Sonia Gandhi urges journalists to fight bigotry fearlessly
on 9th May 2015 at Jawahar Bhawan Auditorium, New Delhi
G. K. Reddy Memorial National Award presented posthumously to Vinod Mehta
I am happy to be with you all as you honour Vinod Mehta with the GK Reddy Award. There have been few journalists in independent India who had the ability and reputation of GK Reddy. He was a stalwart among his peers, a man who not only practiced his profession with integrity and dedication, but one who had the pulse of our nation and its political life.
Today, more than ever before, we feel the need for journalists like him. Throughout his working life, Vinod Mehta too was a passionate upholder of our democratic and secular ideals. He was also a courageous crusader for the causes that he believed were just, and a proud and eloquent advocate of our pluralistic society. He had an instinctive understanding of what the freedom of the press meant to our country that it is a cornerstone of our democracy, and that without this freedom, all our other liberties would be threatened. It was a belief that defined all his work as an editor and writer. What was it that made Vinod Mehta so compulsively readable on even the most complex issues and subjects, and so sought after as a TV commentator? His trademark irreverence, wit and self-deprecation, his lack of pretension, pomposity and hypocrisy, and, indeed his cynicism all this made him most engaging. Underlying these were qualities that gave his writings and his opinions credibility, integrity, independence and freedom from dogma. He encouraged, and often provoked, debate and dissent in all the journals he edited.
On issues and subjects where he was convinced the public had a right to know, he stood firmly by his convictions and was willing to pay the price, proudly describing himself as “the most sacked editor.” Vinod Mehta sought no favours and he gave none. He never failed to raise his voice against religious intolerance, communal violence and social injustice. He sympathized with the disempowered and was not in awe of the rich and powerful. This is why his words carried weight. And that is why, even when he criticized the Congress Party, as he often did, we took it constructively. In the present climate, when dissent is being stifled, when the minorities feel increasingly insecure, when the secular fabric of our society is threatened, when bigotry and obscurantism seem to flourish unchecked, we miss Vinod Mehta’s voice.
I am confident, however, that our fine younger generation of journalists will take inspiration from his life, and fight the battles that he would have fought, with the same courage and fearlessness. There is a line in Vinod Mehta’s memoir, ‘Lucknow Boy’, in which he says that politicians and journalists can never be friends, that they are natural adversaries. I think he would have been surprised to discover how many of us, across the political spectrum, looked on Vinod Mehta as a friend a friend with who we may have at times disagreed, but whom we respected and admired.