Thursday, July 18, 2024

Rajeswar, a voracious reader and an uncompromising critic

A chief minister completed a year in office. A young journalist was asked to assess his rule. The CM was appreciated if it was due but was not spared for wrong decisions. While all other newspapers showered praise on one-year-old CM, a young journalist was critical of his administrative decisions. The CM kept aside the routine praises on the eve of ‘anniversary’ and read this piece twice with attention.

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The editor, who happened to be CM’s bosom friend, called the reporter into his chambers.  The young reporter thought it was end of the matter as the CM must be angry. He typed out a letter, “My writing if affected the friendship of the editor, as a reporter I cannot continue. Hence, I resign”. The editor laughed it out and torn off the resignation letter. The editor said, “The Chief Minister is my good friend, no doubt, but your article is the best. You have proved that a journalist is more responsible to reader than to its editor or the Chief Minister of state.” The newspaper concerned was Andhra Patrika, one of the largely circulated newspapers of Andhra Pradesh in those days. The editor was none other than Shivalenka Shambhu Prasad.  The assessment was about the rule of Kasu Brahmananda Reddy. And the young and bold journalist was Rajeswara Rao Chennamaneni.

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A reader and critic

At his 88th year, he is in his tiny chamber surrounded by books, newspapers, magazines, in HMTV building, looking at the reports of youngsters for correction. Rajeswar, with his thoughts focused on the latest book- autobiography of Amartya Sen, had not noticed someone who entered his cabin and greeted. Another autobiography (of Girish Karnad) was waiting for his attention. All the bookshelves around and the table before him were fully occupied by the books and nothing but books. He pulled his table drawer to find photo copies of his recent articles for Hans India to share with the visitor. 

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Can a reporter survive the wrath of a Chief Minister today? Rajeshwar answered, “I could survive Brahmananda Reddy because of Ayyavaru (Editor Shambhuprasad as fondly called). But all are not like Shambhu Prasad.” Rajeswar as an investigative reporter had a different experience with another editor. When N.T. Ramarao, the then Chief Minsiter, claimed that he was a sanyasi, Rajeswer penned an article to prove he was not. He listed out the immovable properties owned by the Chief Minister with survey numbers etc.  Next scene was that Rajeswar was transferred to Vijayawada. Rajeswar was ready again with his resignation letter. By this time the editor was no more independent, and proprietor was the real editor. It was K. Jagdeesh Prasad son of KLN Prasad, the founder of Andhra Jyothy. “I was appointed as Hyderabad reporter and hence you cannot transfer. If you do not want me, say that. Why did you transfer?” said Rajeswar and walked out of the newspaper. The proprietor was happy that Rajeswar left. The owner control the content at the  pleasure of the Chief Minister, whether personal friend or not.

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A question Indira Gandhi skipped

Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi exercised her privilege as leader of the Government to reorganize the departments within ministers’ portfolios. The revenue intelligence wing was carved out of Revenue and political intelligence from Home. Rajeswar was closely observing the process. He found a reason when these new significant powers were taken over by the Prime Minister for herself, from the hands of her cabinet colleagues. Rajeswar got a chance to question Mrs Indira Gandhi, when she addressed a press conference in Hyderabad. He asked, “Prime minister, there appears a tendency in you to become a dictator”. She shot back, ‘Why do you think so?’.  Rajeswar pointed out at the reorganization of departments. She smiled and said ‘next question’. The fact was established. The then top cop of AP asked Rajeswar, ‘How dare you question the Prime Minister like this?’. Rajeswar was clear: ‘it’s the duty of a journalist’.

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The prime minister today does not believe in speaking to media. He shares his thoughts through “man ki bath” straight with the people in the Akashvani, a one-way communication. No scope for any one asking anything. Perhaps he has established a record as a PM who never met media ever since he assumed the office in 2014. Even if some chief minister convenes a press conference, now-a-days, asking a question happens very rarely. Rajeswar’s take at this situation is ‘surprise’.

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A CM’s self-contradiction

Brahmananda Reddy was a tough chief minister. He faced strong agitation for Telangana state. While addressing the press, he once responded to a question on Telangana agitation saying, ‘not much support to it’. A reporter referred to the NGO’s stand, and then CM says when 99 per cent of NGOs want Telangana what kind of discussions can we hold with them? Rajeswar, who was silent till then, asked “Mr. Chief Minister, there is a contradiction in your statement”. The CM was shocked and asked “where do you find contradiction’. The journalist explained: “You say Telangana agitation does not have any support and add that 99 per cent of NGOs support it”.  The CM was caught on the wrong foot but tried to wriggle out brazening, ‘contradiction is in your mind’.  The hollowness of the CM was proved beyond doubt.

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An accidental journalist

Rajeswar is a born landlord with hundreds of acres of agricultural land, though he does not own any now. He had to take a loan to construct a house in Hyderabad. He is secular, socialist and a democrat with strong foundations in equality and justice. In his student days, he used to spend around Rs. 500 a month to buy English newspapers and magazines. As a thorough reader, he knew the international developments, English literature, poetry, cinema and culture, which he used to discuss with J. Chokka Rao, an astute politician from Karimnagar, who was a cabinet minister, MLA and MP from Congress party. He also happens to be Rajeswar’s uncle. When Chokka Rao was arguing effectively in conversations on international developments, the then Minister, Editor of Daily News, and an important politician V B Raju was surprised and asked how did he know all these issues, which no Telugu newspaper published. Chokka Rao said, “My nephew reads English newspapers and briefs me.”  Next day, Raju invited Rajeswar and offered a sub-editor’s post. Rajeswar refused saying, “I am not a journalist and have no idea to become one.” But Raju was confident that Rajeswar would be a good journalist. Rajeswar was persuaded to join ‘Daily News.’ His salary was Rs 150 per month and Rs 10 was conveyance allowance. Within a few days, he proved to be capable of handling news desk. Thus, Rajeswar was an accidental journalist. Newspaper reading habit made him a news writer. Significantly, he continued to be a reader and writer even today after more than six decades.

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Andhra Patrika’s tenure

Later, he was called for an interview for the post of staff reporter of Andhra Patrika. Editor Shambhu Prasad would generally interview any candidate thoroughly for four or five days, and then takes more than a week to decide. General Manager of Andhra Patrika received Rajeswar at Madras Central Railway station with a placard. The interview went on and on for hours with discussions on various subjects ranging from politics to art to literature and international issues.  When he was about to return, the editor asked him to wait. And in a few minutes a typed order of appointment was in his hands. Surprised, Rajeswar pleaded that he needed to serve a month’s notice at Daily News. Then the order was changed to the date of his choice. Rajeswar recalls with respect the magnanimity of V. B. Raju, who relieved him soon with an appreciation that it was great to work with Andhra Patrika, a star daily of those days. He worked for more than a decade as the newspaper’s Delhi correspondent.

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Started career with a bang

Rajeswar joined Andhra Patrika on a Thursday, he vividly remembers. The Chief Reporter asked him to report the Question Hour of AP Assembly sessions, which is generally assigned to an experienced senior person. One should be attentive to each word that is said and understand the supplementary questions also. Each deals with a separate subject and there would be ten such issues every day. Rajeswar knew it. His report was the banner item next day. On Friday, he studied and wrote a piece on how the industries were not being encouraged. Second day again his report was on the top of the Andhra Patrika. The news item stirred the Government machinery and the CM addressed the issue on Saturday, which was covered again by Rajeswar as a banner item, third day in a row. He started impacting the society as a reporter of Andhra Patrika with a bang. 

Rajeswar Rao Chennamaneni is a silent and voracious reader. If he writes a sentence it’s a thunder. He is now associated with HMTV.

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(The author is the Dean, Professor of law at Mahendra University, Hyderabad, and a former Central Information Commissioner)

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.


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