Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.

***

By VINOD MEHTA

Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.

***

On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299

***

Disclosures apply

***
Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

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7 Responses to “Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar”

  1. Ramesh Raghuvanshi Says:

    Govind Talwalkar was appointed by Y.B.Chavan as a editor of Maharashtra Times so he always protected him.Other allegation by Vinod to others I Had no knowledge

  2. NS Rao Says:

    Even thoug I like the pep language that comes in OutLook & I regularly read that magazine, I have a strong feeling that Vinod Mehta is biased to Congress along with his team & they always seem to glorify the success of Congress Government. In cases of criticism, it is more evident and harsh to non-Congress Government than for Congress. I wonder how such a person can carry un-biased flavour in reporting political stories

  3. harkol Says:

    Vinod Mehta was irresponsible all thru his life. Arun shourie was an outspoken, brash and righteous man even then.

    And Kumar Ketkar was a Congress stooge even 35years back!! He continues to call anyone who is opposing Congress a threat to democracy even today…

    Hmm… All very interesting. Who says people change with age!!

    As Rober Duvall’s character says in the movie “the paper”, “The problem with being old is everyone thinks you are wiser, but you are the same asshole you have always been”!!

  4. harkol Says:

    Error in previous post. The exact quote of Robert Duvall, who played the role of the publisher in the movie ‘The paper’ (1994), was –

    “The problem with being my age is that people think you’re a father figure, but you’re just the same asshole you always were.”

    Fits very well with the characters above, eh? The movie too was set in the publishing business!! I can see Vinod Mehta mouthing the exact same sentence!! ;)

  5. the colonel Says:

    harkol you r right

    nothing ever changes.

    shouri was readable. also a pompous nit-wit.

    anyone who was with Deb.. cannot be wrong

  6. Kenneth Maxwell Bell Says:

    Dileep Padgaonkar, with reference to Anna Hazare and his supporters demanding a strong Jan Lokpal Bill which brings within its ambit the prime minister of the country and the CBI, calls them “people in the street”, implying that they have not the wit nor the right to make such a demand.

    He will do well to keep in mind that it is these ‘half-wits’?! that vote these ‘servants of the people’ to parliament. If they don’t do so, they would continue to exist though there wouldn’t be a parliament. Simply put, there can be people without parliament, but there can be no parliament without people!

    The supremacy of parliament stems from the mandate the people vest in it.

  7. EGK Menon Says:

    Saw this piece from Vinod Mehta’s book only now. As for Shourie’s work in Indian Express, Mehta’s views hardly have significance, for “Indira Gandhi As Commerce” has already become history in the portals of journalism. Like many other works by Arun Shourie on… Bihar blindings, on Bofors…et al. Never in the history of news paper writing, so much has been accomplished by any other journalist in India till date as Arun Shourie. He had great guts, irrefutable logic, commitment to principles, fine sense of humour and incomparable brilliance.Arun Shourie’s books on Indian Left, Missionaries, Islam,Ambedkar and Faith v/s suffering, are all brilliant works of thought and research. Unlike others of his ilk,who remain more or less the same, going on filing stories on current topics till retire, Shourie has moved on. Most of his works will remain for long to enlighten the readers, as landmarks in their respective fields of thought. EGK Menon,Bombay.

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