No dull day for AP journalists in 2009

December 24th, 2009

There was never a dull day for journalists in Andhra Pradesh during the year 2009.  As the state faced one of the most turbulent years since its formation 53 year ago, they were often on the tenterhooks. One agency reporter even resigned, unable to bear the pressure.

The year started with the unfolding of Satyam saga and confession of company’s founder, B Ramalinga Raju, to the biggest corporate fraud in the country. This was followed by a no-holds-bar, bitterly fought elections to the Lok Sabha and the state Legislative Assembly.

As the things slowly started returning to normalcy, the helicopter carrying the state’s chief minister disappeared. A frantic search ensued but his body could be traced only a day later. The sudden death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, arguably  one of most popular Congress leaders of the state in recent times, led to a succession struggle,  though Konijeti Rosaiah was anointed as chief minister by the Congress high command immediately.

Even before Rosaiah could settle down in his new position,  the worst drought  hit the state. This was followed by unprecedented floods in the Krishna river basin leading to inundation of Kurnool, the former capital of AP, nearly for five days.

As the floods receded, a noted civil rights activist, K Balagopal, died.

Meanwhile, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which lost a lot of ground among the electorate, revived its effort to regain its hold. As a part of this effort, TRS  president, K Chandrasekhara Rao, decided to go an indefinite hunger strike. However, he was arrested hours before he was to go a ‘fast-unto-death”. This led to widespread unrest in the entire Telangana region.

The central leadership of the Congress, which did not agree to the creation of a  Telangana state despite a prolonged struggle 40 years ago in which over 350 people were killed in police firing, suddenly announced that Telangana would be carved out as a separate state. This caused consternation among the leaders of all parties in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema leading to en mass resignation of MLAs from non-Telangana regions.

Consequently, even while I am writing this, non-Telangana areas of AP are on the boil with people  hitting the streets and observing shutdowns in various towns and cities.

The hectic pace of events resulted in a rat race among journalists. Especially in the case of Satyam, every rumour was being lapped up including that the company founder has 1,000 designer suits. All kinds of reports appeared in the press as scoring-over-the-other spirit continued at the cost of objectivity.

Aghast at seeing such reports, Raju’s lawyer sent a couple of rejoinders to one of the leading papers but they were not carried. He wanted to send a legal notice but Raju, who was already in deep trouble, did not allow him to take any such action. To contain the damage and bolster confidence among their colleagues, the Satyamites themselves started an internal newsletter in which they clarified about some of the reports that appeared in newspapers.

In the case of unverified reports, the visual media was much ahead of the print media. For instance, two days after Raju’s confession, there was a scroll on a local TV channel stating that Satyam’s former chief financial officer, Srinivas Vadlamani, was learnt to have committed suicide. The “breaking news” was retracted half-an-hour later.

With regard to other incidents mentioned above, the less said the better. In fact, there is a section of people who strongly believe that it is the visual media, which is fueling the ongoing Telangana and united Andhra agitations.

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Not just another civil rights activist

October 10th, 2009

The death of a human rights activist is rarely a lead story of newspapers, especially in Andhra Pradesh. However, that has what happened when K Balagopal died in Hyderabad on Thursday night.

All the three leading Telugu newspapers in the state, Eenadu, Saakshi and Andhra Jyothi, carried the news prominently in the front page either as lead or second lead. The New Indian Express also carried it as a lead story. Ofcourse, 57-year-old Balagopal was not just another civil rights activist.

A brilliant mathematician who obtained his PhD from National Institute of Technology-Warangal (then Regional Engineering College) and a post doctoral degree from the Indian Statistical Institute, Balagopal had been a professor of mathematics at the Kakatiya University before plunging full-time into human rights activities in 1985. He gave up his academic vocation for public cause.

A man of rare integrity, Balagopal commanded respect from all, including the top police officials against whom he led a relentless struggle. To fight the cases of the downtrodden, he also obtained a law degree and practiced in the state high court. He was known for taking up the cases of the poor without charging them anything.

In 1980s,  Andhra, particularly the Telangana region, had been the hot-bed Naxalites. The state tried to suppress the movement with an iron hand and in the process became famous for the so called “encounter deaths”. As a general secretary of AP Civil Liberties Committee from 1983-1998, Balagopal organised fact finding missions and exposed the darker aspects of the state power.

Consequently, the police dubbed him as a naxalite and harassed him.  Once, he was kidnapped and released after the incident caused a furore. On another occasion, he was badly beaten up thrown into a gutter thinking that he was dead.

But Balagopal protested not only state violence but also private violence including that of the killings of Maoists. He left the civil liberties committee and floated Human Rights Forum in 1998 to broad-base the civil rights movement. He had set a new trend by organising “Public Hearing”  on various issues in which intellectuals, retired judges, writers and activists, irrespective of their political and ideological leanings, took part.

The most important aspect of  Balagopal’s life was the way he lived. He practiced what he preached. His lifestyle was simple and  he remained committed to his principles till he died. He exuded moral authority.

No doubt, people say, the death of Balagopal due to an heart attack is not only a loss to his wife, who is a journalist, and his son, who is a student, but to the entire society.  

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