Of people, places and politics 50 years of RNU of AIR Jammu

Ajeet Singh with Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah in between is Yash Gandotra, the then Deputy Director Information.

Ajeet Singh
It is heartening to note that the Regional News Unit of All India Radio Jammu has completed 50 glorious years of its existence and I had been part of it for about 20 years from 1979 to 1998 as a Correspondent. It was an era of several significant developments and I reported those for All India Radio as a witness. Memories of many people, places and politics of the period rush into my mindscape at this moment.
A shortwave transmitter from a ship was brought to Jammu to start Radio Jammu station in 1947 to counter the Pakistani propaganda that followed the tribal raiders who were marching on Rajouri Poonch area.
1971 and onwards
The Regional News Unit (RNU) was established 24 years later in December 1971 when another conflict happened with Pakistan. Well known Dogri writer Thakur Poonchhi was the first News Editor who was followed by another literary figure D.R.Kiran Kashmiri. A.N.Ko-karia and Ashok Handoo followed him in years to come.
Ex-army Captain PJS Trehan was the first Correspondent who served for some years before I joined as Correspondent in June 1979 when Albel Singh Grewal was the Station Director.
Lajja Manhas, Narinder Bhasin and Joginderpal Saraf alias Chhatarpal were three regular Newsreaders. Sudarshan Prashar and Chanchal Bhasin later came from Delhi to join Jammu RNU. There was also a panel of casual newsreaders.
In due course of time, we started a biweekly regional news commentary, the scripts for which were generally contributed by local journalists.
P.L. Gupta, Ratan Atri and Rajesh Tickoo were our highly efficient stenographers.
We also started a weekly Newsreel programme. C. L. Sharma, Rachna Vinod, Subhash Sharma and Rajender Gupta were my companions for that.
I also remember the live coverage of election results with telephone hotlines from all counting centres. Fayyaz Sheheryar was the Station Director at that time. He rose to be the Director General of All India Radio and retired recently.
All these people were highly talented and commanded high professional regard among the audience.
Radio was highly trusted popular medium of news, entertainment and cultural activities those days. The present Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Dr. Jitendra Singh was also a drama artist and talker with Radio Kashmir Jammu, as it was called at that time.
Return of the Sheikh
Sheikh Mohd Abdullah was the Chief Minister and we enjoyed some of the most interesting debates in the Legislative Assembly.
The Congress party that brought Sheikh Abdullah to power in 1975 , had later parted company. Sheikh Abdullah had won the election in 1977 on his own and the National Conference-Congress rivalry was fast growing.
The Sheikh passed away in 1982 and his son Farooq Abdullah became chief minister with full support from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
A Kashmir versus Jammu tension has been a perennial phenomenon in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Regional discrimination was permanent grouse of Jammu people. Kashmiri leadership wanted to end the six monthly Durbar move practice but Jammu Bar Association scuttled it through a long agitation in 1980s.
On almost every time the Durbar shifted to Jammu, there was a bandh call on the opening day.
Politics and militancy
In 1984, Farooq Abdullah’s government was toppled as 19 of National Conference (NC) MLAs defected and and his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohd Shah became Chief Minister with Congress support. I covered the hectic night long political drama.
The Shah Government lasted for about 20 months and is known for the extensive communal riots in Kashmir valley.
NC and Congress made up again to jointly contest and win 1987 assembly election. As no credible pro-India opposition party was left in field in Kashmir valley, the political vacuum saw the rise of the Muslim United Front and subsequent eruption of militancy in 1989-90.
RNU Srinagar closed down in early 1990 as militancy peaked and burden of reporting the hectic developments of Kashmir too fell upon me in Jammu. Fallout of militancy was soon witnessed in Jammu region too in years to come. I reported a heart wrenching gruesome massacre of village Chapnari in Doda district where 25 members of two marriage parties were killed by terrorists. Those killed included both the bridegrooms. Their brides had turned widows before reaching their in-laws’ homes. Pictures of wailing brides over the dead bodies of their husbands in newspapers moved hardest of the hearts.
I also reported the Republic day blast in the Maulana Azad Stadium of Jammu when Governor, General KV Krishnarao was delivering his Republic day address. Several people including some friends lost their lives.
To Srinagar, Delhi and Kargil
I was promoted and transferred as Senior Correspondent , All India Radio, Srinagar in 1992, at the height of militancy to revive the Regional News Unit that had closed down after the killing of Doordarshan Director Lasa Koul. But I continued coming to Jammu along with the Durbar that moved to Jammu for six winter months.
Anjali Sharma recorded my reflections of my stay in Jammu and Kashmir, the day I left Jammu in October 1998 to join as News Editor at News Services Division of All India Radio at New Delhi.
I returned in June 1999 to cover the Kargil war for 26 days till the Tiger Hill fell. Way back, I had a halt at Jammu to meet friends. Anjali again interviewed me for what I witnessed in Kargil.
Malika Pukhraj
Jammu had a vibrant cultural scene. Abhinav theatre and Dogri Sanstha were the hubs of numerous functions.
Well known singer Malika Pukhraj came to visit her ancestral city of Jammu in 80s. A number of programmes were organised. I recorded a half an hour interview for Radio with her.
Salal and Udhampur
I was at Salal Dam Hydropower Project site when its diversion tunnel was commissioned in 1980. A few years after, I stayed for three days at Salal when the reservoir was filled in to full and power generation started.
I was at Udhampur when Indira Gandhi laid foundation of Jammu-Udhampur railway line in 1983 on a rainy day. I along with a fellow All India Radio Correspondent from Delhi, SM Kumar travelled all along the track the railway line was to follow from Jammu to Udhampur to record aspirations of the people enroute. When I asked a student if he had seen a train, his innocent reply was that he had seen a train in his book. I met some old people who had not travelled in a train in their life time.
Once some workers were trapped inside the under construction tunnel under the Bahu fort. It was great of engineers led by their Deputy Chief Engineer Surinder Kaul that all were evacuated safe after a harrowing experience in pitch darkness with paucity of oxygen to breathe for three days.
The railway line took a long time to be ready but I did saw a train moving on the mountain spurs across the Tawi upto first station Bajalta.
Vaishnodevi and Kaplash
I visited almost all areas of Jammu region to report on people and events there. A long track to Kaplash lake via Bhaderwah was an enchanting experience. Pritam Katoch was my companion as we trekked from Bhaderwah to Seoj Dhar to Kaplash lake to Bani to Basholi for about 110 kms.
Journey to Mata Vaishnodevi Bhawan were frequent but I remember the one when Governor Jagmohan changed the old system and established the Shrine board. Till 1979, about three lakh pilgrims visited the shrine annually. That was to cross 50 lakhs as facilities improved.
Friends and Mentors
A Correspondent has to function in close coordination with a diversity of news sources. These included political leaders, trade unionists, cultural activists, fellow journalists and the State Government officers. I would specially acknowledge the high cooperation from K. B. Jandial, Mahendra Sharma, Jyotishwar Pathik and O. P. Sharma, all senior officers and great news professionals in the State Information Department.
There are any number of memories sweet and sour associated with my stay in Jammu and Kashmir. I spent the best part of my life at Jammu. I went there when I was 33 and left it aged 53. It was my Jammu experience that got me the Akashvani Award for the “Correspondent of the Year” in 1990.
I remember having been awarded a trophy in 1997 by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Radio Kashmir Jammu when Ashok Jairath was the Station Director.
Buffaloes and a Bulletin
An interesting incident that comes to my mind now is the start of the Gojri news bulletin from Jammu during 1980s. Central authorities of All India Radio were reluctant to accept this demand of the Gujjar community initially. Prominent Gujjar leaders led by Chaudhary Gulzar Ahmad at one time threatened to let in a herd of buffaloes into the Radio campus if their demand was not accepted. It didn’t have to happen as the Gojri bulletin was soon sanctioned. Full fledged Gojri news unit was not sanctioned for a long time to come but Munshi Khan, Anwar Hussain and Hasan Parvaz were our comrades in arms in the newsroom.
As a reporter, I was witness to the history of Jammu being made during those crucial two decades when the region was sandwiched between the militancy of Punjab and that of Kashmir.
Khand Mithe Lok Dogre’
I left Jammu about two decades ago but Jammu has not left me even for a day. Jammu memories will stay with me forever.
I can never forget the company of my numerous ‘khand mithe lok Dogre’ friends.
I frequently listen to Dogri songs on u-tube. ‘Fauji Pardesi Naukra, Dil Lagda Ni Mera Ho…’ by a lovely Dogra girl Saras Bharti is my favourite these days.
May you all my friends of Jammu live long.
May Jammu prosper and achieve new heights. May All India Radio and its Regional News Unit see attractive formats and new areas of programming for its discriminating audience.
(The author retired as Director of News, Doordarshan Kendra Hissar in 2006)