Interview: Ehsan Ahmed Sehar,President RMNP
“Although media is free in India, but I feel still there are curbs on it. Journalists enjoy the freedom to write and speak but unless the print media is economically viable real freedom of press can not go ahead.”
These views were expressed by Ravindra Kumar, President Indian Newspapers’ Society (INS). He has 35 years standing in journalism. Kumar joined the profession as reporter and worked for many English dailies including ‘Hindustan Times’ and ‘Indian Express News’.
Starting his career as reporter he also worked as sub-editor, news-editor and managing-editor. The first newspaper he joined was ‘Hindustan Times’. Now he is associated with a popular Indian daily ‘The Statesman’ as editor-in-chief, published simultaneously from Calcutta, New Delhi, Bhubaneswar and Siliguri. This newspaper was founded by British in 1818, as ‘Friends of India’. In 1875 it was renamed as ‘The Statesman’ now published under a charity trust. Kumar is one of the trustees and also chief of ‘The Statesman Print Journalism School.’
I got a chance to meet Kumar in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia where we had to attend Asian Journalism Schools Conference. I managed to arrange two sideline meetings with Kumar to talk in details on Indo-Pak relations and freedom of press, in both countries.
He said, although freedom of press and expression exists in India, but it needs certain atmosphere to exercise. Policies made by our rulers ultimately affect the freedom of press. He said.
Responding to a question about Indo-Pak relations he opined “only statesmen can resolve the disputes, but unfortunately we don’t have a statesman at both sides. We have many politicians who could not reach at an amicable settlement of Kashmir.
Citing the examples of Vietnam and Germany Kumar said, “Look how these nations got united and solved their disputes”. While situation of Vietnam was different and country was in grip war but after the U.S defeat, the whole nation stood up to forge unity, he pointed out.
Kumar said, the Berlin Wall was demolished when there was no war between East and West part of Germany, but they had statesmen who helped the unification.
He advised, Indians should realize that Sub-Continent was divided a long ago; they have to accept the fact. Referring to Kashmir dispute he says, this problem can not be solved with a UN resolution. Now the situation is changed. If the UN resolution is followed, both Pakistan and India would have to lose their part of Kashmir. And even China will have to vacate the area under its control. How is it possible because all the three countries are not willing to retreat from their present position, He said.
Commenting on the impression in past that as result of Vajpayee Sharif talks the Kashmir dispute had reached at the edge of solution, he said many issues were also settled down between Vajpayee and Musharraf, including the agreement to recognize the ceasefire line as permanent border. But situation turned worst. Kumar observed, as he has pointed out unfortunately both the countries lack the statesmanship, who can solve the problems, so there is no progress.
Replying to a question about the role, media can play to solve bilateral disputes, he said, media has no mandate, public gives mandate to political leadership, but of course media reflect the mood of society. At least they can tell the truth. He did not agree with track 2 diplomacy to settle the disputes, even if media have some role in back door channels.
When his attention was drawn towards the concerns that India is busy to construct dozens of dams on its rivers to turn Pakistan’s fertile lands in to arid zone, he termed it as wrong impression. He said his country too has objections about China’s construction of dams on Brahmaputra and stopping the flow of river towards India. Bangladesh and India also have this kind of problems. He suggested the confederation of sub-continent nations comprising India, Pakistan Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and SriLanka, on EU pattern, which he said was the only way to avoid this kind of problems. All the disputes including Kashmir will find their solutions eventually, he narrated.
He said it is in our best interest to accept and regard each other’s territorial integrity. People in India and Pakistan are sitting on Nuclear Bombs, while millions of them are compelled to live below the poverty line. A substantial part of our budget is wasted annually on defense expenditures. If there is a confederation, we can save this huge amount, he said.
Commenting on the reduction of armed forces he said, this is not necessary to reduce the size of forces because we share borders with Iran, Afghanistan, China and Russia, we need a strong force for our defense.
On the normalization of bilateral relations after change of government in Pakistan Kumar said, “We take Nawaz Sharif’s initiatives with suspicion”. We have impression that there is a lot of difference between the mind set of political forces and military establishment. He said there can be no normalization of relations with Pakistan foreign policy under military establishment’s control. We have to see how much powers Sharif has to run his foreign affairs.
To another question he said it’s premature to say who will be the next prime minister in India. Now things are changed. Nobody can afford rivalries, but domestic policies will dominate during the elections campaign. Unless the election results are announced the situation will remain as same.