Tribute to Rajendra Prabhu, the media trade union movement stalwart, senior journalist and the man who fought for the cause of working journalists and ethics in media for over five decades
January 7, 1934 — January 14, 2019
Veteran journalist, regular contributor of Organiser for over two decades and a stalwart of media trade union movement, Rajendra Prabhu, who passed away at Sharda Medical College in Greater Noida on January 14 following brief illness, was an untiring and ever alert, ever curious science reporter. His stature as a science journalist stands testified by a reference to his by Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan in his address on the launch of ‘DD Science’ and ‘India Science’ on January 15.
Even in his 85th year, he was fully engaged when he met Atomic Energy Commission Chairman KN Vyas in South Block last month. He recalled his visit to Chernobyl much before the eponymous horrific tragedy where he talked to Russian reactor experts about the need for passive safety measures, that such measures have been made part of additional safety protocols adopted by Indian nuclear establishment is a testament to his strong intuitive intelligence of a quintessential science reporter. He made a mark as a science reporter, but he was a very popular parliamentary reporter too.
Rajendra Prabhu was a man of many parts. Born on January 7, 1934 in Kochi, Kerala, he became active in trade union activities during his college days but had to leave college because of the trade union activities. He shifted to Bhopal during college days and worked briefly with the Railways before joining ‘MP Chronicle’ in Madhya Pradesh capital. His clear and sharp interpretation of the first Finance Commission Report impressed the then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister so much that he based MP government’s stand on the Finance Commission Report on Pranhu’s analysis. Some years later, he joined the ‘Hindustan Times’ in New Delhi where he and worked for several decades.
RAJENDRA Prabhu’s demise is a major loss to the entire media fraternity. Generations of Journalists bow their heads in respect for this selfless, brave fighterIn another sphere where Prabhuji played a very important role was training journalist in new areas of knowledge and skills. In last decade of the second millennium he brought private sector computer education pioneer NIIT and public sector communication major ISP VSNL to organise workshops to familiarise media professionals with the new age tools of communication, word processing, graphics with potential to change media industry.
Around the same time Prabhuji persuaded the National Union of Journalists (India) to start a school of journalism and communication for mid career journalists—somewhat on the lines of continuing education programmes for medical professionals and engineers, etc. The NUJ School of Journalism started with a six-day programme in collaboration with the Department of Atomic Energy at Mumbai. Prabhuji was the first Chairman of the School. Pokhran 1998 happened soon after the second such programme and made media houses realise the importance of such familiarisation projects.
NUJ School has organised many continuing education programmes for journalists and paved way for new avenues of journalism. Well known Science Journalist and currently Science editor of NDTV Pallav Baghla says that he has learnt much from Rajendra Prabhu, the pioneer science reporter. Others who benefited from his inspirational role are too many to count.
Prabhuji was part of the core team involved in formation of the National Union of Journalists (India) in 1972. Media trade unions till that time, like other TU oganisations, were controlled by pro-USSR left ideologues, weaned on Rubles and jaunts. He recalled how the first convention of NUJ(I) was organised in national capital on a shoe string budget and lots of optimism.
Lessons learned during days in a college student union were revisited and new lessons were learnt. He remained a pillar of NUJ(I) from the initial days, virtually till his last days. He inspired and molded several generations of leaders in the Union and there is hardly any leader who was not inspired by his vast knowledge of various aspects of work of journalists, media ethics, media law, etc. His commitment and habit of hard work inspired generations of journalists/media trade union workers and leaders. That he earned the respect of rivals of NUJ(I) in dog-eat-dog world of media trade union movement says a lot about his commitment and dedication to the cause of journalism.
Prabhuji fought for the rights of journalists till his last breath. Right from the first Shinde Wage Board for journalists till the latest Majithia Wage Board he played a key role in NUJ(I) efforts to ensure fair wages and benefits to journalists. When there were no computers, he along with L Meenakshi Sundaram prepared big charts by hand on papers after collecting the latest data. When he appeared before the Wage Boards, he was always backed by convincing data in support of journalists’ demands. Experts were surprised at the volume and depth of data and wondered how NUJ(I) got data that they did not even know it existed. The deep digging and data collating skills of an ace investigative journalist were at work.
His commitment and dedication to the NUJ(I) can be understood from the fact that even in the last days of his life he was always the first to come out with response to all events and trends connected with media. He continued to inspire, design and even conduct workshops for journalists on science and technology, nuclear energy and myriad other topics. Born a Hindu, Prabhu accepted Jesus about two decades ago.
In his tribute, Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said Prabhuji was highly devoted to science journalism. His contributions towards welfare of journalists are acknowledged by members of the journalistic fraternity. IFWJ leader K Vikram Rao, said: “I lost my leader, well-wisher and guide in the working journalist movement.” His knowledge, dedication and courage will continue to inspire journalist organisations and their leaders for generations. His demise is a major loss to the entire media fraternity. Generations of Journalists bow their heads in respect for this selfless, brave fighter. Salute the frail fighter, seen wearing a chest brace for the last few years, who soldiered on till the very end.
(The writer is a senior journalist and national president of the NUJ-I)