Memories of Pandit Nehru

By Prem Prakash

New Delhi, Nov.14 (ANI): As we celebrate Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday, I remember a young Indian press corps covering the Prime Minister of a young India. As we covered a country which was formulating the contours of its democratic ideals, Pandit Nehru proved to be a strong support to the Indian media.

In the early days of post-Independence India, this writer used to freelance for ATP, Switzerland, Gaumont Actualites (France), Deutsche Wochenschau (Germany) and Warner Pathe of New York.

Those news reels were important news outlets that shaped the narrative in that era. Prime Minister Nehru realised the power of those news reels early on and was readily available for comment.

Nehru at the time was as much a victim of bias and prejudice by the foreign media as Modi is tod, or for that matter, Indira Gandhi when she had the top job.

Organisations like the BBC would never forgive Nehru for non-alignment during the Cold War. Western media organisations treated Nehru as a fellow traveller of the Communists.

I remember during his first few official visits abroad the suit and tie took primacy in Nehru’s wardrobe, this was soon replaced by the Achkan.

Panditji relished his occasional smoke, but when cameras used to come out to interrupt his reverie, the hand with a cigarette dangling from it used to jerk to the back to avoid the lens.

There was an Omerta (Code of Silence) understanding amongst us photographers and videographers not to show Nehru smoking. However, a couple of photos did come out. Prime Ministers are human too after all!

A visually rich story that the press corps used to enjoy covering was the annual Holi party that Panditji used to host at his Teen Murti home. Security threats against Nehru were not very serious, and as a result, a number of people used to turn up at Teen Murti to play Holi with India’s Prime Minister. The party continued when Panditji along with a retinue of revellers used to go to the houses of different leaders to play Holi.

Nehru was a proponent of democracy within the Congress Pparty of that era and actively encouraged debate amongst Congress echelons. I remember seeing him heckled by Congressmen during plenary sessions of the party, yet, he would take it in his stride and give replies to his critics.

These days, Nehru’s legacy has become fodder for controversy and heated political debate. However, I remember him as a Prime Minister who started the rebuilding and modernisation process of the Indian Army after the humiliating loss to China in 1962. His efforts were far more significant than what Churchill did after Dunkirk during the Second World War.

Nehru’s contribution to the emergence of a democratic India was immense. He firmly believed in parliamentary democracy and nurtured it with care. It was because of this fact, that we today have a vibrant and democratic India.

When this author got his first sound camera, it could run only for two-and-a-half minutes at a time and one had to put in new roll of film at the end of that. I requested for an interview with Panditji to be able to start using my camera and wanted that to be used first with him.

I was granted fifteen minutes time at the Parliament House office of the Prime Minister because Parliament was in session then, and Panditji never used to miss any session. The interview continued for forty-five minutes, as I had to change rolls of film too often. I had warned Panditji about this problem. He was not concerned or bothered, even as his secretary and others kept making faces at me from a distance to finish quickly.

As I finished the interview, Panditji asked me to sit down and ordered tea for me also. I had not realised that his tea time had been delayed by my extra half-an-hour.

He, as Prime Minister, was so pleased to see a young Indian in me now handling a technology that he had seen foreign news cameramen handling. He wanted young Indians to move ahead with speed.

Mr. Prem Prakash is the Chairman of ANI. (ANI)

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