Obituary: Srikrishna Mulgaokar

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The Independent Online
Srikrishna Mulgaokar, journalist: born Bombay 1911; editor, Hindustan Times 1958-68; editor-in-chief, Indian Express 1973-81; died New Delhi 9 May 1993.

SRIKRISHNA MULGAOKAR was one of India's most distinguished newspaper editors, who fearlessly opposed succeeding Indian prime ministers on policy matters. Through his lucid and beautifully penned editorials and commentaries in English, for which he was known as 'India's Rudyard Kipling', Mulgaokar sliced, surgeon-like, to the kernel of public issues under debate.

He was probably the last Indian editor who intimately knew every aspect of journalism including design, proof-reading, reporting and sub- editing. As editor in New Delhi of the influential Hindustan Times and later the more powerful and anti-establishment Indian Express, Mulgaokar doggedly opposed the authoritarianism of the prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

When for personal political gain Gandhi imposed an internal emergency in 1975, suspending civil liberties and censoring the press after she was found guilty of electoral malpractices, Mulgaokar's removal from the editorship of the Indian Express, India's most widely circulated English-language newspaper chain, was her first priority.

But two years later, after the Emergency was lifted, Mulgaokar returned to head the Indian Express and single- handedly exposed Indira Gandhi's criminal transgressions, and those of Sanjay, her son, and their Congress Party. This led to an embarrassing rout for Gandhi in the 1977 general elections and the formation of the first non-Congress government since India's independence in 1947.

Mulgaokar was friendly with Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister, and respected by him for his intellect and journalistic integrity. But the two fell out when Mulgaokar consistently attacked Nehru's socialistic economic policies and his naive, almost childlike trust for China. As often, Mulgaokar was proved right. Socialism disintegrated under Nehru's successors and today India is fast moving towards a free- market economy, while New Delhi and Peking, a generation on, remain locked in territorial dispute.

Mulgaokar was born in Bombay, in 1911, the illegitimate offspring of a rich Parsee merchant. He took his name from his mother, who came from the Konkan region in western India, part of modern-day Maharashtra state. The facts of his birth were revealed at a famous libel trial in the Sixties when prosecuting lawyers sought to discredit Mulgaokar by cross-examining him on his lineage. They were convinced he would shrink from telling the truth, something they would reveal with a flourish. When asked about his parentage, however, Mulgaokar told a packed courtroom that he was a bastard. He won the case.

Mulgaokar was schooled Bombay and attended Wilson College, but, influenced by his Parsee father, he left before graduation and joined a brokering firm, hoping to earn his fortune. A series of bad investments drove him instead to join the Bombay Chronicle, a popular local newspaper.

In the early Thirties he moved to the Pioneer newspaper in Lucknow, north India, where Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill had worked; and in 1955 joined the Hindustan Times in New Delhi as Assistant Editor - a paper supporting the Congress Party and Mahatma Gandhi in their freedom struggle against the British. In 1961 he joined the rival Times of India as roving correspondent in South-east Asia and later the Middle East before moving on to report from London and then Washington. He returned in 1958 as editor of the Hindustan Times and over the next 10 years transformed it into a vibrant journal and the best-designed newspaper in the country.

After retiring in 1968 Mulgaokar moved to Kashmir, investing, disastrously, in a poultry farm. He spent his entire time indulging his love for cooking and ended up broke five years later. In 1973 he was forced back into journalism and became editor-in- chief of the Indian Express.

Mulgaokar's irreverence as editor was celebrated. Infuriated, he once arbitrarily doubled a reporter's salary when an account clerk queried his travel expenses after he had cleared them. The clerk hastily passed the expenses. While hiring reporters Mulgaokar would look at their faces and either take them on immediately or gruffly dismiss them.