Today the nation celebrates the Birth Centenary of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma¹, former President of India. He was a freedom fighter and had led the Merger Movement in the erstwhile princely State of Bhopal. It paved the way for the signing of the accession agreement and merger of the Bhopal State with the Union of India on 30 April 1949. After the merger, Dr Sharma had become the first Chief Minister of Bhopal State (1952-56). After reorganisation of States and formation of Madhya Pradesh, he was a State Cabinet Minister from 1956 to 1967 and held important portfolios, including those of Education, Law, Public Works, Industry and Commerce.
Those were the formative years, when Madhya Pradesh, was a backward State in comparison with states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka due to historical reasons. Dr. Sharma, a visionary leader, has the credit of bringing the Bharat Heavy Electricals plant, which was the biggest in the whole of Asia, to Bhopal. It was at his initiative that Bhopal also got the nationally recognised Maulana Azad College of Technology – now Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology. He was the guiding spirit behind the setting up of Industrial centres across Madhya Pradesh. With these leading initiatives, there was no stopping Madhya Pradesh from marching on the path of development.
Over a period of time, there has been no dearth of barriers that have retarded the pace of development. There has been rampant corruption and lack of accountability at all levels of successive governments. The nexus between politicians, bureacrats and crony capitalists has caused the biggest harm.
As President, Dr. Sharma had gone down memory lane when in 1997, he had visited the Bhopal Central Jail where he was imprisoned in 1949 during the merger Movement. During that visit, in a one-on-one conversation, he had expressed concern by pointing out that India had not been able to progress at the desired pace since Independence and emphasised that media has an important role to play to put India on the fast track of development. This was possible only if successive governments recognised the importance of equity to development, he had pointed out asserting that objective and uniform distribution of equity can lead to the welfare of all citizens.
Underscoring that there is a huge population in the country, which is both socially and economically deprived and there were gaping gaps in terms of the economic infrastructure, vast areas lacked even the basic facilities, Dr Sharma had asserted that the media has to play the watchdog’s role to ensure accountability and guarantee that the national agenda to serve the hopes and aspirations of the people always remains in sharp focus.
Presenting the first Rajendra Mathur Fellowship instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Government during his visit to Bhopal as president, Dr Sharma had drawn attention towards forces that were bent upon fanning communalism and casteism in the country. He had also talked of the outdated taboos and narrow divisive tendencies, besides the crises of illiteracy and rising population – as factors pulling back the country from attaining the desired level of progress.
Dr. Sharma had categorically chosen the occasion to tell those in the media to recognise their responsibility. According to him, journalists were supposed to underscore the negatives and also highlight all the positives being done for the upliftment of the people. This was essential to build a democratic and secular society wedded to values like sacrifice, brotherhood and service to humankind.
These parting words from the then President and the son of the soil to media-persons in Bhopal, his birth place, should be a reminder to all the journalists in India representing the “Fourth Estate”, whose credibility is presently under attack and the word going round is that any one who questions the system should be ready to face doom. The threatening clouds notwithstanding, Dr. Sharma’s eternal message should be the guiding spirit for every journalist.
¹ Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma was the ninth President of India, from 1992 to 1997. Prior to this, he was the Vice President of India between 1987 and 1992. He was also the Congress President between 1972 and 1974 and Union Minister for Communications between 1974 and 1977, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister.
Dr Sharma was Governor of Maharashtra (1986-85), Governor of Punjab (1985-86) and Governor of Andhra Pradesh (1984-85).
Dr. Sharma will always be remembered as one of the most educated politicians in post Independence India. He started his academic career as Professor of Law at Lucknow University. He had studied Law at the University of Cambridge and was called to the Bar from Lincoln’s Inn. Later, he also became a Fellow at Harvard Law School. The University of Cambridge had awarded him with degree of LL.D.(Honoris Causa).