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Gujarat Media Club foundation day: Between welfarism and 'compiling' archives

GMC awardees standing in the second row
By Rajiv Shah
Six years is indeed a big gap. After retiring from the Times of India in January 2013, last week I attended the annual meeting of the Gujarat Media Club (GMC), which I very recently came to know is, legally speaking, a registered as a non-profit company, working for the welfare of journalists. The term welfare seems vague, but its past office office bearers would tell me it’s not a union, that’s the great difference.
Be that as it may, the last meeting I attended (perhaps it was in early 2012, or what it late 2011?), was when the then GMC president, Bharat Desai, then editor, the Times of India, put forward a series of demands before the chief guest, who happened to Narendra Modi.
The demands included giving land for a GMC building, where he had planned to set up a journalism school, in which, I was told, I should also be involved post-retirement. Modi nodded, and journalists were happy: Land would be allocated, cheap, subsidised.
Bharat Desai didn’t remain president after that. I don’t really know if any effort was made after that to pursue land allocation. If only we had a building of our own, just as other states’ press clubs have, it would be place to carry out many activities, including media conferences.
I must admit, as a member of GMC since its very inception in 2006, I have never been active. Till 2012, as and when GMC office bearers would require, I would accompany them to IAS babus in Gandhinagar, where I was posted. Sometimes I would also come over at the GMC cricket tournament -- more to meet colleagues in Ahmedabad. That was all.
Over the last six years, however, I kept a wait-and-watch attitude, though I was impressed how it was trying to take a shape under the last president, Darshan Desai, who has the abilities of becoming the editor of any good media outfit, but is happy to remain a freelancer.
Abhishek Singh Rao
I would attend a GMC-sponsored press meet, addressed by Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav), and a workshop taken by Google on sensitizing journalists on online ways. Only once have I visited the GMC office, a one roomer on the terrace on a building opposite the spot where the Ashish School once stood. The same school, off Satellite Road, where my children initially studied after we returned from Moscow in 1993 to settle down in Ahmedabad. I also attended a couple of demonstrations. One of them was held at the Gandhi Ashram immediately after the gruesome murder of Karnataka journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017.
Following a WhatsApp message, which must also have been sent to me in an email id which I rarely open now, I decided to attend the last week’s annual meet – mainly to meet some old friends. It was held in a five star hotel on the SG Highway, and the chief guest was Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani.
I met several of my colleagues, including editor the Times of India, Harit Mehta, a very likable person whom I have known since my Gandhinagar days (previously he was English lecturer in a state capital college), as also Darshan Desai. I also met Rathin Das, whom I know closely since my Delhi days of early 1980s. Rathin is with the Statesman now, but more important, we had a common comrade-in-arm of Safdar Hashmi, a street theatre star killed in 1989 by goons (shouldn’t they be termed terrorists?) after he performed his play in Ghaziabad.
The moment I entered in, I met Bhagyesh Jha, a proud Sanskritist who, post-retirement, is in the chief minister’s office. He surprisingly told me that he “misses me” -- I wondered why did he say so, I even expressed my surprise, which he may not have liked. He should have been fair. I had written several uncomfortable items (including in True Lies column) on him during my Times of India days. Sitting next him was a person better known as Kakuji, an amenable person who at one point of time, I was given to understand, would handle Modi’s finances.
In front rows sat former chief secretary PK Laheri, whom I have known ever since 1998 when he was secretary to Modi’s bete noire, Keshubhai Patel. I asked Laheri, who must be in his mid-seventies now, what was he doing, and he said, he was in the Somnath Trust, wrote columns in a daily or two, and was also attached with “some NGOs.”
Jaydev Patel
“Some NGOs?”, the journalist in me asked him. “NGOs is a dangerous word in the current situation. Don’t you think? Ask him!”, I pointed towards Jha, who had now come to sit with Laheri. “You now look old, Rajiv”, Laheri replied, smiling. “I am really telling you. Everything can become dangerous at any time. Even this time. Why just NGOs?”
As Rupani came in, everyone began take a seat in the jam-packed hall. I found a seat next to a well-connected public relations expert. Announcements were made about who all were being awarded for last year’s best stories, which interested me. While other stories must have been good in their own way, the one that particularly attracted me was by Abhishek Singh Rao, a young journalist, in the online category.
Written in a little known (at least I had never heard of it) online news media, hindi.thearticle.in, the story is on the exploitation of Gujarat trainee women cops – how they were made to suffer distressing comments during monthlies, and how they were forced to take bath in the open. After a hectic search for the URL (including through GMC current president Nirnay Kapoor) I found it and read through it. THIS is its URL. A must read, indeed. But would the authorities act? They don't seem to have so far, Rao tells me.
Speeches followed. Those of us who had retired from formal journalism expected Rupani to make an announcement or two about welfare of journalists. One of them was on give post-retirement pension, which other states have begun to offer. Rupani in his a lengthy, some would say boring, speech, only vaguely spoke of freedom of speech, democracy and nationalism.
Be that as it may, at least there was one consolation: A veteran journalist, Jaydev Patel, was awarded Lifetime Achievement Award. Don’t know if I have ever met this octogenarian journalist. Previously with Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, he is currently (imagine! he is still active) with Divya Bhaskar. Ajay Umat, editor, Navgujarat Samay, graphically pointed to how erudite Patel was, so much so that if you wanted to know about the top Urdu story teller Saadar Ali Manto, one could approach “Jaydevkaka”.
That such gems are not known to general public should be blamed on the vernacular media, was my immediate reaction. They have never even thought of giving byline to stories! A search in Google didn’t show his name! A humble person, when he was asked to say a few words after he was given the award, this is all that he said: “I am not used to speaking. I can only write. Thank you.”
The meeting was over, and dinner was served. All in all, I was happy that Nirnay Kapoor made a small but significant announcement – to create an archive of writings by Gujarat journalists. I don’t know how does he propose to do it. But hope he succeeds. I was reminded of what a veteran journalist of yesteryears, M Chalapathi Rau said: that journalists are “quick historians.”

Comments

Jagdish Patel said…
Excellent article, Rajiv. Congratulations

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