He was a journalist, a human rights activist, a former envoy, a former parliamentarian…playing all his roles with aplomb, making it difficult to remember him for one of the many hats he donned in his lifetime.
Born in Sialkot (now in Pakistan) in 1923, a young Kuldip Nayar was a witness to the bloodshed and the large-scale migration of people on either side of the border after Partition. He became a refugee like millions of others when his family shifted to Delhi from Pakistan.
In his autobiography — Beyond the Lines — published in 2012, he described how there was collapse of trust between communities after Partition. “From his perilous journey to a new country and to his first job as a young journalist in an Urdu daily, Nayar’s account is also the story of India,” the introduction to his autobiography reads.
He was one of the journalists who was jailed during Emergency (1975-77) for raising voice in favour of the Press freedom and condemning the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“Emergency was a curse. People were killed, but their families were not given any recognition. Riot victims got some claim, but what about widows and children who were left orphan, nobody even talks about their grievances,” Nayar had said once.
Once in Delhi from Sialkot, he joined a Urdu daily — Anjam — and went on to head the news agency, UNI, and also edited the Delhi edition of The Statesman. His syndicated column, Between the Lines, was widely published and appreciated. He served as the Indian High Commissioner in the UK in the 1990s and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1997.
Nayar was also known for his efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan. He would lead peace activists to light candles on the Independence days of Pakistan and India at the Attari-Wagah border near Amritsar.
In an interview published in The Statesman in 2015, Nayar was asked if it was more challenging to confront Emergency than Partition. He replied in the affirmative, reasoning: “Because Partition was forced by other forces, Emergency was imposed by our government. Our system collapsed, the media shackled, politicians were jailed, and people killed, but were nowhere reported.”
Nayar authored more than a dozen books, including Beyond the Lines, Distant Neighbours: A Tale of the Subcontinent, India after Nehru, Wall at Wagah, and India-Pakistan Relationship.
In 2015, Nayar was honoured with ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his contribution to journalism at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence awards.
Kuldip Nayar will be remembered for fiercely fighting for Press freedom and civil liberties.