IAS under the British rule) HM Patel, Sardar Patel's closest aide. Part of the three-language formula, I chose Gujarati instead of the more scoring Sanskrit, another language offered in the school as an option. After 8th I hardly ever read, even less write, Gujarati, till I made Ahmedabad my ‘karmaboomi’ as assistant editor with the Times of India in 1993.
When got a message from veteran journalist Sheela Bhatt to come over at the Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan to come over to a function organised to inaugurate a memorial to "celebrate" life and works of renowned Gujarati journalist and columnist Kanti Bhatt (1931-2019), her late husband, I was in two minds on whether to go or not to, as I knew very little of him. I knew him as a big name in Gujarati journalism, but frankly, I don’t remember having read much his writings.
When it comes to Gujarati journalism, I read news stories which appear in daily newspapers as also internet media, though avoid reading commentaries by those considered prominent columnists, among whom Kanti Bhatt is said to have stood out. In fact, as the audience at the memorial meet was told, he would write in as many as 42 different names, because he thought what is written is more important than who wrote.
Be that as it may, since Sheela Bhatt, who was introduced to me by my friend, philosopher and guide Achyut Yagnik – one of the top names in civil society, as also a writer and an expert whom journalists and researchers would consult to write anything on Gujarat – had asked me to come over, I decided to go to Khanpur in Ahmedabad, where the function was to take place. While I saw the memorial-cum-reading room, and hoped it would pick up, I was greatly impressed to know who Kanti Bhatt was, especially the type of writing he would do.
What particularly struck me was Kanti Bhatt’s effort to gather news, as told by the speakers, especially Sheela Bhatt, who said, to him, the diamond barons of Surat weren’t the audience, but the diamond polishing workers, who came all the way from Saurashtra and North Gujarat in search of job, were. In fact, his ears were always to the ground, to borrow a phrase used once used for a Times of India column, meeting people, finding out what they thought, and writing about them.
Indeed, I thought, as I was listening to her, this is what appears to be lacking today in Gujarati journalism, whatever I have known of it. Top Gujarati papers have been owner driven, and while they have occasionally “allowed” anti-establishment stories (depending on whims and fancies of the owner, who happens to also the editor, too), there have been very few cases when reporters are sent to talk to subaltern sections to find out what's happening. They are taught to talk to those are supposed to be “important” persons in the powers-that-be – politicians, bureaucrats, businesspersons – and only official sources alone are considered “authentic.”
Even the few Gujarati news portals, which have been floated lately, mostly appear to confine themselves either on news about what’s happening in the corridors of power, or political commentaries. Again, whatever I could gather from them, I have found in them very little ground-level reporting of what different sections of society think and behave, how they are affected by, say, environmental crisis because of industrial pollution, on one hand, and policy makers’ indifference towards it -- something about which Sheela Bhatt suggested while talking about her husband’s journalism.
“Not that he wouldn’t write on politics. He would very much do”, Sheela Bhatt said, underlining, “However, he was more interested in writing about, for instance, why nobody should vote for any political party, addressing the common reader.” She regretted, non-Gujarati journalists have rarely taken note of this characteristic, which is unusual in today’s media. Another speaker told the audience about the type of pain he would take to get into the depth of news – following the infamous Bhagalpur blindings of 1979-80, he went all the way to Bihar by train without reservation to do a report.
Now let me come to the memorial-cum-reading room in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan premises, which was inaugurated by Florida-based Gujarati writer Madhu Rye. Established with efforts put in by a well-known mass communications educator Shyam Parekh, my ex-Times of India colleague and ex-editor of now shut down “Daily News and Analysis”, Ahmedabad, and, of course, Sheela Bhatt, who provided funds for it, I was left wondering whether it would promote, or at least take a cue from the type of subaltern journalism which Kanti Bhatt seemed to pursue, especially today when news is no more the monopoly of the corporate houses, thanks to internet.
We were told that the Kanti Bhatt Memorial and Reading Room has around 1,600 books from his personal collection, donated by Sheela Bhatt, that it has 16,000 clippings written by him over the six decades of his journalistic life in different newspapers and journals (including “Chitralekha”, “Mumbai Samachar”, “Janshakti”, “Sandesh”, “Yuva Darshan”, “Jansatta” and “Abhiyaan”, of which he was founding editor), apart from his personal photographs and a collection of antique communication equipment he would use.
It was a great effort putting together all this, and opening the room for students and researchers for reference, and also “allow” seminars. However, the moot question is: would the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan owners permit, let alone pursue, what George Orwell said: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations", or what Andrew Gelman, professor of statistics and political science at the Columbia University underlined: "Journalism: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Public relations: Serve the client (who is likely to be comfortable)."
I concluded from the memorial meet, this is what Kanti Bhatt seemed to pursue. But these definitions are on test at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan -- founded by right-wing Gandhian KM Munshi and currently run by an elite trust -- whose journalism school headquarter has just been shifted from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. They are also important today, when “uncomfortable” journalistic stories are met with political vengeance, going so far as to ban certain news stories and features, with security agencies raiding journalistic premises. The BBC feature on Gujarat riots is just the latest example, but and isn’t an exception.
Let’s wait and see...
Meanwhile, one can read more about Kanti Bhatt here.

Comments

Anonymous said…
It would have been interesting to let the people know about the position Sheela Bhatt took in the massacre of Golana.
She didn't blame the caste or untouchability for the massacre. She chose the conversion to Christianity as the responsible factor.
Samir Shukla said…
Sir,

With due respect for the legacy of someone who toiled for five-six decades doing thankless task of writing in a language spoken by people with least possible અસ્મિ-તા and non-existent જિજ્ઞાસા, let me be a bit harsh and say that Mr. Bhatt started a tradition of one-book-wonders continued now by Jay Vasavda Et al.

I remember that I was (self)introduced to Mr. Bhatt because he wrote a piece on snakes in Chitralekha. As I was young then, I started counting gross scientific errors and gave up at forty eight and wrote a letter to Chitralekha :)

I subsequently read him whenever he abused scientific subjects and I soon realised that the “science” in Gujarati journalism is mostly picking up one popular science book in English and churn out a piece that was correct only in the parts when it is translation.

Wherever the author applied his own mind, it was sheer torture for anyone even remotely informed.

Am sorry to say but after the legends like Harinarayan Acharya or “Vijaygupta Maurya” writing world-class quality stuff in Kumar, arrival of Chitralekha and success of Kantibhai set a downward trend that is now reaching new lows under the able leadership of Mr. Vasavda and those who are aping him because of his incredible success.

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.

Narmada Valley's fossil evidence: Ground for 'nationalists' to argue primates' India roots?

By Saurav Sarkar*  In December 1982, a geologist digging in India’s Central Narmada Valley found something he did not expect. Arun Sonakia, who at the time worked for the Geological Survey of India, unearthed a hominid fossil skullcap from the Pleistocene era. The discovery sent shockwaves through the field of paleoanthropology and put South Asia on the map of human prehistory. Some experts concluded that the skull likely belonged to a member of a predecessor species of ours, Homo heidelbergensis , or perhaps was a hybrid of homo species, while Sonakia himself suggested “ an affinity… to Homo erectus .”