Girilal Jain: An institution that left an indelible mark on journalism

JpegMr Girilal Jain, one of the foremost journalists of his time, died here early this morning [July 19] after being seriously ill for over two weeks. He was 71.

Mr Jain, who was editor of The Times of India for 10 years, passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where he had been operated upon on July 1. He slipped into coma soon after the operation. His condition deteriorated suddenly last night and the end came at 3.30 this morning.

He is survived by his wife, a son and three daughters. A large number of mourners, including senior politicians and journalists, paid their last respect at Nigambodh Ghat where he was cremated this evening.

The Vice President, Mr KR Narayanan expressed grief at the death of Mr Jain. He described the veteran journalist as a brilliant writer and original thinker on public affairs and one of the great editors and journalists of Independent India. According to the Vice President, Mr Jain made a vital contribution to the understanding of political and social developments in India and in the world.

The Prime Minister, Mr PV Narasimha Rao, condoled Mr Jain’s death, describing him as a distinguished journalist whose death had left a void. In a condolence message, Mr Rao said that Mr Jain’s death would be mourned by the large journalistic fraternity. The information and broadcasting minister, Mr KP Singh Deo, said in his condolence message that Mr Jain was a journalist who gave a new insight and set new standards for the younger generation professionals.

The BJP chief, Mr LK Advani, who attended the cremation services, said that the country has lost an outstanding journalist, a great thinker and an ardent nationalist. Paying tributes to the veteran journalist, he said: “For me, it means the loss of a personal1 friend whose sage advice I always valued immensely.” He offered his “heartfelt condolences to Mr Jain’s wife, children and other family members”.

Mr Ashok Jain, chairman of The Times of India group of publications, said that Mr Girilal Jain served The Times of India for nearly four decades with exemplary devotion. He said that under Mr Jain’s editorship The Times of India strengthened its pre-eminent position in the media which enabled it to vastly extend its reach and influence. “I was personally privileged to benefit from his sharp insights into many matters. I valued his judgments and advice. He bequeaths a rich legacy to the paper,” Mr Ashok Jain said.

The Congress leader, Mr HKL Bhagat, paying homage to Mr Jain said, “In the death of Mr Jain the country has lost a friend, philosopher and guide. A friend of the country, friend of all good causes.”

The BJP expressed its deep concern over Mr Jain’s death. A meeting was held at the party headquarters where senior party leaders stood in silence to pay respect to Mr Jain. The meeting was attended by Mr AB Vajpayee, Mrs Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, Mr Sikander Bakht and Mr Madan Lal Khurana. Almost all the prominent BJP leaders also attended Mr Jain’s funeral.

Among those present at the Nigambodh Ghat were Mr Sham Lal, Mr Dileep Padgaonkar, Mr MJ Akbar, Mr Arun Shourie, Mr Aroon Puri, Mr S Nihal Singh, Mr Prabhu Chawla, Mr Hiranmay Karlekar, Mr KK Katyal, Mr RK Mishra, Mr Rajinder Puri, Mr Sudhir Dar and Mr SP Singh. Others included Mr VN Gadgil, Dr Karan Singh, Mr Sita Ram Kesri, Mr Prem Sagar Gupta, Mr Jagmohan, Mr Jag Parvesh Chandra, Mr Bansi Lal Mehta, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Mr Harcharan Singh Josh and several family friends, relatives and admirers.

Mourners visited the bereaved family at A-68 Gulmohar Park soon after the body was brought home in the morning. The former Jammu and Kashmir governor, Mr Jagmohan, was one of the first to pay his last respects to the departed journalist. Mr NKP Salve, union minister for power laid a wreath on behalf of the Prime Minister and consoled the bereaved family. Mrs Vijayaraje Scindia, Mr Arun Shourie. Mr Vasant Sathe, Mr Sham Lal and Mr Padgaonkar also visited the residence to pay their homage.

The Haryana chief minister, Mr Bhajan Lal, expressed deep shock and anguish at Mr Jain’s death. In a message, he said that Mr Jain, who was a great son of Haryana, has created a void in the field of journalism. He will be always remembered for his incisive editorials through which he highlighted the problems of the common man.

Mr Nikhil Chakravarty, chairman and trustee of Namedia Foundation, in his condolence message, said that Mr Jain took a keen interest in the activities of Namedia. “Mr Jain was an original thinker and contributed essays that enriched the intellectual climate of the country,” he said.

Industrialist, Mr GP Birla, expressing his deep shock at the death of Mr Jain, described him as a visionary among journalists and one of the great editors of our times. Mr CK Birla, another industrialist, paid tributes to Mr Jain’s depth of knowledge, breadth of vision and felicity of expression that gave a unique character and quality to whatever he wrote.

Mr KR Singh, well known communicator and chairman, India Foundation for PR Education and Research, said that in Mr Jain’s death, the country has lost a great editor and intellectual and the fraternity of communicators one of its greatest gurus.

The All India Newspaper Editor’s Conference expressed deep shock at the sudden death of Mr Jain. Mr Vishwabandhu Gupta, president of the AINEC termed him as a great free and fair writer who served Indian journalism for number of decades.

The Delhi Journalists Association and the National Union of Journalists in a joint statement, described Mr Jain as a quintessential journalist who rose from a reporter to be the editor of one of the largest newspapers in the country by the dint of his ability and dedication to the profession. Mr Jain, who was a member of the DJA from the beginning, was a fearless journalist who had the courage of conviction.

Mr Harcharan Singh Josh, president of the Indian Council of World Affairs said that Mr Jain was widely known for his bold stand on diverse social, political and economic issues and his sharp analytical skill.

Messages of condolence were also received from governors of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In the Times of India’s Bombay office, a minute’s silence was observed as a mark of respect to Mr Jain. Mr PR Krishnamoorthy, executive director, recalled his association with Mr Jain and said that he belonged to a disappearing genre of editors. Mr RK Laxman, eminent cartoonist recalled his association with Mr Jain as a friend for several years.

Girilal Jain was not just a journalist, but an institution in himself. He was perhaps the last of the great editors drawn from the pre-Independence generation, who have left an indelible mark upon Indian journalism.

Giri, as his close colleagues would call him, was an extraordinarily serious, and in some ways, severe, man who always regarded his work as a purposive intervention in public debate and a means of influencing the social and political processes at work in the country. For him, as he would repeatedly tell us, the editorship of The Times of India could “never be just a job”, it was more akin to a mission.

Girilal Jain saw or liked to see, himself as a kind of Indian Raymond Aron, the French conservative. But at the same time, he was acutely aware of the limitations of conservatism, especially in the Indian context. He was also remarkably open, at the philosophical level, to other points of view, including left-wing views. Indeed, for all his (very trenchant) criticism of communism, he acknowledged his great debt to the Marxist intellectual tradition.

POLITICAL STANCE: Giri was a formidable polemicist who combined political sociology and a historical perspective with a sharp analysis of day-to-day political developments. His forte was clearly his acute understanding of power, especially political power, and its sources, forms, means and the ends to which it is deployed in the Indian context.

It was often said that Giri was obsessed with the problem of power and leadership, the “superstructure”, rather than with the “base” of politics – programmes, social agendas and popular mobilisation. At any rate, no colleague would doubt Girilal Jain’s great capacity for analysis of complex situations into simple segments by means of locating axis of power.

Giri was an ardent supporter of Indira Gandhi though he never fully endorsed the Emergency and the censorship that it entailed. He campaigned against the Janata Party’s efforts in 1977-79 to isolate her and prosecute her. At the root of his admiration for her lay his regard for her mastery of power politics.

He had a more ambivalent attitude to Rajiv Gandhi, who, he thought, made an unsustainable break with standard Congress politics by disregarding the party and altering the true priorities of governance, especially in the 1984-86 period. Post-1987, after the exposure of the Bofors scandal, he felt he had to defend the Indian state, then under opposition attack.

In a manner typical of the realpolitic theorist, Girilal Jain attributed a very special quality and status to the state and the task of nation-building around the state; he firmly believed that the lack of a strong, cohesive centralised state has been the primary cause of India’s poor progress in history. This conviction led him in the early 70s to stray out of the domain of journalism proper, when he actively promoted the idea of an Indo-Iranian axis, which would combine Iranian oil wealth and military strength with India’s technological and political prowess. In the event, the idea never took off.

EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP: Girilal Jain was an extremely hard-working editor, who would as easily go through reams of badly written text on, say, education, with the blue pencil and knock it into shape, as he would write thundering articles on international and national politics, religion and culture, history and society.

Despite his somewhat formidable exterior and his ponderous manner, Girilal Jain had a quality of almost child-like innocence which would excite him about major events and political developments. He was forever willing to engage in debate and discussion on issues of the day, combining a focus on the immediate with a concern for longer term, larger questions.

Girilal Jain had an eye for quality and, despite his latter turn towards a specific variety of Hindutva politics, he would acknowledge the shortcomings of his point of view and the strengths of other positions. He was remarkable for his ability to get people of altogether different persuasions and disciplines the write or work for the paper. Though never a scholar himself, Giri betrayed a respect for scholarship bordering on the absolute.

A man of strong personal loyalties, Girilal Jain leaves behind a large number of friends, admirers, critics and former colleagues, who might differ wildly in their views but miss both the man and the institution that he was.

EARLY DAYS: Girilal Jain was born at Sonepat in 1922 and studied at a village school there and then graduated in history from Hindu College in Delhi. He was attracted to politics during the Quit India Movement and was jailed for a while in 1943. In his college days, he read mostly Marx and Lenin but on reading Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, among other things, got “disenchanted with the communist system, with the Soviet experiment”. For a while he became a Royist (a follower of M.N. Roy) and in 1945 worked with a Royist paper, Vanguard. (On his recent beliefs, he once said with a smile, “I am no (ist)’ I am just a journalist.”)

For the next couple of years, Girilal Jain drifted into business with a paint company and then had a brief stint at teaching, but neither vocation excited him. In 1948, he joined the News Chronicle under the editorship of his mentor and friend, Sham Lal. In January 1950, The Times of India started its Delhi edition. Six months later, Girilal Jain, along with Sham Lal and a host of News Chronicle staff, joined the newspaper as a subeditor.

AT THE HELM: After a year at the desk, he became a reporter and was promoted chief reporter in 1958. In 1961, Girilal Jain was posted to Karachi and a year later went to London as The Times of India’s correspondent. When he returned three years later, he was made an assistant editor because the then editor, NJ Nanporia, felt that “this boy Giri will be good at writing edits.” In 1970, he became resident editor of the Delhi edition of The Times of India.

A self-confessed loner, Girilal Jain was a man of many parts. In his youth, he was influenced by Sri Aurobindo and spent a few months in the Pondicherry Ashram. He labelled himself a “liberal conservative” and the preservation of the Indian nation-state remained his prime concern. In recent years, his writings reflected his fascination for “the Hindu mind”.

During the period (1978-88) when Girilal Jain was editor of The Times of India, he did no reporting for the paper but confined himself to editorial and articles. “I regard the editorial page very important and would not do anything that detracted from it. When you come on the front page, you are yourself announcing to the world that your editorial page is not important, which means really your editorship is not important.”

The Times of India, New Delhi, 20 July 1993 

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