Journals of conviction

Shastri Ramachandaran | Updated on June 22, 2018 Published on June 22, 2018

Speaking truth to brutality: Bukhari’s writings on Jammu and Kashmir were, at all times, guided by his unflagging quest for peace   -  NISSAR AHMAD

A courageous voice of moderation who spoke his mind, Shujaat Bukhari was a one-of-a-kind witness and interpreter of the incessant tumult in J&K

Shujaat Bukhari is dead. What remains is the abounding speculation over who killed him and why. And, memories of the man, his work, his values and his ways, which endeared him to even those who did not share his views.

Bukhari was not just another journalist or editor. A former Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Bureau Chief of The Hindu in Srinagar, his reports were the last word when there was a doubt or controversy over an incident. Besides the English dailyRising Kashmir, which he had launched, he was also editor of three other publications including an Urdu daily, Buland Kashmir, and the weekly Kashmir Parcham.

As a journalist witnessing the turmoil in J&K, he had a scrupulously keen eye in his reporting. His observations were reinforced with an ear to the ground that did not miss the smallest detail or nuance of any event or development. As an editor, he was one of the most reliable interpreters of what was happening in J&K, how these were viewed and ought to be understood, what impact it had in Delhi and beyond, including other capitals, especially Washington and London. His voice was heard and respected in J&K, Delhi, Pakistan and wherever Kashmir was an “issue” of interest and concern.

His sources were as diverse as they were numerous — connecting the many disparate dots by spending time with primary soyrces as well as other people, listening to them with patience and interest. He kept track of news in India and abroad, especially the UK and the US, by following top media sites.

In the few years that Bukhari and I happened to meet frequently — almost on every visit of his to New Delhi — we quickly became close. I marvelled at his ability to keep his cool as he went through his medley of appointments, even though they were often shuffled at short notice. “I am the newsman. I have to go where there is news when the source wants me to,” he would say. From our conversations about his meetings in India, Pakistan and elsewhere, I learned that he took copious notes, taking in every detail that was to be gathered. Only a highly receptive listener could have persuaded his source to part with so much information.

While he reported faithfully, his comments were his own; and on J&K, at all times, his writings were guided by his unflagging quest for peace. “His was a voice with resonance in both India and Pakistan. Shujaat was a popular man, intelligent, bright and never allowing the vagaries of the time to impact on his commitment to peace,” says Seema Mustafa, director of the Centre for Policy Analysis, New Delhi, who had involved him in a number of initiatives and interactions on J&K.

Mustafa, who has herself written on the strife-torn State for long and leads a working group on J&K, knew Bukhari well. “Shujaat was not a simple man. He had irritated all sides, like an independent, fearless journalist does. The Kashmiri militants did not like his commitment to Kashmiriyat; or his links to us and others in New Delhi. He often went to Pakistan — as one of the main invitees — but I have heard him call a spade a spade as he told Pakistanis what their interference in Kashmir was doing to the people; how ruinous it was, how crippling for the innocent Kashmiri.”

Bukhari spoke to people of all political persuasions and, therefore, was criticised by all: Militants criticised him for talking to representatives of the State and the Centre ; while those in the “mainstream” criticised him for lending an ear to the “anti-nationals”. He met representatives of all political parties and engaged with them. His meetings with sections of the BJP and right-wing think tanks were criticised by the other parties. He himself was critical of the BJP, the Congress party and others for their sins of omission and commission in J&K. The criticism was forthright and unsparing, but never personal. Whether he was for or against a move, he consistently supported any step towards a dialogue, or any initiative that held out even a slender hope of peace.

As a public figure, Bukhari was a courageous voice of moderation who spoke his mind. Hence, in the prevailing conditions in J&K, it is hardly surprising that powerful forces would have wanted to silence him.

Bukhari happened to be murdered on the very day the first-ever UN report on human rights violations in Kashmir was released. That should give added urgency to the efforts to track his killers as well as bring peace to the Valley. His killing, like that of Gauri Lankesh last year, is a grim reminder that India ranks 138 — one notch above Pakistan — on the World Press Freedom Index 2018.

Shastri Ramachandaran is a New Delhi-based independent political and foreign affairs commentator

Published on June 22, 2018
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