Can this reporter survive the wrath of a Chief Minister?

A great reader, writer, journalist Chennamaneni Rajeswar Rao died on 7 March in Hyderabad.

By M Sridhar  Published on  7 March 2023 2:14 PM GMT
Chennamaneni Rajeswar Rao

Chennamaneni Rajeswar Rao (file photo) 

A great reader, writer, journalist and HMTV ombudsman Chennamaneni Rajeswar Rao is no more. He died on 7 March in Hyderabad. He once worked as an information officer in Delhi when Nedurumalli Janardan Reddy was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. (Chennamaneni Rajeswar Rao, should not be confused with late former MLA and Communist leader with the same name.) He hailed from village Vedira in Karimnagar district. Rajeswar Rao was born in 1939 and died at the age of 83.

Eminent journalist and former editor of Vishaalaandhra C. Raghavachary was his friend and relative (Viyyankulu =Rajeswar Rao’s son is Raghavachary’s daughter). As he desired, he was reading books before he breathed his last peacefully.

Journalist Rajeswar Rao wrote an article of the assessment about the rule of Kasu Brahmananda Reddy when that chief minister completed a year in office. The former CM was appreciated where it was due but was not spared for his wrong decisions. While all other newspapers showered praise on the one-year-old CM (Brahmananda Reddy), Rajeswar Rao was critical of his administrative decisions. The CM kept aside the routine praises on the eve of the ‘anniversary’ and read this piece twice with attention. The editor, who happened to be the CM’s bosom friend, called the reporter into his chambers.

The young reporter thought it was the end of the matter as the CM must be angry. Rajeswar Rao typed out a letter, “My writing if affected the friendship of the editor, as a reporter I cannot continue. Hence, I resign.” The editor laughed it off and tore off the resignation letter. The editor was none other than Shivalenka Shambhu Prasad.

That great editor said, “The Chief Minister is my good friend, no doubt, but your article is the best. You have proved that a journalist is more responsible to the reader than to its editor or the Chief Minister of the state.” The newspaper concerned was Andhra Patrika, one of the largely circulated newspapers of Andhra Pradesh in those days.

Can a reporter survive the wrath of a Chief Minister today?

When I (this author) asked whether a reporter can survive the wrath of a Chief Minister today, Rajeshwar answered, “I could survive Brahmananda Reddy because of Ayyavaru (editor Shambhuprasad as fondly called). But all are not like Shambhu Prasad.” Rajeswar, as an investigative reporter, had a different experience with another editor. When N.T. Ramarao, the then Chief Minister, claimed that he was a sanyasi, Rajeswar penned an article to prove he was not. He listed out the immovable properties owned by the Chief Minister with survey numbers, etc. Next scene was that Rajeswar was transferred to Vijayawada.

Rajeswar was ready again with his resignation letter. By this time, the editor was no more independent and the proprietor was the real editor. It was K. Jagdeesh Prasad, son of KLN Prasad, the founder of Andhra Jyothy. “I was appointed as Hyderabad reporter and hence you cannot transfer. If you do not want me, say that. Why did you transfer?” said Rajeswar and walked out of the newspaper. The proprietor was happy that Rajeswar left. The owner controls the content at the pleasure of the Chief Minister, whether a personal friend or not.

A bold journalist

Brahmananda Reddy was a tough Chief Minister. He faced strong agitation for Telangana state. While addressing the press, he once responded to a question on Telangana agitation and said “Not much support to it.” A reporter referred to the NGO’s stand and the then CM said when 99% of NGOs want Telangana what kind of discussions can we hold with them? Rajeswar, who was silent till then, asked “Mr. Chief Minister, there is a contradiction in your statement.” The CM was shocked and asked “Where do you find a contradiction?” The journalist explained: “You say Telangana agitation does not have any support and add that 99% of NGOs support it.”

The CM was caught on the wrong foot but tried to wriggle out brazenly saying, “The contradiction is in your mind.” The hollowness of the CM was proved beyond doubt. On his 83rd year, he was in his tiny chamber surrounded by books, newspapers, and magazines at the HMTV building, looking at the reports of youngsters for errors. Rajeswar, with his thoughts focused on the latest book – an autobiography of Amartya Sen, had not noticed someone who entered his cabin and greeted him.

Another autobiography (of Girish Karnad) was waiting for his attention. All the bookshelves around and the table before him were fully occupied by books and nothing but books. He pulled his table drawer to find photocopies of his recent articles for Hans India to share with the visitor.

Andhra Patrika’s tenure

Later, he was called for an interview for the post of staff reporter of Andhra Patrika. Editor Shambhu Prasad would generally interview any candidate thoroughly for four or five days and then take more than a week to decide. The general manager of Andhra Patrika received Rajeswar at Madras Central Railway station with a placard. The interview went on and on for hours with discussions on various subjects ranging from politics to art to literature and international issues. When he was about to return, the editor asked him to wait, and in a few minutes, a typed order of appointment was in his hands. Surprised, Rajeswar pleaded that he needed to serve a month’s notice at Daily News. Then the order was changed to the date of his choice. Rajeswar recalls with respect the magnanimity of V.B. Raju, who relieved him soon with an appreciation that it was great to work with

Andhra Patrika, a star daily of those days. He worked for more than a decade as the newspaper’s Delhi correspondent.

A journalist who questioned Indira Gandhi

Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi exercised her privilege as leader of the government to reorganise the departments within the ministers’ portfolios.

The revenue intelligence wing was carved out of revenue and political intelligence from Home. Rajeswar was closely observing the process. He found a reason when these new significant powers were taken over by the Prime Minister for herself, from the hands of her Cabinet colleagues. Rajeswar got a chance to question Mrs. Indira Gandhi when she addressed a press conference in Hyderabad. He asked her, “Prime minister, there appears a tendency in you to become a dictator.” She shot back, “Why do you think so?” Rajeswar pointed out at the reorganisation of departments.

She smiled and said “Next question.” The fact was established. The then top cop of AP asked Rajeswar, “How dare you question the Prime Minister like this?” Rajeswar was clear: “It’s the duty of a journalist.”

The Prime Minister today does not believe in speaking to the media. He shares his thoughts through “Mann ki Baat” directly with the people in the Akashvani, a one-way communication. No scope for anyone to ask anything. Perhaps, he has established a record as a PM who has never met the media ever since he assumed office in 2014. Even if some Chief Minister convenes a press conference nowadays, asking a question happens very rarely. Rajeswar’s take at this situation is “surprise.”

Started his career with a bang

Rajeswar joined Andhra Patrika on a Thursday, he vividly remembers. The chief reporter asked him to report the Question Hour of the AP Assembly sessions, which is generally assigned to an experienced senior person. One should be attentive to each word that is said and understand the supplementary questions also. Each deals with a separate subject and there would be 10 such issues every day. Rajeswar knew it. His report was the banner item next day.

On Friday, he studied and wrote a piece on how industries were not being encouraged. On the second day, too, his report was on the top of the Andhra Patrika. The news item stirred the government machinery and the CM addressed the issue on Saturday, which was covered again by Rajeswar as a banner item for a third day in a row. He started impacting the society as a reporter of Andhra Patrika with a bang.

An accidental journalist

Rajeswar was a born landlord with hundreds of acres of agricultural land, though he does not own any now. He had to take a loan to construct a house in Hyderabad. He is secular, socialist and a democrat with strong foundations in equality and justice. In his student days, he used to spend around Rs. 500 a month to buy English newspapers and magazines. As a thorough reader, he knew the international developments, English literature, poetry, cinema, and culture, which he used to discuss with J. Chokka Rao, an astute politician from Karimnagar who was a Cabinet minister, MLA, and MP from Congress party.

He also happens to be Rajeswar’s uncle. When Chokka Rao was arguing effectively in conversations on international developments, the then minister, editor of Daily News, and an important politician V.B. Raju was surprised and asked how he knew of all these issues which no Telugu newspaper published. Chokka Rao said, “My nephew reads English newspapers and briefs me.” The next day, Raju invited Rajeswar and offered him a sub-editor’s post. Rajeswar refused saying, “I am not a journalist and have no idea how to become one.” But Raju was confident that Rajeswar would be a good journalist. Rajeswar was persuaded to join Daily News. His salary was Rs. 150 per month and Rs. 10 was conveyance allowance. Within a few days, he proved to be capable of handling the news desk. Thus, Rajeswar was an accidental journalist. His newspaper-reading habit made him a news writer. Significantly, he continued to be a reader and writer even today after more than six decades.

Like journalist Rajeswar Rao, can any news reporter survive the wrath of any Chief Minister?

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