The late seventies saw the emergence of Sikh militancy in Punjab. Innocents started paying the price of selfish politics in the form of their lives. Bloodshed became the order of the day. The dirty game of blaming, buck-passing and mud-slinging kept on going from different political and administrative ends with none seeming to be caring for the innocents being trampled and forced to live under terror. But !
But there were certain fearless and committed journalists who raised the voice of the masses against that terrorism.
One such fearless journalist was Lala Jagat Narain, a veteran journalist, a freedom fighter, a true patriot who kept on writing against the terrorist activities of different militant groups especially the dreaded militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale through the various newspapers published under the Hind Samachar Group of Newspapers, the Punjab Kesari being the most prominent of them. He paid the price of his fearless journalism through his life when he was shot dead on 09.09.1981. But could his death put the torch of his crusade against terrorism off ? No ! After his death, his son Ramesh Chander kept the torch of fearless journalism lit up and he followed the footsteps of his great father, laying down his life in the hands of the terrorists on 12.05.1984.
The sacrifice of the brave son following that of his great father, moved Hindi novelist Surendra Mohan Pathak deep within as he had also created a journalist hero, portraying him as an absolute idealist, keeping the ideals of journalism above everything and never fearing any threat or any danger while following them.
This journalist hero is Sunil Kumar Chakravarty who is employed with a national daily – Blast which is published from the fictitious metropolitan city known as Rajnagar. His investigative ventures are known as Sunil Series novels authored by S.M. Pathak. Perhaps as a tribute to Ramesh Chander, Mr. Pathak wrote a novel under this series whose title is Main Begunaah Hoon (I am innocent) which was first published in November 1984.This novel, highlighting the ideals of fearless journalism, is the 90th venture of Mr. Pathak’s idealist hero who lauds the high values of journalism nurtured by Ramesh Chander and his father Lala Jagat Narain in his spirited statement delivered to the managing editor of Blast when the story of this novel heads for its climax.
I had read this novel for the first time more than two decades back but when I read it again recently, I startled to contrast the storyline with the recent developments in the Indian political scenario. This novel features an emerging politician Satyendra Parashar who is apparently trying to clean the corrupt politics prevailing in Rajnagar. He has been a popular film actor and using his popularity as a means to rise in politics, he is moving ahead with his mission to bring about clean and effective governance by winning the election of the metropolitan council of Rajnagar, defeating the present corrupt Chief Metropolitan Councillor and his corrupt team.
The present CMC is Kishori Laal who is hand-in-glove with the local gangster Sohan Laal Joshi. This politician-criminal combo is looting the city and mocking the law and order situation, with the life becoming hell for the commoners. Suddenly Satyendra Parashar appears like a glittering comet in the sky of the local politics, putting a genuine threat to the dominance of this combo.
Taking the threat of Satyendra Parashar to his flourishing political career seriously, Kishori Laal frames him in the murder of Natasha Puri, a cabaret dancer in Sapna, a night-club owned by Sohan Laal Joshi, in order to clip the wings of this emerging energetic and idealistic politician and his declared mission to free the union territory of Rajnagar from crime and corruption.
The cops involved in investigation of the murder of Natasha Puri are sold out in the hands of the culprits and instead of doing their real duty, are strengthening the hands of the guilty only. Sunil feels that though the impassioned supporters of the emerging politician who has been arrested under the charge of Natasha’s murder, are trying to keep the mission alive, the position of their political outfit – Janata Jaagruti Dal has got weakened now and the morale of the ruling corrupt party has got reinvigorated. He gets some hints that Parashar is innocent and has been framed to spoil his political career and nip his political outfit in the bud.
Now our idealist hero starts investigating the case with his evergreen zeal but no sooner does he commence his job, than obstacles start propping up in his path. Witnesses and evidences to the crime are eliminated, threats are issued to him, attacks are made on his life and above all, he is constantly misguided by certain people whom he trusts.
The owner and chief editor of Blast – Mr. B.K. Malik has never treated Sunil as his employee and always considered him as his son. His presence always acts as a constant motivator for Sunil, never allowing his morale to go down. But the trouble is that presently he is abroad and in his absence, his son Rajendra is taking care of the affairs of the newspaper. Rajendra’s approach to the whole issue is confusing and fishy.
Despite constant appearance of hurdles in his path as well as digressing from the correct path due to misguidance, Sunil digs this case deeper and deeper. It’s a Herculean task for him to find any concrete evidence in support of Parashar’s innocence or the guilt of the masterminds behind the curtain. However with the help of his never-say-die spirit, Sunil finally unmasks the masterminds and proves the innocence of Parashar. The good finally wins against the evil but the novel ends on a tragic note.
In the beginning, Main Begunaah Hoon refers to the unexpected political success of N.T. Rama Rao and his newly launched political party in Andhra Pradesh in 1983 and cites this example to highlight the political ambition of Satyendra Parashar who is also an actor-turned-politician like Mr. Rama Rao. However after three decades of its publication, I feel that the character of Parashar can be contrasted with that of Arvind Kejriwal and the Janata Jaagruti Dal of Parashar can be contrasted with Kejriwal’s political outfit – Aam Aadmi Party. The way Parashar vows to eliminate corruption and bring about good governance for the masses, I am amazed to see the striking similarity of that with the gestures and declarations of Mr. Kejriwal in Delhi, prior to and post his unprecedented success in the Delhi assembly polls in 2013. This way, this seemingly not-so-great novel has become extra-ordinary when viewed in the light of fearless journalism on one hand and idealistic politics on the other with real life instances available to corroborate the things spelled out in it.
The novel is a crime-thriller in the pure sense and it is very interesting despite the flaw that the culprits are either in the knowledge of the reader or they can be guessed by him. Having inspired (or carried away) by the real life incidents like the murder of Ramesh Chander and the political success of N.T. Rama Rao, the author appears to have written the novel sans a strong plot and that’s why it cannot be called an excellent whodunit or crime-thriller. But the tassels of idealism attached to the story (which is a specialty of the pen of Mr. Pathak for his Sunil Series novels) make it worth reading and keeping in memory. Anybody who has even the slightest faith in the high moral values like truth, justice and patriotism, is sure to feel upbeat after reading this novel though its end leaves a throbbing in a sensitive heart.
The language (Hindi) used is simple, nevertheless impressive. The novel maintains a profound tone throughout and is devoid of humour. But this fact has not impaired its readability. Inspiring and eye-opening dialogues are the highlight of this novel. The author maintains that though one flower makes no garland, nevertheless somebody with noble thoughts can make a beginning for the desirable change and that modest beginning can go a long way in reforming the society in the times to come.
The theme of Indian English writer Chetan Bhagat’s novel – Revolution 2020 also contains an element of idealistic journalism. However I found this long forgotten Hindi novel as leagues ahead of that much publicized English novel of the overhyped celebrity author.
Nowadays when even the so-called celebrity journalists are shying away from highlighting the sensitive issues concerning the nation and the masses and instead preferring to tow the line of the mighty ones holding the strings of power, there is a genuine dearth of committed journalists. And therefore, this more than three decades old novel becomes all the more relevant.
Since I have been an idealist at least during my childhood, adolescence and youth; I like this novel very much and I recommend it to all those who believe that idealism can survive despite all kinds of negative things seen around.
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