Girilal Jain, who has died aged 69 in New Delhi, was one of India’s most influential figures over the last 20 years. He was editor of the Times of India for 12 years and since his retirement had written extensively. His books include India Meets China In Nepal, Panch Sheela And After and What Mao Really Means, and he was finishing a new study on Hindu nationalism at the time of his death. For the past 10 years he had devoted much time to the study of comparative religions, especially Islam and Hinduism.
He was born in Haryana State and was one of the few Indian intellectuals to rise from an underprivileged rural background to international eminence. His origins gave him an uncanny feel and insight into rural India.
After graduating in history from Hindu College, Delhi University, he served the Times of India in a range of positions, including chief reporter, foreign correspondent in Karachi and London, and assistant editor before being appointed editor in 1976.
He believed in the editor’s prerogative to shape the newspaper. When that right was challenged by Samir Jain, son of the proprietor, he refused to let him meddle in editorial policy or management. He also refused to succumb to pressures from government, business or industry.
His one blind spot was his belief that the best thing that happened to India was the coming to power of Indira Gandhi. Many though that the soft spot for Mrs Gandhi displayed in his writings was due to pressure from his proprietors. My own view is that he strongly believed in her leadership and genuinely supported her against her old cronies in the Congress Party during the split of the party in the late 1960s. He also lent support during her emergency regime in 1975-77, even though it cost him some close friendships.
His attitude to Rajiv Gandhi, however, was somewhat ambivalent. Jain thought that Rajiv was a mediocre leader compared with his mother, but he was better than most other Congress leaders of his time. He thought prime minister VP Singh was a disaster for the country.
He flirted with socialism and went to jail during the 1942 Quit India movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi. Later he became disillusioned and came closer to the Radical Humanists, from whom he also soon distanced himself.
He was a cut above his contemporaries in the depth and breadth of his writings. He was considered one of the best political writers in the Anglo-American idiom in India. I differed with him on many of his political positions – including his exposition of hindutva and the fondness for Hindu nationalism he acquired after his retirement from the Times of India – but even his most severe critics have to concede that he was one of the most cogent and fearless exponents of whatever cause he chose to espouse. One could find fault with his ego and his strongly expressed views, but he was one of the best editors the Times of India has had in recent decades.
Girilal Jain, born September 21, 1923; died July 19, 1993 [born 1922 – ed]
The Guardian, London, 23 July 1993