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Shourie, Arun | BIOGRAPHY

His publisher calls ARUN SHOURIE a racehorse. Others have described him as a bloodhound, a preacher, a missionary, a crusader and a muckraker. These diverse analogues illuminate facets of the writer who, perhaps as much as anyone since independence, has stirred examination by Indians of their polity and their conduct as individuals within it. Admirers speak of his dogged consistency, his courage, gift of grace, intellectual dynamism, versatility and almost photographic memory. Critics, and some admirers, too, say that he "goes too far."

SHOURIE’s wife has said that "the meticulousness with which he approached his work, the continuous pitch, energy and inner drive used to puzzle me, but I quickly realized that this was just a very highly disciplined person." Admittedly this is his own discipline and never that imposed by others. He vehemently rejects both the disciplines the "petty, unnecessary niceties" by which he feels the journalistic profession gelds itself and the label journalist. He is, he insists, "a concerned citizen using the forum of a newspaper for the time being." As a concerned citizen his driving preoccupation is to bear, and help defuse, threats to the Indian body politic. He is described as warm, generous and unaffected among his small circle of family and close friends, while those who know him less well find him often highhanded, opinionated and sometimes "plain rude."

SHOURIE shrugs off all such discussion of himself with good humor. His style and direction, he says, are simply the result of "good accidents and one deep trauma." His first good accident was his affectionate, close-knit Punjabi family. Born on November 2, 1941 in Jullunder, Punjab, India, he was the first child of Hari Dev Shourie, a high-ranking civil servant, and Dayawanti Devasher. Aside from the fact that Hindu families traditionally give importance to the first son, for five years there were no siblings to divert parental attention. A sister Nalini was born in 1946 and a brother Deepak in 1948.

His father was in the Indian provincial civil service (he later joined the Indian Administrative Service), presiding as one of the city magistrates of Lahore at the time of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and was put in charge of the evacuation of Hindus including his own family from that portion of the Punjab which became Pakistan. SHOURIE remembers the family being uprooted and transferring back to Jullunder on the Indian side, where his father was appointed Director of Rehabilitation, responsible for organizing camps to accommodate the millions of refugees coming over the new border. SHOURIE began his formal education at the Junior Model School started in that city soon after.

His father's posting in 1952 to Rohtak, about 45 miles from Delhi, resulted in another good accident, that of attending the Modern School in Delhi. At this progressive institution, "which laid great emphasis on things other than bookish learning," there were dedicated teachers and the principal, Mahindra Nath Kapur, was one of India's outstanding educationists. SHOURIE’s political idol at this time was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister.

St. Stephen's College of Delhi University, which he next attended, was considered to be the best scholastically of the university's colleges; it also emphasized games and other outdoor activities. SHOURIE captained the hockey team and excelled in class, graduating with a B.A. in Economics (Honors) in 1961. He had finished the first year of his Master's course at this college when he had his next good accident a meeting in Delhi with the dean of the Maxwell School of Public Administration of Syracuse University, New York, and the award of a full fellowship to that institution.

SHOURIE recalls his three years at Syracuse devoted to completing course work and examinations for his M.A. and Ph.D. as "a very lovely period, carefree and one which widened his horizons immeasurably. He credits exposure to "fine, very friendly professors," freely distributed reading lists, extensive library facilities and frequent public lectures the discriminating and intensive reading he has since done.

In 1965 he returned to India to collect information for his doctoral dissertation, entitled "Allocation of Foreign Exchange in India," which he submitted the following September. Indirectly through his thesis professor, he was referred for employment to the World Bank, where one of his interviewers was working on the same subject as his dissertation but had been unable to obtain information SHOURIE had gotten: "So he thought I was well informed; all these things happen by accident," SHOURIE comments. As a result SHOURIE was one of seven applicants accepted in 1966 for the Young Professionals Program which had been instituted to train a cadre within the bank to complement the recruitment of experienced older staff. His appointment was to be finalized when he had received his Ph.D.

While awaiting word on his interviews at the World Bank SHOURIE returned to India where he took a position with the Tata Group of industries in Bombay, but resigned three months later when he was notified that he had been selected by the World Bank. He then rejoined his family in Delhi where an especially good accident happened.

On January 12, 1967 the matchmaking aunts of SHOURIE and Anita Shukla arranged that the young people and their parents would meet at tea. Immediately after this brief visit SHOURIE asked his mother to tell Anita's mother "we would like the marriage to take place as soon as possible." Anita was of the same mind. Preparations were quickly made and relatives informed. Though neither SHOURIE nor his affianced subscribed to Hindu orthodoxy, they liked and followed the traditional rituals. The engagement ceremony was performed on February 9, the marriage on February 12, and the couple enplaned straightaway for Washington.

SHOURIE remained in the Young Professionals Program of the World Bank for five years. After rotation among the different departments to become acquainted with all activities of the organization, he was sent on brief tours of Kenya, Egypt and Sri Lanka and assigned to the Economics Department. He appreciated that the bank was a fine place to work, but as he settled into a routine he became restive and his interest focused increasingly on India "maybe because of the distance, because of reading, emotional attachments to the family, to friends, I really don't know." He therefore applied for, and received, a Homi Bhabha Fellowship from 1972-1974. Simultaneously he worked in Delhi as consultant to the Indian Planning Commission. The fellowship gave him complete freedom to pursue his interests and his post at the Planning Commission, which was then the arena of major controversies within the government and gave him a ringside seat to observe developments in politics and administration. He became an avid student of the functions and performance of the government and wrote a few critical articles on economic policy. He also began to notice the violations of human rights or the constitution, an awakening that would become a driving force in his life.

In his first political essay, "On Keeping Silent," he predicted the Emergency (restraint on civil liberties in the interest of internal security imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1975), exhorting citizens to speak out. Striking the theme that would become his clarion call and be elaborated upon many times in coming years, he wrote, "the real tragedy. . .the real cause of the drift into an authoritarian nightmare is not that a few leaders become rapacious, that they start breaking laws, disregarding norms or destroying institutions. Rather it is that common men remain silent. . .acquiesce." They use specious alibis to account for their lack of action, claiming helplessness, questioning the evidence of wrongdoing, assuming the government must have reasons for its actions which it cannot reveal, shrugging off criminality as nothing new, or fearing to jeopardize a job. But none of these can be weighed in the scale against the interests of the country, he argued: "a flood threatens us," and unless everyone helps strengthen the embankment all will be swept away.

The position SHOURIE was expecting upon termination of his fellowship--that of economic adviser in the Ministry of Petroleum and Chemicals failed to materialize. He therefore returned to the World Bank and for the next two years was with the Policy Planning and Program Review Department, headed by Mahbub Ul Haq, a Pakistani whom he held in high regard and with whom he became close friends. Although this was a good position within the Bank and allowed greater freedom than other assignments would have, "it was still just doing those program papers on countries I was not really interested in," he says. In his spare time, especially after imposition of the Emergency, he wrote three articles, "Symptoms of Fascism," "The Coup as Portent," and "The Role of Popular Movements: A Gandhian Perspective," which were published in Seminar and other Indian journals.

It was another good accident that an officer of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) read these pieces and called them to the attention of the director, Dr. J.P. Naik, who was also the doyen of Indian educational planning. Subsequently SHOURIE received a message from Naik saying he sensed from SHOURIE’s writings that he wanted to come home and inviting him to submit a research proposal. Naik suggested some abstract topic, and "then do what you want." SHOURIE chose Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy and movements as a way of looking at India--its traditions and its current condition. The proposal was accepted and he was awarded a three-year fellowship.

Shortly before the SHOURIES were due to return to India their son Vikramaditya was born prematurely. Three days later they were told that the child had suffered a massive brain injury resulting in cerebral palsy. They were plagued by guilt that their desire to return would rob their son of advanced medical facilities and possibilities for development until Dr. Charles Kennedy, chief pediatric neurologist at Georgetown University, reassured them. Kennedy pointed out that not much could be done for the child except to monitor his condition and give him steady encouragement. They would have difficulty, he warned, determining how the boy was developing because he could not tell them, but they must proceed on the assumption that he would develop "very far." In India, he added, the boy would be exposed to the diverse stimuli of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and household help and the SHOURIES would be more relaxed. He therefore advised them to go. "The advice of this lovely old man turned out to be just right," SHOURIE says.

Upon their return to Delhi his father built a spacious home for them in his compound, which affords them both privacy and nearness to family. The couples prefer a quiet life and go out very little. Much of their time is focused on the therapeutic treatment of their son. "This child is our life," SHOURIE says; "he is a sensitive, very brave, cheerful child with a positive outlook and is coming along as well as he can." To help him and others like him, Anita has been actively involved since its inception in Delhi's first school for spastic children. The school is free, but the SHOURIES and one other family pay for their children's education; benefit concerts and plays otherwise defray costs, by government grants and donations from private sources.

SHOURIE candidly concedes that he has not coped as well as Anita with the deep trauma of their son's handicap. An intense person, his reaction to distressing situations, personal and impersonal, has been depression. Now invading his pleasure in the many things he treasures "my marriage, my parents, teachers, friends, very forgiving friends" is his acute sensitivity to physical vulnerability. To keep himself fit he regularly played squash until his work became too demanding, and performed yogic exercises until he nearly lost his hearing in one ear from carelessness. Today he keeps a strict morning regimen of a half hour run or a workout in his room. He is keenly aware that he tends more than before to pessimism but his wife talks him out of it; his parents are "also strong," and he is grateful for the "family net, which holds me up."

Setting out on his ICSSR project he decided that the key to understanding Gandhi would be to examine his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, the eclectic, popular exposition of the philosophical treatises of the Upanishads which Gandhi called "his mother." Next reading the Gita itself, SHOURIE found that "Gandhiji was reading into the Gita what he wanted to read into it." He therefore went back to the 108 which survive of the original 1,180 Upanishads, the late class of Vedic treatises dealing with the nature of ultimate reality, man and the universe. Finally he studied the Brahma Sutras, the 554 telegraphic aphorisms meant to clarify and elucidate the Upanishads. For interpretation of these highly condensed elliptical two-page statements from each of which key words are missing, SHOURIE used the two commentaries of highest stature by Shankaracharya and Ramanuja. As he probed this triad of basic texts of Hindu philosophical tradition, questions suggested themselves, which led him to conceptualize five volumes he would write on religion and philosophy. The first, Hinduism: Essence and Consequence, was begun in 1978 and published in 1979; it carried the poignant dedication, "For our darling Anita from Adit and me two who could not have survived without her love and strength."

From his intensive reading of Hindu texts SHOURIE came to believe that India has not had a more original social thinker than Gandhi since the time of the Buddha. "He is a remarkable mind at so many levels. He is the religious text in the sense that each person reads into him what he wants, but he is an inexhaustible source the crystallization of so much experience and such work."

SHOURIE introduces Hinduism by quoting Gandhi's advice that texts like the Gita should be looked upon "as the works of poets," which "have been through centuries of interpolation, distortion, deletion and distillation," and are thus in so unsatisfactory a state that they require a revised edition. In closing SHOURIE points out that orthodox Hindus and Jains "abused and detested Gandhi precisely because they could see, as the 'moderns' never could how he was completely overturning the doctrine [of the entire corpus even as he insisted that he was firmly rooted in the tradition. Like a true revolutionary, he looked into his people's psyche . . .found out the notions that were holding them in thrall and . . .led them into struggles which would commence the process of transforming those notions."

With this Gandhian inspiration to reappraise and demystify philosophy, SHOURIE translates theological questions into questions of the present world, baring aspects of the basic Hindu texts "which for centuries have provided convenient rationalizations for. . .and helped reinforce. . .the ruling class and which, unless jettisoned, will continue to do so, whatever the ruling class of the day." He underscores the core concepts: that Brahman alone is the ultimate reality, without parts, a pure consciousness; that man is not a being of flesh and blood but is Atman, a non-corporeal self which is one with Brahman; that the empirical world of wood and stone, with its manifest diversity, must necessarily be non-existent, and man's existence has no reality or worth. It follows, then, SHOURIE argues, that the individual's inability to deal with the vicissitudes of life is a reflection of inadequate faith and knowledge a failure to comprehend his identity with Brahman. The resulting sense of inadequacy, he contends, saturates the individual with guilt, forces him to camouflage his acts, drives hypocrisy into his being and makes him ready to follow authority. The proposition that man is not an effective agent for changing the man-made world strengthens the inertia of the oppressed and rationalizes the callousness of the rulers. In SHOURIE’s view the basic flaw in Hindu philosophy lies in the fundamental proposition "that one soul is the same as another, that all are Brahman," while at the same time the texts differentiate between the various castes and equate outcasts with "dogs or swine."

SHOURIE has plans for the three other books he intends to write to cover the entire corpus of Hindu philosophy, and for the one on Islam on which he is now working. This current undertaking, entitled simply Quran (Koran) is a "peripheral sideshow" so that he will not be accused of omitting the Islamic philosophical tradition in India. He has entitled the outline for his third book The Face of Evil: Right and Wrong, and plans to use as documentary material the two popular epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which he sees as having been internalized by villagers and thus governing their ethical conduct. In the fourth volume he intends to examine the key concepts, enumerated in his title Time, Space and Change, as they are viewed in Hindu tradition through the 18 mahapurans or the "historical records." In the last volume, Reconstructions, he will seek the kernel of truth reported in the writings of mystics from whatever religion. Since "all dispatches from the frontier are similar," he says they must be affirming a reality; he proposes to ask what that perception of reality is. In Hinduism he has argued that a humanist philosophy cannot be found in the vulgarized version of the aphorisms whereas in Reconstructions he wants to suggest that there must be a positive way of looking at the same texts from which compassion and a sense of responsibility toward others can be derived.

In this rarefied realm of philosophic exploration SHOURIE finds zestful intellectual fulfillment and the results, he adds, "will be posterity's yardstick of judging my merit." Friends marvel at his ability to detach himself abruptly from the pressures of his newspaper role to resume his philosophical pursuits, and the equal ease with which he turns his versatile mind back to daily affairs.

During the year and a half before the Emergency was lifted in March 1977 SHOURIE both immersed himself in Hindu texts and became closely identified with the civil liberties movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan (1965 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Public Service "for his constructive articulation of a public conscience for modern India"). The following year he wrote 10 trenchant essays on political power--its fair and free dispensation, and its subversion and corruption which presaged the collapse of democracy. Published in Seminar, Mainstream, India Today, Economic & Political Weekly, Samagrata, Deccan Herald and Indian Express, these essays established him with a discerning readership as an original political and social analyst. The articles were republished in 1978, together with the four he had written earlier in a book titled after one of his Washington essays, Symptoms of Fascism.

In 1978 SHOURIE was appointed by the newly elected Janata government to the Press Commission of India, authorized to write a report on the condition of the Indian press. He served until August of that year. In December he submitted his manuscript, Hinduism, to the publisher, and on January 1, 1979 became the Executive Editor of the Indian Express.

SHOURIE refers to his invitation to join the Indian Express one of the major English-language newspapers in India, where English remains the lingua franca of government and business as "another happy accident." He had become acquainted with publisher Ram Nath Goenka through his essay "Symptoms of Fascism," and the two became fellow fighters against Emergency rule. In August 1978 Goenka suggested that SHOURIE join him on a regularized basis: "We'll fix a title; do what you like." They agreed upon the "completely vague" title of Executive Editor and SHOURIE, determined to protect his freedom to do what he likes, has resisted all attempts to define his responsibilities, "because then there is constraint."

From the beginning of his newspaper career SHOURIE has been a non-conformist, spurning established journalistic norms and showing undisguised contempt for many of his journalistic peers. Goenka, recognizing SHOURIE’s photographic memory and his capacity for exhaustive research, promptly employed these talents to advantage in his legal disputes with the government. SHOURIE also had ideas. Once firmly established in the hierarchy he insisted upon redesigning page layouts and improving content, sometimes by drastic measures, until he had finally given the paper both a new look and added conscience. His enthusiasm and single-mindedness are said to have inspired the junior staff and induced a team spirit lacking in most national dailies. The reward for SHOURIE has been the support and cooperation of his colleagues in the field. He rarely goes out for information, but calls for it, assembles, researches and crosschecks it, and then writes in his wordy, sometimes menacing and messianic, but always penetrating and passionate, style. He, being Executive Editor of the largest newspaper chain in India with one-eighth of the total daily circulation  is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Editors' Guild.

Given the newspaper work he is doing both critics and admirers find somewhat specious his objections to the label journalist and to definition of his reporting as investigative. "All reporting should be investigative," he counters, "excepting coverage of press conferences, parliamentary proceedings, etc. which involves only faithful recounting of what is said." He particularly scorns reporters who regard reading a printed document as investigation, and takes exception to the interpretation of investigation as getting information by stealth. His own role he sees as that of a private citizen using the press as a forum.

The best things he has written, SHOURIE believes, had nothing to do with getting information personally or surreptitiously; he simply read documents. He cites the example of his contribution to the debate in the Punjab where the Sikh majority has been agitating for greater autonomy and more religious rights. His analytical reporting was done "by reading the Sikh scriptures and history books and without an inside government lead of any sort." The critiques of several Supreme Court judgments in the last three years--which have been recognized by eminent judges as an "erudite and irrefutable commentary on the working of the Supreme Court were again "based entirely on careful reading and analysis of published judgments."

In exposing injustice in which cause he has eloquently taken the lead his approach has been to coordinate coverage, and then at two or three critical junctures, to summarize and give sharp focus to reports from the field. The Indian Express, he explains, is really a national network with its 10 editions (at Cochin in Kerala; Madurai and Madras in Tamil Nadu; Bangalore in Karnataka; Hyderabad and Vijiyawada in Andhra Pradesh; Bombay in Maharashtra; Ahmedabad in Gujarat; Chandigarh in Punjab; and Delhi). He makes the point that he did not go to Bhagalpur, Bihar, where 31 unconvicted prisoners were reported to have had their eyes gouged out and acid poured in the sockets by 14 policemen who decided, on their own judgment, that thugs and ruffians deserved such punishment. However, observing that the stories by the reporter in Bhagalpur needed to be supplemented, SHOURIE wrote two articles entitled, "The Evidence Thus Far," which focused on the issue of police excesses and illegalities and pointed up a painful truth: if the criminal justice system breaks down and brutal practices are condoned, "then your eyes and mine are not safe." Under his guidance the Indian Express was prepared with photographs and other irrefutable evidence to reply to the Chief Minister's denial of the atrocities.

On the shocking revelations of "undertrials," prisoners being held previous to trial, SHOURIE guided the reporters gathering information from various locations, but did no checking himself. The story unfolded of unconvicted female detainees being raped and males tortured by jailers; of detainees "rotting in crowded, unsanitary cells, many for over a decade and one for 33 years, his papers long lost; of others thrown in with lunatics and themselves gone mad." The statistical evidence SHOURIE’ s team assembled was damning: as of late 1978 some 53 percent of all prisoners in Indian jails had been convicted of no crime because their cases had not come to court, and 58 percent of these detainees were in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Gross official negligence was dramatized. They cited cases such as the person who was "undertrial" in Patna Central Jail for seven years on a charge of obstructing public servants in the performance of their duties by preventing the arrest of a wanted man--an offense for which the maximum sentence would have been three years had his case been heard and he been found guilty. In his summary of the reports SHOURIE argued that the key to reform is public access to jails and to information about jails, and he advised citizens that they could help rectify this widespread injustice by filing writ petitions (formal legal documents detailing irrefutable evidence) to the Supreme Court. The writs subsequently submitted prompted the court's reiteration of the rights of prisoners as provided by the constitution. Orders followed for immediate release of persons detained beyond the maximum period for which they were liable if convicted; and of those who had served six months without filed charges, except when held for murder or gang robbery. The court further demanded that all filed charges be investigated within two months, and pending cases be disposed of in six months; and that lawyers be provided at state expense for all prisoners held more than 90 days. Within six months some 40,000 "undertrials" were discharged-- 29,000 in Bihar alone.

Exposure of the sale of women into concubinage and prostitution again illustrates SHOURIE’s methods: helping a reporter organize resources and materials, shielding him from possible legal action, yet forcing the courts to deal with the issue. In 1981 SHOURIE encouraged Ashwini Sarin to go to Madhya Pradesh and buy a girl. Concurrently he wrote five eminent persons, including two Supreme Court judges, that the Indian Express was going to violate the law to prove the existence of this illegal practice. On the day Sarin's account of his purchase of Kamala was published, SHOURIE, Sarin and a chief reporter filed a writ in the Supreme Court asking that the governments of three states, Delhi, and the Union of India be directed to investigate the traffic in women and report to the court the remedial measures they intended to take. SHOURIE next sent to the court, and published, an aide-memoire "On Why the Hon'ble Court Must Hear Us." This 30-page exposition cited a compendium of precedents and principles of law to show the direction of rulings abroad and in India on locus standi (the right of citizens not directly affected by a wrong to seek redress in court). It contended that Kamala who had been beaten, confined to an asylum and maltreated for years--was ignorant of the obligations of the state toward persons like herself and could not be her own petitioner. Therefore it was the duty of SHOURIE and his two colleagues to petition on her behalf. The consensus is that this campaign had a minimal effect on the traffic in women, but influenced the subsequent liberalization of locus standi whereby competent petitioners would be allowed to represent the poor and the oppressed.

SHOURIE had examined "fake encounters" (arrests and killings on false charges) in 1977 as a member of the Civil Rights Committee of the Citizens for Democracy--an organization presided over by Jayaprakash Narayan. SHOURIE and seven others were asked to examine some 40 petitions from parents whose children had been killed in encounters allegedly rigged by the police. The committee tracked down conclusive evidence of what had happened to 20 young boys and girls after they had been arrested. Most were alleged by the police to have been dacoits (gang robbers and murderers) or Naxalites (the generic term for leftist terrorists), but were in fact students who had run afoul of local policemen for minor offenses or whose fathers had quarreled with vengeful officials. Five victims had been tied to trees outside a town and shot; one lived to tell the tale. Others in Andhra Pradesh, before their deaths, had been tortured by having ferocious lizards tied in their trousers; the supplier of the lizards witnessed this cruelty and swore an affidavit.

Release of the committee's two reports on these cold-blooded crimes prompted brief central government attention, and cover-ups by state governments. SHOURIE, however, has continued in hard hitting articles in the Indian Express to cite case after case of killings of persons in police custody, and has actively contributed to the sustained and effective campaign against such actions by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). As a member of the PUCL since its inception as a membership organization in 1980, and its General Secretary, he has helped document and publish lists of fake encounters in the monthly PUCL Bulletin. Name, address, sometimes caste and occupation, and date and manner of death identify each individual. Since early 1982 when the organization along with others began filing writs in the Supreme Court, and the court directed state governments to respond, the killings have subsided.

Our idea, SHOURIE says, "is that the PUCL should not be a populist forum but, like the American Civil Liberties Union, a very small body of absolutely honorable professional people who are not going to shout and scream but whose voice 10 years from now will still be respected. The reader must know that if the information appeared in the PUCL Bulletin, it is true."

In late 1980--while he was introducing professional morality and incisive analysis to journalists, and a vigorous activism to civil libertarians SHOURIE published a second collection of his essays, and the two Civil Rights Committee reports he co-authored, under the title, Institutions in the Janata Phase. The treatises express both the great expectations for the Janata coalition, which defeated Indira Gandhi's government in March 1977, and the disillusionment, which enabled Mrs. Gandhi handily to win reelection in July 1979. SHOURIE introduces this book with his diagnosis that the state is becoming private property. People, he writes, have become accustomed to "governments without parliamentary sanction. Perversion of the constitution, malfeasance, corruption, arbitrariness, nepotism, opportunism" and other wrongdoing so that they instinctively turn the page when a newspaper reports the latest incident, "because there is nothing new." Over the past five years the legislatures, the courts, the bureaucracy, and the press have proved them to be bankrupt, he maintains, which leaves the "atomized" populace unprotected. Idealists are dismissed as fools; politicians work exclusively and openly for their own personal interests at a particular moment, without heed to the consequences tomorrow. The people, seeing crass opportunism on all sides, come to doubt the system itself and permit freebooters, whose two objectives are plunder and power, to rule freely. A few decent and efficient, but weak, men are used as fronts to provide a veneer of respectability. Legislatures become chambers for intimidation, courts survive but justice does not, civil servants become domestic servants, the police a private army. The autocrat and his satraps, played one against the other, alienate and eventually destroy the very apparatus they need for running the vast new property they have acquired the state. Crime, therefore, SHOURIE sees, as related to politics and politics in turn is related to the breakdown of institutions, society and ultimately of the constitution.

Evidence of his assertion that he is not primarily a journalist but a concerned citizen using the platform of a newspaper to expose the crimes of government, is his expose in 1981 of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Abdul Rahman Antulay, who garnered 500 million rupees (US$5.38 million) from businesses dependent on the state's resources, and kept the ill-gotten money in a private trust. The Congress Party defense in parliament of their party colleague caused embarrassment to the party and Antulay's eventual downfall. Said to be "the most devastating indictment of public and political life since Indian independence," it represented a one-man crusade, conducted despite heavy pressure from the highest offices. Meticulously studied, and calculatingly pursued with supporting evidence, the expose unfolded over two weeks and ran into 140 column inches of blistering copy.

The uncovering of Antulay's avarice began with a Bombay businessman complaining to Goenka that the chief minister was extorting money from business firms and the Indian Express was doing nothing about it. Goenka sent the man to SHOURIE who found that he was either too frightened to give explicit information or had none to give. Looking into the affair in Bombay a short time later, SHOURIE accidentally met a man who could help him get the numbers on the checks which had been handed to Antulay personally, often in televised ceremonies with the payee's name left blank so that Antulay could determine the account to which they would be deposited. With the aid of Manu Desai, the chief reporter of the Indian Express (Bombay), and Govindrao Talwakar, editor of the Maharashtra Time the only other newspaper in India outside of the Indian Express group to publish a part of the story when it first appeared SHOURIE in four days uncovered Antulay's financial manipulations. The chief minister, he found, had created false shortages by temporarily withholding stores of cement, industrial alcohol and other prime commodities, which he then allowed companies to buy, under both their own and, in one case 18, fictitious names. Antulay's fee for this privilege was a donation to the Indira Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan (Indira Gandhi Talent Organization). The Prime Minister had lent the trust her name, and the donations were afforded tax exemption, on the understanding that the organization was a Government of Maharashtra trust. SHOURIE proved it was a private trust of Antulay.

Back at his desk in Delhi when the story he wrote appeared, SHOURIE began to orchestrate the next moves. "It is not the initial little information that does it," he emphasizes. Predictably, with parliament in session MPs would file privilege motions (charges of impeding the function of a Member of Parliament and therefore breaching parliamentary privilege) against him from the government bench and he prepared to defend the charges. "Parliamentary privileges have never been defined either in England or India," SHOURIE explains, "therefore the members have license, so our job is to test the limits."

He replied to the expected denial by the government through the Minister of Finance in an article, "Petty Little Lies in Parliament," in which he documented how the minister had evaded and lied. He then argued in an open letter, headed "Breach of Trust," that as a free citizen it was his constitutional right and duty under Article 51A to alert as many citizens as he could reach if a minister deceived parliament. "I acted," he wrote, "as a friend of the House . . .who cherishes its functions and values its role. . .and is outraged that an attempt was made to mislead it."

Not content to let Antulay off with only public censure, SHOURIE offered his readers practical advice on how to redress matters, citing precise sections of the penal code under which the chief minister could be brought to court. Petitions for legal action were filed independently in the Bombay High Court by SHOURIE’s friend Ram Jethmalani and others. Five months later, after the High Court in Bombay found him guilty of improper use of his office, Antulay was forced to resign. Another three months of hearings ensued before the High Court ruled that the state governor who normally may act only on the advice of the Council of Ministers of which Antulay was head could empower the lower court, that has jurisdiction over criminal cases, to proceed with Antulay's prosecution. A year after his exposure the criminal case against Antulay is due to start.

In the 10 days after the Antulay story first appeared, the circulation of the Indian Express's combined editions rose by 14,000 copies. Never before had a newspaper registered such a dramatic rise in circulation through the efforts of a single writer, and one relatively knew to journalism at that. But while the expose won circulation, it cost the Bombay edition prolonged labor trouble.

Datta Samant, a labor organizer with ties to Antulay, encouraged Indian Express (Bombay) workers to demand a 30 percent bonus and a minimum wage double that paid to any other pressmen in India. When the demands were not met, the workers staged a slowdown, and in October a strike; the newspaper responded with a lockout to safeguard its equipment. The manager and 140 non-striking employees kept the edition going until November 11 when the manager fled and the office was closed. Meanwhile Goenka's legal adviser and SHOURIE went to Bombay and, with the help of a group which remains unidentified in case they are needed in the future, studied Samant, who had gained control of large sectors of Bombay labor by means of beatings, stabbing and murder. "We then systematically defeated this diabolic labor leader in the propaganda battle and in the courts," SHOURIE reports. "It was a real fight!" The Bombay office reopened in February 1982.

SHOURIE next turned his attention to helping Goenka defeat the government's attempt to repudiate the building permit given to the Indian Express (Delhi) during the Janata government. The Gandhi government's objective was to demolish a building Goenka had built. Goenka's lawyer and SHOURIE again worked together and drafted the writ to the Supreme Court for the lawyer who won a stay from the court. "I was not being a journalist then either," SHOURIE points out in substantiation of his refusal to be classified as such, "but I felt it was the most interesting challenge at the time."

During this period, however, SHOURIE was moved to take up his pen when, with Justice Prafullachandra Natvarlal Bhagwati presiding, a court of seven judges recognized the government's power to transfer judges. Bhagwati was said to be "the best legal craftsman in our Supreme Court, he pioneered in defending the citizen's right to approach the courts for redress, and he was a close friend of Ramnathji [Goenka]," SHOURIE recounts, "but he had opportunistically vacillated from championing liberty then discipline then liberty again, before, during and after the Emergency, and now was serving his own ambition."

SHOURIE also "bared the two faces" of Gundu Rao, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, who tried to impress him at an elaborate private luncheon at his palatial residence in Bangalore. Using for his title a quote from Rao, "She Can Give Me the Keys and Sleep," SHOURIE reported how his host boasted that Mrs. Gandhi trusted him completely and then criticized the Congress (I) Party and the government. When the paper's chief editor ruled that the copy be shortened and run on an inside page, SHOURIE angrily demanded it back and got it published in Sunday magazine, with a cover lead.

To the accusation that he had violated a confidence, SHOURIE answered that he would not waste time with off-the-record meetings and that it was a journalist's job to print Rao's unfavorable opinion about the government. "If an overgrown college boy and his sub-bullies tried to trap me, it is politics, but if I did the unexpected it is called betrayal these are double standards," he wrote. As for endangering sources of information, SHOURIE said that he intentionally wanted to break the "incestuous relationship pressmen have with ministers."

In May 1982 SHOURIE wrote two strongly worded articles against a bill to silence the press that had been proposed by Jaganath Mishra, Chief Minister of Bihar. Mishra had felt the sting of SHOURIE’s pen in the exposures of the blindings, undertrials and jail conditions in Bihar, and other journalists too had documented other corrupt practices. To preclude new charges Mishra proposed legislation that would put editors, publishers, advertisers and even newspaper vendors in jail, without bail, on the charge of publishing or circulating "scurrilous" material, the latter term being left deliberately vague. The issue was critical for, with the control and censorship of television, radio and movies by the government, the printed word was the sole bulwark of free public expression in India. The paper's new chief editor, George Verghese (1975 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts "for his superior developmental reporting of Indian society, balancing factual accounts of achievements, shortcomings and carefully researched alternatives"), thought the newspaper should not publish SHOURIE’s articles in the form in which they were written. Verghese had a "very legitimate view," SHOURIE grants, but he found it unacceptable so published his articles in the fortnightly newsmagazine India Today.

SHOURIE’s second big expose, concerning a government oil purchase, caused "a more substantial quarrel" with Verghese and dismayed Goenka. Evidence of serious irregularities was given SHOURIE in May 1982 that led him to trace tenders floated in January 1980 to supply the government with 300,000 tons of superior kerosene and 500,000 tons of high octane diesel fuel. The tenders were valid until February 15, 1982 and, since prices were expected to fall, government payment was to be made at the international market price at the time of delivery. Government regulations also required dealing directly with the foreign supplier, not with an Indian intermediary. The 14 tenders submitted were in keeping with these terms. However the records SHOURIE received showed that these procedures were changed for the benefit of three close classmates: Harish Jain, whose small Hindustan Monarch company fabricated machines for making bicycle parts; Kamal Nath, a Member of Parliament; and Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister's favored second son. On Sanjay's instruction the Minister of Petroleum and Chemicals authorized the purchase of the petroleum products, through Jain's company, from Kuo Oil of Hong Kong and Singapore. Kuo Oil, which had originally tendered at a variable price, was allowed to alter its bid to a fixed price after the tenders had been opened; the contract was set at US$175 million. To justify this change, the ministry claimed that the company had given a performance guarantee though it had a paid-up capital of only US$50. The change from a variable to fixed price resulted in the Indian government paying Kuo Oil US$12 million over the international market price for oil at the time of delivery. Circumstantial evidence pointed to Kamal Nath as the trio's collector of this overage.

The Petroleum and Chemicals Ministry told the parliamentary committee, which started to investigate the oil deal, that the file containing all the details of this transaction could not be found. SHOURIE, however, learned that the file was at the Prime Minister's house, and discovered exactly what was in it. By June he was ready to "open the game." He wrote an article entitled "The Case of the Missing File," in which he detailed: 1) how the minister was advised by his own departmental officials not to approve a transaction that violated procedures; 2) how the Empowerment Committee, which is supposed to process tenders, was bypassed; 3) how the country lost money, and 4) how the file was suppressed. Verghese declined to publish the article as it was written and proposed that the focus should be on the economic aspects of the deal. SHOURIE insisted an economic analysis would neither attract readers nor carry weight; his focus was on corruption, which he feels is the main issue in India today. Verghese argued that revealing what had transpired in confidential parliamentary meetings would bring privilege motions against SHOURIE and the paper, and that by quoting from a secret file they could be accused of violating the Official Secrets Act. SHOURIE responded that this was precisely the mine field that should be laid in order to force parliament to discuss the irregularities he was reporting, that he had had considerable experience in handling privilege motions from parliament and that, as for the Official Secrets Act being violated, if the prime minister's son made a deal the government was unlikely to notify it in the official gazette.

In July, after their disagreement had become bitter with Goenka supporting Verghese and threatening to fire SHOURIE the latter mimeographed his article and forwarded it to the chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the speaker of the Lok Sabha (the presiding officers of the upper and lower houses of parliament respectively). A covering letter stated that parliament had been fooled and it was his duty to bring the enclosed information to its attention. He added that he was sending similar letters to members of the parliamentary committee from which the file had been kept, government and opposition leaders, and the Minister of Petroleum and Chemicals. In the shouting session that ensued in parliament, privilege motions were tabled against the Prime Minister, the government secretary and the Minister of Petroleum and Chemicals for suppressing facts from a parliamentary committee. Other motions were tabled against SHOURIE, on the grounds that these irregularities could not have happened and that he was bringing the committee and parliament into disrepute.

With wire services reporting the reaction to SHOURIE’s letter, and asking why the material had not been printed in the Indian Express, "Verghese graciously decided that day to publish the piece intact." SHOURIE feels that he was right to force the hands of his publisher and chief editor in this way.

Lok Sabha speaker, Bal Ram Jakhar, responded to the actions in the lower house by rejecting all privilege motions. Promptly attacking him on "this perverse ruling," SHOURIE quoted from Jakhar's own book that a speaker's duty is to allow discussion on important issues. Rajya Sabha chairman Mohammad Hidayatullah gave "an even more obtuse ruling," that the committee could not file privilege motions about suppression of facts because it was a committee of the Lower House. Quickly shattering this strategem SHOURIE published records showing that since 1953 the committee had been bicameral and that the report at issue had, in fact, been tabled in the upper house also. In the resulting furor Jakhar ruled that Hidayatullah was wrong, that the committee included members from both houses and all members were equal.

"You keep the pressure up in this way," SHOURIE relates, "and you are controlling the debate with your articles. A ruling will be given today and tomorrow I will publish 5,000 words on the background of that ruling and what it means. You must strike quickly so that key points register in the reader's mind: first, that the government is trying to hide something because it is avoiding debate; second, that the government has not entered one word of defense of the Kuo Oil deal, even though the prime minister's house is involved; third, that the chairman, the speaker and others are acting as party agents rather than fulfilling their legitimate functions; and fourth, that this single citizen on this single paper can go on like this and no one can touch him. That's the most important signal because it gives heart to others." Other papers understandably will not write about what he has done, "but they must report the commotion in parliament and eventually they will have to cover the oil deal that caused it."

Verghese, who maintained from the outset that the Indian Express should only go so far, and SHOURIE, who was determined to push ahead and involve President Gyani Zail Singh, were arguing heatedly on August 13, 1982, when SHOURIE wrote and sent to press his final article. Its title asked: "Why Not Put the Gyani to Work?" "Your first hurdle to prosecute a minister of government," SHOURIE reminded his readers, "is to get the President's permission." At SHOURIE’s request, therefore, Ram Jethmalani one of the two who filed petitions against Antulay wrote an appeal to the president and the Indian Express printed it. This petition, and another sent a few days later, put the president in an untenable position: sanctioning the prosecution of the Minister of Petroleum and Chemicals would mean a prima facie case; and refusing to do so "would make our point that he is shielding a conspiracy," SHOURIE states.

SHOURIE values the "cockpit role" he has had selecting the issues and leading the attack on government corruption as an unexpected bonus of being hired by "an extraordinary man [Goenka]" to work on "a splendid newspaper and the most independent one in India." He adds that he could not report as audaciously for any other paper. He has used his forum to the hilt but is aware that his very audacity could be his undoing: "two big errors," he says, "and my credibility would be gone." This credibility he has earned by the fact that he relies almost entirely on documents and seldom on recollection and checks carefully the authenticity of his sources; he knows of only one case where he has printed a wrong name. He acknowledges that he is regarded as an unofficial ombudsman and says this is the result of his having become "a lightning rod." People have come to him with grievances or important information, which they think he might find a way to handle in an effective manner. Minor items he refers to his reporters, but issues involving high-level officials claim his personal attention so that rules of parliamentary privilege, contempt of court, etc. will be taken into consideration and the newspaper "will not be defeated by the adversary."

Though Goenka has a reputation for enjoying a good fight and SHOURIE’s "union card" with him was the critical article he had written during the Emergency, Goenka would be the first to say that the Indian Express must not be a scandalmonger. Neither does SHOURIE want to be known as such; he will undertake, therefore, no more than one major expose a year. Yet he feels integrity in public life is an essential basis for democracy and that he must speak out for right action and right thinking when he sees the press under pressure; arbitrariness, corruption and crime in government on the rise; and the opposition in disarray.

Events, however, may overtake him, he points out, and "Ramnathji may ask me to go." The Indian Express has a Rs.8 million (US$1 million) overdraft at the state Bank of India, and "it takes only one telephone call to demand payment." Moreover, the government can always put pressure on the paper by withholding newsprint canceling all or part of its allocation, or by simply holding up delivery, since the paper normally has only a three-day stock on hand. And Goenka has already paid dearly for his independent stance. The Indian Express has to operate its 10 editions by cumbersome Tele printers because the facsimile license given to Goenka was cancelled in 1970 after his break with Mrs. Gandhi. This means the same material has to be composed at each center; good staff is not available in some centers six presently do not have managers and power breakdowns are frequent in five. In addition the paper derives 70 percent of its income from advertising, much of which is from government advertisements and tender notices of public sector companies. The government can also file cases against the press as it has done in several instances.

SHOURIE’ s way of safeguarding the paper from these vulnerabilities is to fill it with factual stories so that the paper can only be closed at the risk of public perception that this was done because it was telling the truth. He assumes that Mrs. Gandhi would like to see him silenced but pays her the compliment of saying that in any other authoritarian country he could no longer be published, instead of being treated with "benign neglect." The impression that he is running a campaign against the Prime Minister is a misconception, SHOURIE states emphatically: "she is only the most visible and most potent symbol of what is wrong." He considers her the "only politician in India" and the rest "schoolboys," but observes that she is losing her capacity to govern as a result of her style of ruling. Still, "she alone maintains the illusion of government when in fact there is little government, so because of her presence a citizen like me feels secure." He also says that readers who perceive him as obsessed with failure and decay are wrong: "I am very consciously trying to impart what I regard as Gandhiji's message on collective action."

Future leadership, SHOURIE believes, will come from outside the existing political arena, from student leaders who have shown keen political acumen in Assam, Gujarat and Bihar, and from men like Narayan who remove themselves from politics and retain their idealism and integrity.

SHOURIE moves through the stir he creates with the litheness of a slender athlete in fine trim. He dresses conservatively and impeccably his wife speaks of "his mania" for well-pressed clothes. Fair complexioned, with heavy black eyebrows and neat mustache, his mobile face arrestingly conveys his shifts in mood from philosophic contemplation to empathy or righteous zealotry. His charismatic intensity is magnified by the contrast of his gentle manner and soft-toned speech which often causes listeners to strain to hear his words.

Not committed to any school of political thought, SHOURIE feels close to two political opposites, Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav patriot who called on his country to prove that it was democratic but has himself never quite given up Marxism; and Alexander Solzhenitsyr, the exiled Russian whose literary protests won him the Nobel Prize for Literature and who thinks communism is evil. Both, SHOURIE says, "have stood up at the cost of great suffering and against great odds and affirmed the truth as they perceive it."

He views "a journalist who does not believe as just a cork," yet admits that one is working in an environment which "will not let an outspoken journalist survive long in his job. But he can keep his self-respect by writing until he is stopped and that will give readers a signal that the situation has worsened."

Vinod Mehta, editor of the Sunday Observer which has generally been hostile to SHOURIE, concedes that he has been able to establish an extraordinary rapport with readers who believe that he has no axe to grind, no ideology to promote, no party to push but only a commitment to truth. He is not popular in journalistic circles, however, "because he creates problems for his peers; his success threatens the established methodology. His brand of journalism demands that you get out into the heat."

Another reason SHOURIE gets the response he does, Mehta adds, is because of the way he writes: "his prose is direct, simple and emotionally charged. The outrage, indignation and concern jump up from the cold type in contrast to the [usual] ponderous, abstruse and dull columns in the daily press." He notes that some of SHOURIE’s admirers have reservations about his style and feel a good sub-editor could do wonders with his copy. But Mehta concludes that India for years has had an emasculated press, too easily bought and sold, and SHOURIE has partially restored its credibility. His international peers have recognized SHOURIE as well. In May 1982 the World Press Review in the United States named him editor of the year.

As to his future, SHOURIE regards himself as unemployable by any other publisher if Goenka dismisses him, but he absolutely wills not leave India, he says, and "the next morning at 9 a.m. will take up my writing on the Quran." Meanwhile he will not restrain himself in the expectation that something unpleasant may happen in the future. He finds expression for his philosophy in an Urdu couplet:

Dast-e-sayyaad bhi aajiz hai kafe-ghulchin bhi (The hand of the hunter is poised, as is the hand of the gardener)

Bu-e-ghul thari na bulbul ki anwaaz thari hai (But that has not kept the flower from emitting its fragrance, nor has it silenced the song of the bulbul).

"So should we," he says, "be able to say in the end that, yes, the hand was poised but we kept doing our job."

September 1982
Manila

 

REFERENCES:

"Antulay Denies Moves Against Bhosale," Hindustan Times. New Delhi. April 8, 1982.

"Arun Shourie, From the Barrel of a Pen," India Today. Delhi. Vol. VI, no. 19, October 1-15, 1981.

"Arun Shourie: Who is He, and What Does He think He is Doing?" Sunday. Calcutta. Vol. 9, issue 14, September 20,1981.

"Contempt of Court Pleas Rejected," Statesman. Calcutta. April 14, 1980.

Duggal, Devinder Singh. "The Sikhs' Glorious Traditions-I, II and III," Indian Express. Delhi. May 20, 21 and 22, 1982.

"Governor's Okay Sought for Antulay Prosecution," Hindustan Times. New Delhi. April 13, 1982.

John, V. V. "A Scathing Analysis" (Review of ARUN Shourie's Institutions in the Janata Phase), India Today. Delhi. August 1-15, 1980, p. 102-3.

Joshi, Prabhash. "The All-Seeing Blind Eye-III. Caught in the Web of 'Immortal' Seed," Indian Express. Delhi. April 11, 1982.

Kaufman, Michael T. "Gandhi Supporters now Join Attacks on State Corruption," International Herald Tribune. Hong Kong. January 9-10, 1982.

Kronholz, June. "Editor Takes on Gandhi and Government Corruption," Asian Wall Street Journal. Hong Kong. March 5, 1982.

Mehta, Vinod. "The Importance of Arun Shourie," Sunday Observer. Bombay. August 15-21, 1982.

"No Easy Solutions. Interview with Arun Shourie, the Angry Crusader," India Today. Delhi. October 1-15, 1981.

PUCL Bulletin. Delhi: People's Union for Civil Liberties. January, October, November, December 1981;March-April 1982.

Rege, M.P. "What is Hinduism?" (Review of Shourie's Hinduism: Essence and Consequence) New Quest. Pune, India: Indian Association for Cultural Freedom. July-August 1980.

Shourie, Arun. Hinduism: Essence and Consequence. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. 1979.

______. Indian Express (Delhi):

"All for the Nation's Security." March 6, 1981.

"Another Government That Doesn't Work" May 10, 1980.

"Bhagalpur Blindings: The Evidence Thus Far--I and II." October 12 and December 11, 1980.

"But What Then Is the Solution?" November 29, 1980.

"The Creative Uses of Weakness." October 10, 1980.

"Crime, Criminals and the State." June 23, 1980.

"A Crumb for the Historians," (Express Magazine). April 11, 1982.

"Death as Arbiter." July 1, 1980.

"Firings and Inquiries," January 22, 1981.

"A Furore a Day." July 28, 1980.

"A Glimpse of Good Works-I and II." September 29 and 30, 1980.

"The Highjackers Win." June 9, 1980.

"Indira Gandhi as Commerce." August 31, 1981.

"Justice in Bihar," (Express Magazine). September 27, 1981.

"Lethal Custodians." August 11, 1980.

"Must We Listen to These Fellows?" January 30, 1981.

"My Heritage Too." June 2, 1982.

"The Old Movie Speeds Up." October 31, 1980.

"The Patna Dog Fight Over CID Reports-I and II." February 7 and 8, 1981.

"Swatting a Bee With an Axe." April 4, 1982.

"The Troubles in Punjab-I, II and III." May 12, 13, 14, 1982.

"Two Steps Forward, One Step Back." November 7, 1980.

"What the Bihar Government Isn't Sure Exists." February 23, 1981.

"Who Uses Whom?" March 26, 1981.

"Will CIA and KGB Buy the Bonds?" March 5, 1981.

"Witnessing as a Profession." August 29, 1980.

______. Institutions in the Janata Phase. Bombay: Popular Prakashan. 1980.

______. "On Why the Hon'ble Court Must Hear Us," PUCL Bulletin. Delhi: People's Union for Civil Liberties. August-September 1981.

______. "The Press and Public Morality." Presentation to Group Discussion. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, Manila. September 2, 1982. (Typewritten transcript.)

______. Symptoms of Fascism. Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. 1978.

______. "Who do Legislators Think They Are?" Sunday. Calcutta August 31, 1980.

Tikku, Vinati "The Knight of the Fourth Estate!," Society. Bombay. September 1980.

Interview with ARUN Shourie and letters from and interviews with persons acquainted with him and his work.