More Than Brick & Mortar

(B. Someshwara Rao)
The ICONIC BUILDING which became a symbol of Karnataka and Bengaluru —  Vidhana Soudha – has just entered its 70th year today.  The city’s big tourist attraction, it is not just a brick and mortar (or stone) building but a symbol of power as well as the past grandeur of Karnataka, its language and culture of benevolent kings. They Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore had set up a representative,  democratic,
People’s Representative Conucil even before Britain impoded their brand of 51:49 democracy on India.
The State’s first Chief Minister, K. Chengalraya Reddy, who laid it’s foundation and successor Kengal Hanumanthaiah who supervised its construction personally, represented that tradition.
This makes it all the more tragic that this great building and the one  recently built next to it, Vikasa Soudha, have become Vi Dhana Soudha and Vi Kasu  Soudha. Vi in Indian languages denotes negativity, evil and destruction in general (as in vinash, vikaar and many more) and both Dhana and Kasu mean money. Power, turned into a means of earning ill-gotten wealth, turned them into centres of corruption and money-power.
On this occasion I have been asked to tell my own reflections on Vidhana Soudha. Though I did cover the Secretariat for a national news agency and therefore, had to meet one minister a day along with other reporters. it was called the ‘420 beat’ as it was mostly at 4-20 pm that we did so. IPC section 420 is about cheating and all frauds are called 420s. I disliked the beat, avoided it by collecting from others  and took pride in the fact that in all the states I worked in, no minister was my personal friend.
In ‘A TOWN CALLED PENURY – the Changing Culture of Indian Jounralism’, my book on print medium in the country, I wrote of  two memories of the building. When I was the last editor of an English daily tn Karnataka, a young girl, just back from London with a journalism diploma, joined as a trainer reporter. Enthusiastic about reporting, she wanted to cover every beat. So I asked a reporter covering the Secretariat to take her along. That day there was someone sitting on dharna (protest sit-in) before the Vidhana Soudha against the CM, Ramakrishna Hegde.
Reporters gathered around him and he spoke to them and answered questions. All of them religiously jotted down what he said. So did the young trainee reporter,
And then she asked a question that made all journalists  burst into laughter. “By the way, what is your name?” she asked.
When I was told the story, I said she did the right thing. All students  of journalism are taught  that even at the risk of sounding silly, they must clear all doubts so that the readers get full information. She did just that, instead of presuming it was Hegde who spoke and making my newspaper a laughing stock.
Another event I recall was also about a girl who worked briefly in my newspaper on the desk. She later joined another daily and was put in reporting . She was on the ‘420 beat’ and all reporters met a minister as usual.
When it was over and all left, the minister called her back told her what to write offered her a bribe to do so. She reused, revealed it to others, and made it a public issue by writing about it. The minister had to resign.
She did this even though the minister was of her  community, showing she was above such considerations.
Today the secretariat beat has  become mostly  stenography exercise where the questions asked are just what the minister wanted. (There may be some  exceptions that only prove the rule.)
This is a tragedy of Indian journalism.