Born in Maymyo, Burma, on June 21, 1927, BOOBLI GEORGE VERGHESE, known
professionally as B.G. or GEORGE VERGHESE, was the third of four siblings,
with two older sisters and a younger brother. His father, also George, was
an officer in the Indian Medical Service who rose to become Deputy Director
General of that service. His mother, Anna, was the disciplinarian in the
family. GEORGE’s father was stationed in Burma when GEORGE was born but
spent most of the rest of his career in eastern and northern India. In
Hazaribagh, Bihar State, GEORGE recalls listening with fascination to the
tales of the great Pathan independence leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who
was a political prisoner at the central jail there. He was sent to the Doon
School in Dehra Dun, United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) as a member of the
first class and, according to a colleague, "is still held up to the boys
there as a model." Finishing high school at Doon he went on to St. Stephen's
College in Delhi where he graduated with a B.A. in Economics in 1948. He
earned a second B.A. in Economics from Trinity College, Cambridge, England,
VERGHESE’s involvement in journalism was accidental. As he wrote in an
article for the Doon School Magazine: "I walked into the office of the
Secretary of the Cambridge University Appointments Board to find out . . .
how to apply for a job in an international organization like the UN or ILO,
and was instead asked if I would like to try for a post on The Times of
India." The Times was seeking an assistant editor, preferably one who had
majored in history or economics. VERGHESE’s only previous experience in
journalism had been with the Doon School Weekly and The Midget at St.
Stephen's. Nevertheless he was accepted and spent some time before returning
to India apprenticed by The Times of India to the Glasgow Herald and the
London News Chronicle. He was to remain with The Times of India for the next
From the beginning of his newspaper career VERGHESE was concerned with
developmental journalism—reporting on India's struggle to modernize its
economy and society. He was not content to be a reporter only, but undertook
to be a "mover" as well, committing himself to helping the common man
achieve a decent standard of living, to encouraging society to recognize the
rights of those lowest on the social scale as well as those at the top, and
to restructuring government to make it more efficient and just. The sense of
integrity and discipline that he imbibed from his parents, his excellent
academic training, and his inborn concern for all—men, women and
children—peculiarly fitted him to become the doyen of developmental
reporting in India.
As a pioneer in development journalism VERGHESE saw developmental reporting
as taking the place of, or as a counterbalance to, political reporting which
had consumed the media during the liberation movement in the
pre-independence period. Of the post World War II period he wrote, "the real
challenge, the real politics is poverty and therefore the real story . . .
is about poverty and the processes of social and economic change."
The need for such coverage is evident when one realizes the tremendous
communications gap between urbanites and villagers and rich and poor in the
ex-colonial areas of the world. The newspapers speak to the elite and the
educated often—as in the case of The Times of India and the Hindustan Times,
the papers with which VERGHESE has been associated during his newspaper
career—in the language of the ex-colonial power. It is necessary to make the
urban, foreign educated elite aware of the problems and accomplishments of
the countryside and to awaken in them an interest in what happens to
ordinary people, whether in factories or on farms. At the very least, as
VERGHESE says, one must point out to the urbanites the consequences in
political and economic terms of a faulty or failing agricultural policy. If
there is not enough agricultural production in the rural areas to feed the
people, employ them and generate incomes and surpluses to create a national
market and stimulate industrialization, the inevitable consequences are
political unrest at the urban and national level.
Moreover, one cannot compartmentalize things today: what involves the farm
dweller also involves the city dweller. If one is talking about rice or
wheat, one is talking also about water projects, fertilizer, insecticides
and often, therefore, of shipping and foreign exchange. "One of the primary
inputs into the whole development process is technology," VERGHESE notes,
and the "upgrading of technology."
Technological change in the developing countries of the world is coming at a
much faster pace than it came to the West for a number of reasons. Instant
media communication has resulted in increased expectations. At the same time
improvement in public health has lowered the death rate, and little has been
done until very recently to lower the birthrate. Thus the number of people
seeking to share finite resources forces governments to seek constantly to
accelerate modernization. Inherent in this situation is a tendency for those
who already have some of the goods and knowledge of the world to benefit
from modernization more than those who start with little or nothing. Thus
with the rich getting richer, the discrepancies between them and the poor
increase and the poor feel ever poorer. Moreover, if the rate of population
growth exceeds that of economic gain, the poor become in actuality poorer
than they were before.
There is also a considerable time lag between announcement of a
developmental plan, the completion of its projects, and its positive impact
on a society, and in many instances the accomplishment of a plan takes far
longer than originally contemplated. It is easy for observers of the
economic/political scene to become cynical as they see delay and
incompetence and for them to report on the inadequacies and failures rather
than on the successes. VERGHESE, however, keeps his eyes on the field as
well as on the planning centers and reports on what is being accomplished as
well as the problems.
In 1959 VERGHESE took an 8,000 mile trip through India, visiting in 40 days
at least as many developmental projects. He found a real revolution taking
place in the countryside and wrote of his observations in his book A Journey
Through India, first published as a series of articles in The Times of
India. Among the projects he wrote most enthusiastically about was the Kaira
District Milk Project whose organizer and manager, together with the
planner/implementer of the Bombay Milk Scheme, in 1963 received the Ramon
Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in recognition of "creative
coordination of government and private enterprise. . . ."
VERGHESE found those involved in developmental programs at the field level
filled with a "sense of challenge and adventure," purpose and determination.
These young administrators and technicians have a wealth of talent, he
wrote, but little experience and little training under senior personnel
because of the rapidity of developmental expansion. Errors are sure to be
made but it is better to make some errors, learn from them and move on, than
wait for outside help (foreign assistance) or the attention of the far too
few senior administrators. Time, VERGHESE rightly pointed out, is money.
Delay in implementation not only forces up the cost of a project because of
the extra time involved for its completion, but the cost of materials
inevitably climbs. Even more important, the cost to society is greater
because society is denied that much longer the economic infrastructure on
which to base its next stage of growth. For this reason VERGHESE advocated
decentralization. A devolution of responsibility, he wrote, must be made to
allow the man on the spot to take quick, imaginative action where called
for. Indians must also overcome their inferiority complex vis-á-vis foreign
expertise and look at the many exciting experiments going on in
India—learning from Indians dealing with Indian problems under Indian
In 1964 VERGHESE wrote a defense of India's Fourth Five Year Plan in an
article entitled "The Supreme Task," and published in book form as Design
for Tomorrow (1965). He pointed out that conditions had actually improved
over what they had been 15 years previously. Life expectancy had risen from
32 to 42 years, and health facilities and programs were more generally
available than ever before. School enrollment was up from 24 million in 1951
to 60 million in 1963, university enrollment had doubled and more
scholarships were available. However, he pointed out, 50 percent of the
population still lived below the subsistence level—calculated at 20 rupees
(US$3) per month. The poverty level is a flexible point and dependent upon
the society to which it is applied; subsistence level is a point below which
a person can no longer maintain reasonable health and the ability to work.
VERGHESE was concerned that society in general have a sense of participation
in the new Five Year Plan, and a feeling of personal responsibility for its
success. He urged that managers, technicians, economists, legislators,
workers and farmers be brought into the decision-making process at various
levels, and that villages and districts be consulted as to their needs and
their abilities to contribute within the national plan. The substance of
government today is no longer "law and order and revenue collection; it is
planning and development," he wrote, and this should be engaged in at all
levels by a broad spectrum of society. One means of involving people, he
suggested, could be through local broadcasting over radio and television,
and by using panchayati raj (village councils) to develop young leaders.
At the same time that he called for wider societal involvement in the
governmental process, he urged the central government to seek means to speed
up plan implementation. He suggested one way was to weed out unnecessary or
obsolete regulations. Another practical change he proposed was to move the
date of the beginning of the fiscal year from spring to fall so that budget
planning could be done during the summer months when monsoon rains make
field work impossible.
However, fundamental to the success of any plan, VERGHESE emphasized, is
population control through family planning, education and the satisfaction
of basic needs. Without a lower rate of population growth the economy can do
little except maintain the status quo—a situation unacceptable to all. In
the 16 years since independence, he pointed out, the population of India had
increased by 120 million persons—equivalent to the total populations of the
neighboring states of Pakistan (including then Bangladesh), Nepal and
Ceylon. He called for launching a massive family planning program, noting
that the cost, whatever it might be, was miniscule compared to maintaining
millions of new people at even the subsistence per capita cost of Rs.240 per
annum; the cost per person would be Rs.12,000 per anticipated lifetime.
In assessing the Fourth Five Year Plan VERGHESE urged greater utilization of
underemployed or unemployed manpower, particularly in the agricultural
sector. He urged it not only as a humanitarian measure, supplying jobs to
the jobless, but as a practical economic move, using available surplus
manpower for jobs such as repairing tanks (ponds) and irrigation canals and
catching rodents. As an example of how such a program could work, he cited
the Kosi Flood Embankment project. There 40,000 local men and women were
organized into labor cooperatives to construct 70 miles of embankment on
both sides of the Kosi River. The project was both cheaper and faster than
anticipated, and in the first year the flood protection provided almost paid
for the cost of the labor. Moreover as the result of organizing work during
the fallow season local incomes increased and the economy of the area
VERGHESE insists that all such work be paid for at a wage set between the
subsistence cost of living and the market wage in the area, and he
recommended using U.S. government-supplied Public Law 480 grain as part of
the wage. He also suggested having students repay their educational subsidy
after graduation by serving in a supervisory or organizational capacity on
such a project; a program of this kind would serve the further purpose of
bringing the city and village closer to one another, allowing students to
understand the problems and needs of the countryside.
In developmental journalism VERGHESE has pointed out, the journalist
transmits information from one group to others, in particular passing on
specialists' knowledge to laymen. In this way he becomes a useful link
between technicians on the job and government administrators, trade
unionists, politicians and educators. The technical knowledge he transmits
is essential to the understanding and the decision-making of the others.
By involving himself completely in whatever project he is writing about, the
development journalist becomes an "instant specialist," but as quickly as he
becomes an instant specialist in one field he goes on to another. Although
he does not remember all that he has learned each time, he builds up a
generalized body of knowledge and is in turn able to link highly specialized
fields from that broad perspective.
The role of the development journalist is thus of utmost importance in these
days of accelerated change. The cycle of technology was much slower when the
West was industrializing and change was more easily absorbed. An invention,
for example, had a lifespan of 50 to 100 years, whereas today, even as a
product is marketed there is an improvement already on the drawing board.
People everywhere have rapid adjustments to make, but the impact and the
problem of assimilation is ever so much greater in developing countries
where the first contact isolated peoples may have with the wheel may be an
airplane wheel, and workers building a nuclear power plant may still be
cooking with cow dung.
In his writings VERGHESE also points out the different rates of change in
the different layers of society and the government's need to allow for them.
It must likewise avoid destroying a poor but happy community by replacing it
with a richer but unhappy one because its human ties have been severed or
put out of balance and alienated. In the course of change, he reminds
planners, the rich often become disproportionately richer and begin to lead
lives very different from the poor of the same community who thus are more
aware of their poverty even though in actuality it may be less than it was
before. This can have important social and political implications.
Development must ultimately be the development of all—individuals, families,
communities and regions.
We can, VERGHESE has written, avoid some problems by observing and avoiding
the mistakes of other nations, but people's experiences are "rooted in their
environment, their social and economic needs, their political structures,
their agro-climatic compulsions." India must not ignore these traditional
needs and values—the way people live, their architecture, their kinds of
cities—and blindly follow the paths of others. India should instead conserve
what is best in traditional values and customs and utilize and upgrade
traditional and available materials and techniques wherever possible. For
example in building houses India should not discard lime and mortar which
are cheap and plentiful, for concrete and steel which often have to be
imported, nor available natural fibers for synthetics. When you abruptly
discard traditional materials, you also discard people whose skills in
producing or handling these materials are thus made obsolete. Moreover, in
using what is on hand, you need less capital investment than if you utilize
new materials which require a new infrastructure for production and
Besides using and upgrading old materials, VERGHESE advocates using and
upgrading old systems of government. Asia, including the Indian
subcontinent, he suggests, has historically been made up of decentralized
societies. In spite of strong empires, villages have traditionally been
self-governing and kingdoms (states) have been ruled as vassals rather than
as intimate parts of a whole. This pattern, he feels, should be
In 1966 VERGHESE joined Indira Gandhi's government as Information Adviser to
the Prime Minister and spent three years in that capacity. At the time he
assumed that office he was honored by the Rotary Club of Bombay North as the
year's best journalist.
As Information Adviser VERGHESE was speechwriter and media counselor to
Prime Minister Gandhi, frequently accompanying her on journeys around the
country and abroad. He would provide feedback on governmental policies and
performance and brief the chief executive on upcoming issues. He took time
off in 1967 to make an independent "worm's-eye" assessment of the great
Bihar-Uttar Pradesh famine and the measures taken to meet that grim
situation. For this purpose he associated closely with the Gandhian leader,
Jayaprakash Narayan (recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public
Service in 1965 "for constructive articulation of a public conscience' )
who, VERGHESE says, "inspired and coordinated a remarkable voluntary effort
by innumerable nongovernmental agencies under the banner of the Bihar Relief
Committee." VERGHESE’s report, Beyond the Famine—submitted to the government
and published under the auspices of the Bihar Relief Committee—detailed
programs of agrarian reform, land and water development and regional
planning needed if such disasters were to be avoided in the future. Out of
this grew further papers on nutrition policy, and a concept for the
integrated and optimized development of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers,
embracing India, Nepal, Bhutan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He later
capsuled his water resource development thesis in an article published in
the Hindustan Times Weekly Review captioned "Waters of Hope." He saw this as
unfolding a grand design for regional cooperation and friendship. Another of
his official studies was on an approach to the cultural, economic and
political development of India's highly diverse and sensitive North Eastern
When he left government service at the end of 1968 VERGHESE joined the
Hindustan Times in Delhi as its editor. One of his first steps was to start
a regular fortnightly column on a typical Indian village, Chhatera, in
Haryana State, 30 miles from Delhi. The object of "Our Village, Chhatera"—which
grew to include two neighboring villages—was to open a window on rural India
to a predominantly urban elite. The column soon triggered a development
project with leading institutions like the Indian Agricultural Research
Institute, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Krishi Darshan
(experimental farm television) Program, the School of Planning and
Architecture, a nationalized bank, and fertilizer, pesticide and tractor
manufacturers joining the Hindustan Times in an unusual extension effort.
The column is still running, with a devoted readership, and has broken new
ground in development journalism and rural reporting. When Chhatera's new
middle school was completed with aid secured through the Chhatera column,
grateful villagers named the road leading up to it after VERGHESE.
In 1970 VERGHESE wrote an Agenda for India, first published as articles in
the Hindustan Times in January and February. He said in the preface of the
book that he hoped Agenda would help "restore a sense of national purpose
and idealism, 'give hope to the poor and inspire the young."' In offering
his analysis and recommendations he drew upon his three years in government,
observing government methods and problems from the inside, but he was not
blind to government's shortcomings. He recognized that the "absence of clear
goals or perspectives, unemployment, high prices, shortages and frustration"
had bred "cynicism and violence," but his basic thesis was one of confidence
that India could meet the challenge of the 1970s. He then proceeded to lay
out an agenda to be followed.
He again linked the issues of development and population, stating
unequivocally that the rate of population growth was a major problem
confronting India. He noted that 40 million more people would be entering
the labor market in the decade of the 70s and that the bulk would have to be
absorbed by the agricultural sector. In consequence small irrigation and
land reclamation projects which would involve the underemployed and
unemployed, as well as major works programs, must be introduced, and dry
crop farming and multiple cropping must be encouraged. Rural towns must be
revitalized to offer employment opportunities so that the flight of labor to
grossly overcrowded cities could be contained. In the cities sewage, water
and housing needs must be addressed; he estimated the need for some 11.9
million housing units.
VERGHESE suggested, as he had previously, that radio and television should
be utilized by government to fill the massive communications gap between the
national and state governments and the rural areas they were attempting to
develop. He noted that in 1973 India would have experimental use of a United
States satellite for this purpose.
In the political field he pointed out that foreign policy must be
reassessed. He viewed traditional nonalignment as a worn out concept in
today's "polycentrist" world. It had been valid, he wrote, in the immediate
post World War II years when two power centers, the US and the USSR, had
confronted each other and sought to align the other nations of the world on
their respective sides. This was no longer the case. In 1970 moreover, he
pointed out, the US and USSR (and even the Peoples Republic of China—PRC)
were speaking to each other. It thus made political sense that India should
likewise seek an "honorable settlement" with its foes and neighbors,
Pakistan and the PRC.
Internally, regional concerns should take precedence over state boundary
concerns, he stated. Growing violence must be curbed and its causes
addressed. Some of the causes he identified as ideological revolutionary
tendencies and political impatience in the face of the failure to meet basic
needs adequately, trade union politicization and competition, the
educational explosion and student alienation, and the inability of municipal
facilities and administrations to provide necessary services. Basic to all
of these problems, he reasserted, is the population explosion.
In his articles VERGHESE made practical suggestions on how to bring about
some of the changes he advocated. He proposed linking the birth control
program with the immunization program and nutrition units in the
countryside—to cut costs, get better coverage and gain greater
acceptability. To improve the economy he suggested the tax structure be
redesigned to encourage investment. The fear of monopoly and concentration
of industrial power, he wrote, had been carried to absurd extremes; present
laws are anti-growth and assume culpability where none is proven. Modern
technology often requires large operations in order to be economic, and he
pointed out that the delicensing two years ago of 41 industries has resulted
in increased, rather than decreased, competition. Economic rationality
rather than ideology should lead the way and foreign investment should be
encouraged because it effects a transfer of technology, management and
marketing skills otherwise hard to obtain.
In the agricultural sector VERGHESE noted the need to spread the "green
revolution" beyond irrigated wheat and rice farming to other grains and
vegetables and to horticulture. New techniques and models must be adopted
for each step—from seed selection to marketing. Agrarian reform must be
carried out quickly and efficiently, but land consolidation rather than
further "splintering" is actually needed. The ideal of every peasant
becoming a landowner, he commented, is utopian and utterly impossible today
because of the rapid increase in the number of people and the finite amount
of arable land; nevertheless he felt each family should have a "homestead
plot" to provide for its personal and emotional needs.
Stepping on other ideological toes, this time on deeply held
traditional/religious beliefs, VERGHESE pointed out that a major cause of
soil erosion in India is overgrazing by "useless livestock." He advocated
that some 80 million unproductive cows be humanely slaughtered; he
estimated, moreover, that in hides and meat the cattle could bring in
Rs.1,600 crore (US$2,133 million), mostly in foreign exchange.
Further, VERGHESE wrote, marketing must be recognized as an honorable and
necessary profession. All goods and services have to be marketed—including
products of cooperatives; goods do not distribute and sell themselves. The
government must decide how much of the economy should be devoted to export
products. These must be given proper assistance at home and aggressively
marketed abroad. In general, however, India should concentrate on the
domestic market, which may be one of the poorest, but nevertheless is the
second largest in the world.
Answering questions at his Group Discussion at the Ramon Magsaysay Award
Foundation in September 1975, VERGHESE said that India would be better off
today if his pragmatic political and economic solutions had been put into
effect in 1970 when first proposed. Instead, in the intervening years India
had suffered from man-made political instability, poor economic management,
an increasing population (about 2.5 percent which translates into 14 to 15
million persons per year), and a drought created by nature.
Ironically the serious droughts of the past six years have offered India an
unparalleled opportunity to initiate a new agricultural/public works policy
VERGHESE believes. In his article, "A Blessing Code-Named Famine," published
in March 1973, he wrote that neither the government nor society cares about
hunger until a famine created by nature occurs. Then huge public works
programs are put into effect to improve the rural infrastructure and offer
temporary employment; a minimum income is guaranteed, as well as a minimum
diet; health services spring up; immunization programs are activated;
emphasis is placed on child care, and as a result of the attendant
publicity, clothing is supplied by a suddenly concerned society. These
drought-ridden people may have previously been experiencing malnutrition or
even slow starvation because of lack of individual or governmental concern,
but when nature wreaks havoc on an area, help arrives.
As an example he gave work being undertaken in Maharashtra state which
improved upon the work done six years earlier under similar drought
conditions in Bihar. In Maharashtra the work was laid out so that there was
close correlation between the effort expended by the local people and local
benefit. Most of the work projects were scheduled within five kilometers of
their villages and planning from below rather than from above was
encouraged. Adequate technical supervision was supplied and food
distribution from a central kitchen was well organized; the latter was
handled by volunteer organizations at a cost far below that of state-run
kitchens. The program was concentrating on roads, wells, percolation tanks
to store water and raise the water table, contour bunding to check erosion,
small local dams, afforestation, and medium to large irrigation projects.
The emphasis was upon soil conservation and increasing the amount of land
under irrigation by one percent—with a long term goal of expanding irrigated
land from 8.5 percent to an eventual 24 percent of the total land mass of
Maharashtra. Five million people were being provided employment on relief
works and 3.5 million supplied basic food.
The blessing VERGHESE referred to in his article was twofold: with the
advent of famine relief the people were better off than they had been
before, and practical local rural infrastructure was being created in a
spirit of governmental and individual cooperation. Maharashtra, he wrote,
offers a wonderful example of cooperation which can be copied throughout
rural India to achieve productive public programs. The successful
coordination of the various layers of government, governmental organizations
and the people to be helped, shows how similar projects can be achieved
elsewhere; the Maharashtra famine relief program is an object lesson in
In June 1973 VERGHESE described another pioneer project—a water project in
Haryana, a small and formerly backward part of northern India. It was "the
country's first approach to an underground storage system with the
conjunctive use of canal and ground water," a model which the rest of the
country "would do well to follow."
In spite of VERGHESE’s constructive developmental reporting in 1973, India's
political and economic conditions were perceived to have worsened by the end
of the year. Mrs. Gandhi had been overwhelmingly reelected in 1971-1972
following the successful war with Pakistan and the creation of the new
nation of Bangladesh. She had a mandate, VERGHESE stated in Will to New
Purpose published in 1974, but no sense of mission: "no program, no world
view, no grand design" and, even worse, no firm economic policy. Her
successes were those of tactics rather than strategy, gimmickry rather than
leadership. Centralization of both the ruling Congress Party and the
government had dried up initiative which, VERGHESE wrote, was seen as a
rival bid for power and therefore eliminated. As a result more and more
radicalized rhetoric was being used to mask the lack of action.
VERGHESE also perceived a basic collapse of moral authority. The country, he
wrote, was drifting toward chaos and anarchy: "rising prices, shortages,
corruption, black money [hidden profits partly used by some firms for
necessary but illegal political contributions], economic stagnation, empty
sloganizing, indecision, and mismanagement have bred cynicism, frustration,
indiscipline, anger and violence." The pervasive cynicism and self-seeking
had come about, he believed, because of the corruption, drift and indecision
within the top echelons of government. The politicization of students and
trade unions was another manifestation. VERGHESE’s prescription was to
eliminate corruption and incompetence at the national cabinet level and seek
a broad consensus as to national goals. This would involve decentralization
of decision-making as well as of operations, and consultation with
opposition parties—including them in the political life rather than driving
them into more and more "irresponsible opposition."
VERGHESE also called for a "thoroughgoing system overhaul," pointing out
that the Western institutions carried over from colonial days were created
under far different conditions and for far different purposes. Colonial
government was small and touched peoples' lives little. Its role was to
raise revenues and provide public security. Conservation rather than
initiation was its goal. The adoption of this existing model made for an
easy transition to independent statehood, but the elite, centralized, closed
system had resulted in an ever widening gap between the governing and the
governed. Moreover, the whole concept of government is different today.
Government is expected to take the lead in social and economic change, and
must be "aimed at harmonizing and satisfying basic needs and social change."
In restructuring governmental systems, high priority should be given to the
village where almost 80 percent of India lives, VERGHESE wrote. The "brain
drain" from the village to the town must be checked. For one thing village
infrastructure is much cheaper than that of towns or cities, both of which
are already overburdened. Local talent must be utilized and village
self-reliance encouraged; for too long the village has been treated in a
paternalistic fashion by the state and central governments. To support the
village, agriculture must be given major attention.
VERGHESE next addressed himself to the thorny political question of states'
boundaries, a problem which has plagued India since independence. He wrote
that many states are too unwieldy and should be broken down into smaller
units, maintaining linguistic homogeneity, but with boundaries determined on
the basis of shared economic resources—e.g. a river basin or power grid.
These new units should in turn be cut up into smaller blocks with a
population of approximately 50,000 persons. Each reduction, he wrote, "will
enrich democracy at the grassroots."
Finally VERGHESE believes that municipal reform is essential as the existing
models are archaic. Today municipalities must concern themselves with such
matters as public housing, mass transportation and real estate speculation
which has caused land prices to escalate dramatically, and they are
ill-equipped to do so because they still operate under pre-independence
statutes. The educational system also requires overhauling, with the keying
of education to today's economic needs: skilled labor and minimally trained
doctors, technicians and agriculturalists who will be willing to stay and
work in rural areas.
Other problem areas that VERGHESE singled out for immediate attention are
the outmoded legal system which is "too expensive and drawn-out": wrongdoing
must be quickly punished and "rights and obligations must go together," he
wrote. The electoral system must be changed and society must recognize that
politics requires money; corruption and violence can be eliminated only when
sufficient campaign funds can be legally acquired. Trade union laws need to
be restructured because present laws encourage inter-union rivalry,
politicization and strikes, and an industrial truce should be arranged for
two to three years by establishing effective grievance machinery and with
wages linked to productivity. The scheduled castes have to be integrated
into society, and last but not least, inflation must be dealt with
realistically. Unnecessary controls must go and production and investment
encouraged. "Inflation," he stated categorically, "is the worst enemy of
social justice and hits the poor hardest."
VERGHESE analyzed and drew up an agenda for foreign policy as well as
domestic policy. In August 1972 he wrote an article for the Sunday World
entitled "The Quantum of Autonomy," and addressed himself to India's
internal relationship with Kashmir, and thus with Pakistan. He noted that
before India and Pakistan can resolve their differences over the control of
Kashmir, India must first solve its internal relations with Kashmir. It must
win over the dissidents, recognizing that their quarrel with India "is not
about accession but about the quantum of autonomy"—the relationship of the
state of Kashmir to the central government of India.
In regard to the international aspects of the dispute, he suggested a freer
border ("soft border") with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including the opening
of normal communication routes. The solution to the Kashmir problem, he
reminded the government, is not to be found in the error-strewn past, but in
a tolerant future. Political will is what is needed.
In August 1974 VERGHESE was summarily served with dismissal papers by K. K.
Birla, owner of the Hindustan Times of which VERGHESE was editor. The paper
had by then come to be distinguished by its crusading spirit and staunch
independence. Its outspoken criticism of the widening gap between promise
and performance had carefully been supported by examples which were above
dispute. Asserting political pressure on Birla to take this action,
VERGHESE’s colleagues appealed to the Press Council of India for a ruling.
In the meantime June 26, 1975) press censorship came into effect in India
when the government declared a "state of emergency due to internal threats
to security." In actuality a state of emergency had been on the books since
1971 on the basis of the "external security threat" of the war with
Pakistan. VERGHESE’s situation has not been resolved.
VERGHESE carries over into his personal life his concern for his country and
the welfare of its poor. His generosity toward a good cause is extreme: for
example, he used his inheritance to set up educational prizes to encourage
and help young people, and donated his wife's wedding gold to various relief
His wife, whom he married in 1952, is Jamila Barakatullah, the daughter of a
distinguished Urdu writer and scholar who became a Christian and Archdeacon
of Amritsar diocese. VERGHESE is also a Christian. The couple have two boys,
Vijay Khurram, born in 1956, and Rahul Salim, born in 1960.
Unassuming, shunning personal publicity and giving credit to others whenever
possible, VERGHESE nevertheless enjoys the "fierce competition of
journalism," but it is a sense of accomplishment, rather than pride, that
motivates him. Befitting a good journalist, he has a wide-ranging curiosity
and gives his entire attention to whatever currently engages his interest,
whether people, ideas or things. His eclectic pleasures include armchair
mountaineering—he edited Himalayan Endeavor—and music. He has a fine singing
VERGHESE’s belief in the disciplined freedom of the individual extends to
his own life and that of his family. He is abstemious and spartan in his
living, and believes in "playing by the rules," accepting no favors. He sets
similarly high standards of conduct for his family, insisting they set an
example for others. In spite of his strictness his two boys "hero worship"
him, and he in turn spends as much time as he can with them, treating them
at all times with the respect he shows to all, young or old.
As one colleague wrote there are three outstanding qualities in VERGHESE
"which make him stand taller than most of his peers in India, as well as, I
dare say, in Asia": first, his integrity which is unquestioned; second, his
contribution as a pioneer in developmental journalism which has grown beyond
a professional to a personal concern for the villagers and urban poor of
India; and third, his optimism in the face of the cynicism of most of those
around him. He added, "For these three qualities I regard him as a fellow
professional deserving of my highest regard. I like him also as a human
Verghese, B. G. An Agenda for India. New Delhi: Hindustan Times Press. April
______. "A Blessing Code-named Famine," Sunday World (Hindustan Times
Publication). New Delhi March 18, 1973.
______. "Beyond the Famine," New Delhi: Superbazar under the auspices of the
Bihar Relief Committee. 1967.
______. Design for Tomorrow. Bombay: The Times of India Press. 1965. p.
______. An End to Confrontation: Bhutto's Pakistan, Restructuring the
Sub-Continent. New Delhi: S. Chand. 1972.
______. "Harvesting Underground Storage," Sunday World (Hindustan Times
Publication). New Delhi June 3, 1973.
______. Himalayan Endeavor. Bombay: The Times of India Press. 1964.
______. A Journey Through India. New Delhi: The Times of India Press. May
1959. p. 103-105.
______. Our Neighbor, Pakistan. New Delhi: The Times of India Press. 1965.
______. Presentation made to Group Discussion. Ramon Magsaysay Award
Foundation, Manila. September 1, 1975. (Mimeographed.)
"The Quantum of Autonomy," Sunday World (Hindustan Times Publication). New
Delhi August 13, 1972.
______. "Waters of Hope," Hindustan Times Weekly Review. New Delhi. March
______. Will to New Purpose? Gandhi's Truth Recalled. New Delhi: Hindustan
Times Press. 1964.
"Verghese, RM Awardee Dismissed as HT ed.," Business Day. Quezon City,
Philippines. September 25, 1975.
Letters from and interview with colleagues of B. G. Verghese.