Anniversary: Ved Bhasin (May 1, 1929 – Nov 5, 2015)

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A passionate advocate of justice, peace, and human rights, Ved Bhasin left us on Nov. 5, 2015

Prior to the Kashmir of 1990s, on every afternoon a long queue of people were seen at Universal News Agency near the old bus stand of Sopore. With people jostling and elbowing each other, it would seem that there was distribution of ration or other home essentials. At time police had to intervene to control the crowd – the crowd of people who want to get a copy of Kashmir Times. At that time it was the lone English daily known for its credibility and professional setup.

Newspapers become stale past mornings, but since Kashmir Times was published from Jammu we in Sopore would receive it in the afternoon or a day after its publication. Nonetheless, there was no dearth of hunger to grab a copy of the newspaper.

I am witness to certain unusual incidents during my school days, when at times like a cinema ticket one had to purchase the newspaper in black (on black market) and bribe the boy at the news agency to arrange a copy that he used to keep under a sack.

The popularity of this newspaper was directly linked to its editor Ved Bhasin, who after completing six-decades in active journalism, departed on November 6, 2015. A living history of Jammu and Kashmir, he had been close to players that mattered and was a witness to many twists and turns. Working under him, was both a treat and was tiresome as well. Since he knew all the trades, it was difficult to befool him.

He would get angry with reporter, using the cliché ‘intelligence source’, in his copy. As an editor, he nurtured a number of journalists, now occupying top positions, to name a few, Ehsan Fazli, Masood Hussain, Shujaat Bukhari, Asha Khosa, Anil Anand, Arun Joshi. We still consider ourselves, and are bonded, as part of Kashmir Times family, due to affability of Vedji.

A passionate advocate of justice, peace, and human rights, Bhasin’s professional integrity and intellectual acumen was impeccable. He also took keen interest in the political sphere of Jammu and Kashmir. He was the President of the Jammu & Kashmir Students Union from 1945 to 1949, the President of the J&K Youth National Conference from 1950 to 1953, member of the National Conference General Council from 1949 to 1953. Infact, he inducted chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad into politics, by appointing him president of Youth Congress in Jammu.

Narrating his interest in public life, he once said about the bygone days: in 1945, student unions and Jammu politics were divided along communal lines. There was complete communal polarization which suited the rulers. As young student, he formed a secular organization, Jammu Students Federation, along with Balraj Puri and Abdul Khaliq Ansari who later became the president of Plebiscite front in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and campaigned for an independent Jammu and Kashmir.

Ved Bhasin will also be known in history as the person who revealed signing of the death warrant of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat, which was kept a highly guarded secret at that time. On February, 6 1984, four days before Bhat was hanged in Delhi’s Tihar jail, Bhasin broke the story, while noticing a shot stature person roaming in the legislative complex in winter capital Jammu carrying a small black bag.

The man was hurriedly whisked inside the then chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdulla’s chambers. Ved Bhasin had dismissed it initially as a routine meeting inside chief minister’s chamber, even as he had noticed law minister and police chief being summoned. But the dramatic entry of a senior judicial officer Thakur Pavitar Singh, then holding the office of the Sessions Judge of the special court, alerted his sense of news. He waited for Pavitar Singh, who disclosed to him that he was forced to sign a black warrant inside the chief minister’s chamber and that the shot stature person with black bag was an official from home ministry. An Indian Airlines Flight was kept waiting for him at Jammu airport to fly him to Delhi to execute warrant.

Bhasin was also active player of 1975 Indira-Abdullah accord. He would often say with disdain that Sheikh had room to negotiate an honorable settlement. He often called 1975 Accord a total surrender by Sheikh. “He (Sheikh) had agreed to join the Congress. He was going to be elected the leader of the Congress legislature party, but it was New Delhi which backtracked. And when he was in power till 1982 he did not pressurize New Delhi. I asked him once, and he replied that he wanted to work on the same wavelength as New Delhi.

In fact even during emergency he did not oppose the emergency. Even though Emergency was not extended to J&K but Sheikh arrested number of people and banned newspapers,” Bhasin said in an interview few years ago. “My own feeling is that Indira Gandhi had reports about Abdullah’s deteriorating health in jail. She was advised to use Abdullah’s goodwill for India. Abdullah on his part was under pressure from his family. If Abdullah had asserted he could have negotiated for 1953 position. He could have sought greater autonomy. He could have come back as prime minister, if he had asserted. But he did not.”

In 2002, when I was arrested by Delhi police on flimsy charges, I was fortunate to work with the Kashmir Times (KT) those days. My release after the heat died down in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for eight months was possible only because of KT management. All other friends and media organization, could back me, only because unlike other organizations under similar circumstances, the KT owned me. In other cases, I have noticed, the organizations for the fear of reprisals, often refuse to support their staffer openly. Bhasin vowed to defend me with all his might. The KT continued the campaign for my release till the end, even continued my salary and paid my lawyers. The appeal issued by the KT said, “We treat it as a conspiracy to tarnish his image and to put curbs on freedom of press. We are hoping for support among worldwide journalist fraternity to express solidarity for Iftikhar and rally behind him against his arrest in a totally fabricated case.”

The KT started “The Truth Behind Iftikhar Gilani’s Arrest” in the KT to expose the false case foisted upon me. Ved Bhasin visited my family and rushed editor Prabodh Jamwal, and executive editor Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal to Delhi. Whole staff of the KT rallied behind me. Prabodh Jamwal addressed a press conference in Delhi on June 14, 2002 alongwith my wife Aanisa and publicly vouched for my innocence. These were difficult days. Not many people were ready to take this stand openly. He, at great risks, released the printed version of the document that the government had been describing as the secret defence document.

When I was writing my jail memoirs “My Days in Prison”, published by Penguin, I asked for his sagacious advice. He recited a letter Rattan Mohan Lal, guru of Lala Mulk Raj Saraf, father of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir had written on July 1, 1924 to Ranbir – the first newspaper of Jammu & Kashmir. These words: “I hasten to congratulate you on bringing out the Ranbir. The sturdy infant shall one day rise to full proportions of a highly developed institution and you cannot be too careful to bestow your undivided attention to this growth. Let your tone be serious rather than idealistic, practical rather than commonplace and sympathetic rather than hypercritical. But guard yourself against being too grave, pontifical and patriarchal. Infuse humour into your notes, make them light but not flippant.

Be always on the side of law, order and constitutionalism. Let your style be vigorous not flamboyant; simple, not jejune; direct not blunt; let it strike a happy medium between the plain and the ornate. Do not use such words as sensational which is nonsense… Make a discriminating use of new terms of speech. Don’t let the passion get the better of your reason. You cannot cleanse the world of its evil by a stroke of pen, however, vigorous it may be. Remember to climb down from the cloudland of ideals to hard facts. Never permit your criticism to be bitter or one-sided… I need not play the part of a preacher to you. Your qualifications, public spirit and the stern integrity of your motives shall make you equal to the exigencies of journalistic life.”

The wise man has indeed encapsulated the whole world of wisdom. No better advice was possible. But I had a deep grouse against Vedji. He helped people to write books and reams on Kashmir and its modern history. But to my occasional nudging, he didn’t budge to document his own memoirs. He would regale us hours and hours with his memoirs, but didn’t pen them on paper. I had a similar complaint against late Pran Nath Jalali too, who was also a living history, full with anecdotes and narratives. But alas we have lost both of them without documenting their memories. The modern history of Kashmir will always remain incomplete.