The birth centenary of Vidya Bhaskar, a professional who held on to his principles, is being celebrated today. His is a remarkable name in the history of Hindi journalism. He came from a south-Indian family with its roots in Andhra Pradesh, and served Hindi in brilliant fashion. He dedicated his life to the service of the nation, and to journalism, over a period spanning five decades.
Vidya Bhaskar was born on June 28, 1913 in Varanasi. His father came there for his business and joined the independence struggle, but died early. The business was lost in the thick of the struggle, in which Vidya Bhaskar and his two brothers were also immersed. Notably, the family protected and supported Subramania Bharati during his stay in Varanasi.
The young Vidya Bhaskar faced many a struggle. After his father’s death, his family faced shortage of money. He could not complete his formal education and joined the Kumar Vidyalaya run by the Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1931 at age 18. Kashi Vidyapeeth was the focus of the freedom struggle and the government closed it down in 1932. That hit Vidya Bhaskar’s educational career again. Yet he went on and taught himself.
Vidya Bhaskar inherited an affinity for Hindi from his family that surfaced during his teens. From three years from 1930, he assisted freedom fighters in the editing, compilation, publication and distribution of a Congress bulletin. For this, he underwent his first imprisonment, for three weeks, during the Calcutta Convention of the Congress in 1931. Twelve years later, the colonial rulers would arrest him again under the Defence of India Act.
In keeping with the tempo of those tumultuous years, his career as a journalist was fast-moving. He was trained in the basics by Umashankar, the Varanasi representative of Associated Press.
Soon, his professional skills and command over Hindi caught the attention of scholars and journalists. In 1940, he was appointed an Assistant Editor of Agragaami, a daily published from Varanasi. Within months, its Editor Shacheendranath Sanyal retired and Vidya Bhaskar took his place. Under his editorship, the publication that had regularly indulged in religious propaganda became moderate and liberal.
Mahatma Gandhi had, in a speech, voiced concern over religious fundamentalism and called upon saints to contribute positively to nation-building. Vidya Bhaskar supported Gandhi’s view in a lead article, which invited the publishers’ ire. But he was undeterred.
He was Resident Editor of Aaryavart of Patna from 1941 to 1942. In June that year, he became Editor-in-charge of Raashtravaani of Patna. But it closed down in August in the wake of the Quit India movement. He returned to Varanasi, where he resumed work on the Congress bulletin. In December, he was appointed Editor of the daily Aaj.
He left Aaj in 1945 and joined Jaihind of Jabalpur as Editor in 1946. The government of the United Provinces invited him to join its Information Department the following year. In the first two years of Independence, he served as Secretary and Officer on Special Duty of a government inquiry committee on journalism and prepared a report on economic problems faced by journalists.
He resigned from the government post in 1950 to become Editor of Amrit Patrika, a new daily published from Prayag. It rose to new heights under him. His brilliant articles in Amrit Patrika established Vidya Bhaskar’s reputation as a free, fair, courageous and scholarly editor. But it was locked out due to labour unrest in 1959.
In 1962, the Central government enacted the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (Prayag) Act, which was challenged in court. On the orders of the High Court, Vidya Bhaskar was appointed the Sammelan’s Officer on Special Duty. The Uttar Pradesh government made him Secretary of the Allahabad-based Hindustani Academy for two consecutive years. There, he helped publish excellent books and acquired for the Academy a building of its own that still serves as a centre of literary, cultural and social act.
He eventually returned as Executive Editor of Aaj in September 1966, and remained there till 1983. His signed articles were widely read. His column, “Apna Bharat”, presented excellent analyses of social, political and economic issues, each Monday. It was a favourite among scholarly readers. Each day, he sat down with his colleagues and reviewed the day’s newspaper. He strived to maintain the level of seriousness and dignity of Aaj.
Pioneer of interviews
Vidya Bhaskar was associated with many journalistic organisations. He was regarded as a pioneer in developing interviews as an effective device in Hindi journalism. He interviewed personalities from different fields. He interviewed Indira Gandhi three times: first in 1976 during the Emergency, in 1979 and in 1981.
As a journalist, he travelled widely. He was a balanced, sincere, serious and aware professional.
He retained his professional dignity, credibility and uprightness, until his death on December 19, 1984. As Editor, he stressed the importance of accountability; as a journalist he could fulfil any professional responsibility assigned to him.
This is what made him a complete journalist and an institution unto himself.
(Translated from the Hindi by Abhishek Srivastav)