Contrary to common perceptions in India, Press Clubs aren’t *watering holes* but institutions meant to defend democracy by facilitating many things to journalists and other stake holders in *India i.e. Bharat*,including our rulers from the very first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to his 14th successor, Narendra Modi.
As a welfare state, India, as per Directive Principles to State Policy(DPSP), appended to its Constitution, is expected to help strengthen such institutions.
These measures are allotment of land or building at institutional or concessional rates, reduction and or exemption in State taxation over its products and host of services.
In November 2013, then Solicitor General, Mohan Parasaran submitted on behalf of the Union of India, before a bench of the Supreme Court, headed by then Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, on petitions of newspaper owners challenging the Justice Majithia Wage Boards Awards that the Working Journalist Act of 1955 is a piece of welfare state legislation and has stood the test of time for more than five decades.
Working Journalist Act , by default applies to most of the journalists members of the Press Clubs.
Almost all the federating states in the Union of India have at least one Press Club.They are at district level also, especially in Kerala where state government has helped them to become financially viable by facilitating them to develop real estate properties to earn rentals from libraries and commercial activities as well. It’s almost mandatory in Kerala to hold press conferences only in the Press Club. It’s useful for news source and journalists. It also brings in extra revenue to the club, that charges for holding press conferences and its services of eatables and drinks after that.
Paradoxes are witnessed in functioning of the Press Clubs with India’s first planned city, Chandigarh, as designed by famous Swiss -French architect , Le Corbusie, having even a modern swimming pool.
Patna, the capital city of Bihar, remained without a proper building.Before the Nitish Kumar Government of the Bharatiya Janata Party- led National Democratic Alliance imposed prohibition in the entire province on 26 November 2015.
Press Club in Patna had one room House,
constructed on the government allotted land.This wasn’t spacious enough to accommodate even sitting arrangement of the club members. It, however , had a duly licensed * bar * to store all possible India Made Foreign Liquor and even Scotland made original Scotches of various brands.
Patna Press Club, before prohibition , was in essence a store to keep liquors. Its members and even non-member journalists were allowed to buy corked bottles of full, half and quarter size at reportedly subsidized rates, applied as a result of cut in excise duty, and take them away to nearby eating joints or wherever they wished.
The Uttar Pradesh Press Club in Lucknow is functioning from a part of the *China Gate * square in hub of the city, Hazratganj.
In 1990s , the than Mulayam Singh Yadav Government renovated it by a State agency. The UP Press Club, however, for reasons best known to its functionaries doesn’t have its own bar, though drinks brought from nearby liquor shops are allowed to be consumed in the club premises.
The club has some controversies too. In early 1990s, an obscene tabloid, published by a club functionary with finance from the state government information department was released in the club premises on the occasion of Holi festival. Its copies were distributed among journalists and were dropped in ‘letter boxes ‘of the legislators in the Vidhan Bhavan Complex.
A handful of media persons, including this writer and senior journalist, Radhika Ramasheshan, then working in a Lucknow newspaper, protested against this state sponsored illegal act and also gherowed the Chief Minister M S Yadav on road when he was heading towards the UP Press Club to address a May Day meet.The episode was shown on a media watch programme in prime time hours on the state owned Doordarshan.
During the MS Yadav government more than a hundred journalists took out a march to the Press Club from the Gandhi statue of the city’s GPO Park in Hazratganj, in protest against a common perception that this government had given huze money to many journalists and their organisations, including the said club, from the Chief Minister’s discretionary fund.
Protesters, led by late veteran journalist and former UNI Bureau Chief Sudarshan Bhatia and this writer, demanded an inquiry and tabling of a white paper on this in the state legislature.
In the face of massive protest march, the UP Press Club functionaries locked its premises.
Another controversy was witnessed when an alleged criminal distributed gold rings to those journalists who had attended his luncheon *meet the press programme organised at his own cost by the Club.
However ,some years back leadership of the UP Press Club changed and its overall functioning since then are said to be proper.
Mumbai Press Club
Starting in 1986 from the Press Club of India, I have been member of many press clubs in the country, including Lucknow, Chandigarh and Mumbai and therefore have first-hand knowledge of their functioning and their contribution to media and society at large.
In Mumbai, I was instrumental in drafting the club’s new constitution.I drafted and proposed an amendment to bar anyone contesting for more than two consecutive terms for office bearer posts.
This clause , nick named “CP Amendment” after my professional initials, was adopted
and has helped to a great extent in giving periodic leadership opportunities to young generation and checking continuation of ruling clique.
I did contest election for the Mumbai Press Club President post in 2008 with a pamphlet on its reasons and an appeal to voters on the values that needed to be further reinforced.
My campaigning with presentation of fresh Rose Buds with permission from the Election Officer, to the Club members helped in checking unethical use of alleged money power and free distribution of liquor during voting in the elections.
In retrospect, I feel happy now to have lost against then presidential candidature of senior journalist and cricket correspondent of The Times of India ,late Paradip Vijayakar, who was its president many times.
He was gracious to join a debate organised by me in the Press Club premises on the last day of campaigning among all the candidates.
I was a reluctant candidate.Reasons which compelled me to contest was the ruling panel had supported Pradeep Vijayakar, who was leading the opposition panel. He was contesting for the President post for the second consecutive two-year term. He had held this post for four terms earlier.
I was opposed to continuation of any one on any office bearer post for long and was in favour of giving leadership to young journalists.
More than for winning I contested to use the polls as a means to focus on challenges before the Mumbai Press Club in the coming years. The Club building was under renovation.
I started a blog on the elections, polling for which were held on 26 July 2008.The blog
<http://clubpoll.blogspot.com> was an instant hit as it gave election related news and officially cross checked informations and also raised issues, like doubts over the club legal registration as Maharashtra Registrar of Societies had reportedly refused to renew registration under the Societies Registration Act ,on the ground of the club selling its members eatables and drinks.
The election debate was organised by me , taking a cue from day long debate among Presidential Candidates in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) annual elections, conducted by students themselves by forming an election commission.
In retrospect, I feel happy for not winning the press club election because as then being All India General Secretary of the UNI Employees Federation, the apex body of all democratically elected state unions od the UNI employees , I was mandated to fully concentrate on the country wide agitation to foil its illegal takeover bid by investment firm of crony capitalist Subhash Chandra of the Essel Group of Zee TV fame.
Even otherwise trade union activist are not expected to enter in the electoral politics of the Press Club,
Mumbai Press Club is unique in many ways, including a film club that shows every Saturday select Indian and foreign films in its bar –cum- auditorium. These film shows are followed by discussions, anchored usually by a film personality.
Senior journalist and film maker of The Last Irani Restaurant fame Rafique Baghdadi, called Walking encyclopaedia of the maximum city of Mumbai runs the film shows with help of senior journalist Harish Nambiyar of the Economic Times.
Mumbai Press Club also brings out a desk top calendar with select photos of Press Photographers for every month and a Cover photo which is adjudged the best in the preceeding year , by a panel of editors and others.
Press Club of India
I retired as Special Correspondent of the United News of India Mumbai Bureau and gave up Mumbai Press Club membership before relocating in New Delhi.
My old membership of the PCI was revived and it gave me chance to meet fellow Journalists.
Its pertinent to point out members of any press club are not treated as guest and therefore not charged for their visit to the other press club in India, perhaps in the
With coming back to Delhi in March 2021, after a year long stay in my native village in Bihar, largely due to lock down in the face of Corona Covid 19 pandemic, i started visiting the Press Club of India to interact with other journalists and take feedback from them about my books written in my village, now published or in the press for printing. Such interaction over drinks or a cup of tea with snacks help journalists in understanding polity, economy and society of India and exchange of experience with each other.
I recall as secretary of now defunct *Delhi Union of Working Journalists (DUWJ) we had organised a meet on the subject of State and Journalism in the Press Club of India premises on 28 April 1990.
It was addressed by great editors of our life and time, including Nikhil Chakraborty , Rajendra Mathur, Prabhash Joshi and Ms Mrinal Pandey.
My notes of that full day seminar are valuable to the entire journalist fraternity. Only a part of which were published in the Union’s trilingual journal People’s Media of which I was the editor.
Nikhil Da has said in the said seminar that Press should play the role of sage and keep away from allurements of any kind. They are supposed to be critic and not necessarily be pro or anti State.
Late Raghuvir Sahay , poet and editor of very popular Hindi news weekly *Dinmaan*had said citizens delegate their rights to journalists in expectations from them to defend democracy. However, journalists can’t say citizen’s may not seek answers from the government without journalists as middlemen.
Late Prabhash Joshi, former Chief Editor of Hindi daily Janasatta had said that confrontation between the state and journalists are inherent in their roles.
Professor Ashwini Ray of the Centre for Political Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University , New Delhi and former president of the JNU Teachers Association had said the society in India is full of colonial distortions and the State has modern means for oppression of the people. The role of journalism is to bridge the gap between the state and the society.
Quoting a Kumauni dictum, Ms Mrinal Pande, then editor of a Hindi weekly Saptahik Hindustan of the Hindustan Times Group and now editor of the Congress owned *National Herald * was of the view that journalism has an inherent fix as it can’t be with the state and can’t also be without that.
Late Rajendra Mathur, then Chief Editor of Navbharat Times had observed that the middle classes expect editors to keep cursing the chief ruler.
Press Club of India Election 2021
On 4 April 2021, I requested Shri M M C Sharma , the Chief Election Officee of the PCI Elections 2021-22 to give me certified copies of the Club constitution and new voters list.These are valuable documents even after elections.
I browsed its pages and was shocked to know many of its members have passed away, including its ever smiling former President Rahul Jalali.
Many young journalists have joined the club.I find them very energetic and concerned about our country. They give us a new hope.
This takshakpost exclusive is part of his forthcoming book on Press Clubs all over India. He is also Managing Director of a deemed trust that gives annual Revolutionary Comrade Shiv Varma Media Awards. These Awards for 2020 were presented amid public release of People’s Mission first out of five books on Corona Covid , in a function at the Press Club of India on 14 August 2021. Awards for the next year have also been announced and they are likely to be presented on the eve of the Republic Day in 2022 either in Lucknow or Chandigarh.