By Anto Akkara
Call it destiny or coincidence, Kuldip Nayar – the patriarch of journalism in independent India – passed away at the age of 95 on August 23, 2018 – on the 10th anniversary of Kandhamal.
It was on this day a decade ago that Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati of Kandhamal was sacrificed in a supari killing by the Sangh Parivar to trigger the bloodshed and mayhem in the remote district in Odisha for political gains.
As one who has been pursuing truth and justice persistently for Kandhamal, I felt sad when the news of the demise of Nayar came. It was hours before the release of the Hindi translation of my book ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’ with Foreword by Nayar himself – on the Kandhamal 10th anniversary along with a documentary ‘Innocents imprisoned.’
The documentary is only the visual presentation of the Sangh Parivar’s Kandhamal fraud and the online signature campaign www.release7innocents.com that Nayar had launched on March 3, 2016 for the release of ‘seven innocents’ of Kandhamal. These hapless Christians including a mentally challenged have been languishing in jail for nearly a decade due to the subversion of the judicial system to perpetrate the Sangh Parivar’s fraud.
However, I felt elated that Nayar was chosen by the Almighty to lend his support to the Kandhamal cause even in death with the timing of his inevitable adieu to the world – on the 10th anniversary of Kandhamal! I will never forget his death anniversary which now coincides with anniversary of Kandhamal that changed the course of my life.
Hence, the twin releases on 10th anniversary of Kandhamal began with a multi-media tribute to Nayar without whose rock-like support, I have no doubt, my campaign would have made hardly any impact.
I am indeed blessed to have experienced the veteran journalist’s commitment to human rights, simplicity and concern for preserving the secular ethos of the nation – since I contacted him first in 2009.
Indignant over the police refusing bluntly to register even FIRs in cold-blooded murders – acting as minions of the Sangh Parivar in Kandhamal, I hurriedly put together my maiden book ‘Kandhamal – a blot on Indian Secularism’. I had heard Nayar speaking the truth passionately without fear or favor on numerous occasions since I ventured into journalism in 1990 in New Delhi.
Hence, I had no doubt as to whom to approach to release this investigative book on Kandhamal – seven months into the carnage.
Nayar responded to my call by inviting me to his Vasant Vihar house which I have visited over half a dozen times. He released the book with Swami Angivesh and Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy. The presence and endorsement of my findings on Kandhamal from Nayar at the April 2009 launch evoked rave headlines like ‘’Book on Kandhamal raises uncomfortable questions’.
A few months later I came to know that Nayar was in Bangalore (where I was living at the time) and went to meet him at Taj Hotel. Reception staff told me that since he was in a VIP suite, I could not go into it. But Nayar told them to let me in.
“’What do you want – coffee or tea?” he asked with paternal ease. When he moved to the coffee maker, I tried to stop him saying ‘I will make’.
“You are my guest. You sit,” he said. I was stunned when he went on to add “People like you are pillars of the nation.” This remark explained why he rallied behind all those who stood up for human rights causes and raised voices for the voiceless. His subsequent unstinted support to me proved what he meant by that. (Maybe, he was also moved by Home Minister P Chidambaram quoting the title of my 128-page booklet in the Parliament.)
His commitment to human rights was reiterated when I contacted him in January 2016 asking him to write the Foreword to the book ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda? I also wanted him to launch the online signature campaign www.release7innocents.com for the release of the seven innocents.
Nayar said he had a ‘last’ family gathering in Udaipur during a marriage on March 3 – the date that I had been fixed months ahead to bring the wives of the innocents to Delhi secretly.
Nayar had to be in Udaipur for a week along with his wife Bharti who was also in 90s. Since flight tickets had been already booked, he called his wife and told her that they had to come back early to attend ‘this big program’. She objected. But he told me when she left: “Don’t worry. I will try to reschedule the travel.”
“My dear boy, you have created family problem and tension,” Nayar replied when I contacted him to confirm his participation a couple of weeks later. However, he ended saying that he had cut short the Udaipur visit to be at the Mach 3 program in solidarity with the innocents languishing in jail.
Nayar came readily for the launch with a walking stick and an aide holding his hand. When the illiterate wives of the seven in jail were narrating their woeful tales, I was sitting next to him in the audience.
“What is wrong with this country?” he asked me before he launched the online signature campaign with wavering fingers.
Since the book was not ready, the release was postponed for May 5 and he readily agreed to be there. Nayar wrote a powerful ‘Foreword’ to the book. Couple of days before the May 5 book launch again at the Constitution Club, I wanted to visit him and confirm his participation.
“Don’t waste time. I will be there,” Nayar assured me like a dad. No wonder the nation calls him ‘an institution in himself’.
When I called him on the morning of the release, he said he was feeling ‘very sickly’ and may not come. But I pleaded: “Sir, without your presence, the media would ignore it.” I was thrilled when he confirmed an hour before that he was on the way from his Vasant Vihar house.
At the same time, a popular activist who had agreed to come sent an email with apologies. Later he confided to me that he guessed that I had gone ‘too far’ with the title: ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’
Nayar was elated as he released the book along with the ‘first batch of killers’ of the Swami, whose names had been proclaimed by VHP leader Praveen Togadia, and not Odisha police. (Police asked them to leave 40 days later, after making them sign a declaration that they had taken “shelter in police station due to fear. It was after this that the police arrested the ‘second’ batch of killers’ who are now languishing in jail.)
“I cannot understand why they are still in jail,” Nayar expressed his anguish over the contagion that has gripped the judicial system when I went to invite him for the release the revised edition of the same book on December 28, 2017 (almost two years later). That remark came after I told him about the Odisha High Court keeping the appeal of the seven innocents in cold storage.
Nayar came for the release at the age of 95 walking with great difficulty in biting cold with an aide holding his hand. I too held his hand as he stepped out from the car.
“Some forces are disfiguring the country by enforcing majoritarianism, leading to the slipping of the idea of India. This is the time to fight back and preserve the liberated India as we did with the British.” These words echoed the anguish of Nayar over the growing threats to pluralism in liberated India and Kandhamal cover-up.
“The entire episode of Kandhamal requires another look even though it is late. The gravity of such incidents should be never diminished or hidden…. The idea of India for which thousands of people have sacrificed their lives is endangered once again.”
These words of caution in his Foreword spelt out why the patriarch of journalism decided to stand behind an rooky journalist like a godfather in the quest for truth and justice for Kandhamal.