Obituary: Girilal Jain: The Independent

Girilal Jain was a well-known, albeit controversial, Indian newspaper editor who espoused a strong, almost Fascist-like federal authority in India to help maintain its standing as the world’s largest democracy.

As leader writer and later editor-in-chief from 1978 to 1988 of the influential and widely circulated Times of India, Jain firmly believed a weak central government was responsible for India’s diminishing international status and saw the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, as its preserver.

Towards this he vehemently supported Mrs Gandhi when, faced with a countrywide uprising against her misrule, she imposed an internal emergency in the mid-Seventies during which all civil liberties were suspended. After the emergency, opposition leaders, hounded and persecuted by Mrs Gandhi during the 21 months it lasted, criticised the Times of India’s editorial policy for “choosing to crawl” even though Mrs Gandhi had merely ordered them to “bend”.

Jain, often accused of confusing between the state and the government of the day due to his fascination with power equations, was an ardent and unashamed admirer of Mrs Gandhi’s power politics. And, in a front-page editorial, went to the extent of condoning the pogrom against Sikhs in New Delhi after she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

Jain’s support for Rajiv Gandhi, Mrs Gandhi’s son and successor, however, waned after Rajiv Gandhi was allegedly implicated in a defence kick-back scandal and his political fortunes seemed to be on the decline. Jain then turned his pen to supporting Gandhi’s detractors. And, more recently, realising the increasing popularity of the Hindu fundamentalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Jain became an ardent supporter of Hindutva or Hindu hegemony in his avidly read and, as always, well-argued syndicated columns.

But political opportunism apart, Jain was the only editor of his generation who rose from an underprivileged and rural background to the top of his profession. He was also one of the few senior Indian journalists who understood the realities and moods of rural India, the country’s largest vote bank. His political judgements were sound even though he tended to favour the winning side, cleverly justifying it by portraying India as an ancient state in the throes of evolving into a modern nation state.

Jain’s underlying passion for a strong centre led him actively to promote the controversial idea of an Indo-Iranian tie-up in the early Seventies, combining India’s technical skills with the Shah’s wealth. Sadly for him the dream was shattered soon after with the fall of the Shah.

Jain was born in 1922 in a village in Sonepat district in some 50 miles from New Delhi, and was schooled locally. After graduating in history from Hindu College in Delhi he briefly engaged in politics during the Quit India movement led by Mahatma Gandhi against the British in 1942 and was even jailed for a short period.

After his release he became a Royist, a disciple of M.N. Roy, a leading Indian socialist of the day. He joined Vanguard, a Royist newspaper, in 1945 but left soon for a career in business and teaching, neither of which he found exciting. In 1950 he joined the Delhi edition of the Times of India, then Bombay’s leading newspaper, as a sub-editor. He was a competent sub-editor who, with a few strokes of his blue pencil, could transform a garbled news story or feature into something eminently readable. After holding a series of posts – including a stint as correspondent in Karachi, then Pakistan’s capital, and London – he became editor-in-chief in 1978. He retired a decade later.

Girilal Jain, journalist: born Sonepat, north India 1922; editor-in-chief Times of India 1978-88; died New Delhi 19 July 1993

The Independent, London, 21 July 1993

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