Why ‘The Tashknet Files’ is dedicated to the ‘Honest’ journalists of India? An open letter by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri

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The first frame of my film ‘The Tashkent Files’ reads “This film is dedicated to all the ‘honest’ journalists of India. Since the first screening of the film, a lot of people have asked me why have I emphasized on ‘honest’ journalists. I am writing this to tell you why. 

As a student of Mass Communication I had learnt that journalists are watchdogs of our democracy. If democracy has to deliver liberty and justice, the journalism must be fearless. When the journalism ceases to be courageous, truth becomes the first victim. And without truth there can’t be any liberty or justice. 

During British Raj, honest and fearless journalists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, G Subramania Iyer, Shishir & MotilalGhosh, Ramkrishna Pillai and Madan Mohan Malviya played a great role in getting us freedom. Even Gandhi published two weeklies – ‘Young India’ and ‘Harijan’. During Emergency, it was the courage of journalists like Ramkrishna Goenka which kept the torch of democracy burning. Whenever Indian democracy and the society has reached the abyss of lies, deceit, corruption and scams, some brave and honest journalist has reinforced our faith in truth with courageousreporting. 

India’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, after winning a war from Pakistan, died in Tashkent under mysterious circumstances. When his body arrived at PalamAirport, it was blue, swollen and blood was oozing out from fresh cuts on his body. At that very moment, his supporters, congress workers and his family demanded a post mortem but it was never done. An investigation was demanded but the government of the day never initiated it. There were only two witnesses to Shashtri ji’s death. Coincidentally, both were killed in road accidents. The story of Shastri’s death, and thereafter, is full of holes. When I read on the subject I found there wasn’t much material on his death. That’s when I decided to become a whistleblower for a year and filed over two dozen RTIs with all the ministries including MFA, MHA, PMO etc. This was the first time a filmmaker had turned a whistle blower for a film. But we received only one reply that there is no document, whatsoever, with the government. How is it possible that we don’t have documents related to India’ssecond PM’s mysterious death? That’s when I appealed, to people for crowd-sourcing of research. This was again the first time that a filmmaker had crowd-sourced research. Thousands of people volunteered and we were led to some startling truths which were lying in the parliament, Archives and various secret notations. What surprised me that most of the work on Shastri’s death has been done by vernacular, regional, unknown journalists. Away from the corruptible Lutyen’s school of journalism, I found the real gutsy, fearless, investigative journalism. Without which this film wouldn’t have been possible. This reinforced my belief that Indiandemocracy’s real hope lies in its honest, hard-working, fearless journalists. They may not be seen, they may not be discussed, they may not be celebs but they keep our democracy in check. They keep our quest for truth alive. 

Then what is the reason that this sacred profession of journalism has got such a bad name? Why are journalists called media-trader, presstitutes, dalals, paid news etc. Because one bad fish spoils the whole pond. I realized that because of some corrupt journalists, whose greed for money and power has made them power-brokers or friends of India’s enemies and that’s why even the honest journalists get bad name. Whenever a journalist fails to come out clean of a Radia scam, when a journalist avoids to clear his name in an Augusta Westland brokering, when a journalist fails to come out clean in a cash-for-vote scam, journalism gets bad name. Whenever eminent journalists are caught lying, spinning or twisting news, when top editors are found generating fake news to further someone’s interest or an agenda, when media houses are found guilty of lobbying for wrong causes then the entire profession gets bad name. Truth becomes a rarity. Society becomes hopeless and democracy becomes a nexus of greedy and corrupt.

I meet hard working honest journalists almost everyday, sweating, struggling, working at meagre salaries and then I see corrupt journalists living in most expensive and sprawling farm houses. This bothers me. This is the reason that people who were supposed to lead the investigation into Shastri ji’sdeath shied away from it because they were bed-fellows of the guilty. Because there is no money in Shastri’s investigation. No commission. No brokerage. All it offers is a long road of struggle and sacrifice. This is why all the valuable material, research and investigative stories got lost in the lower-drawers of unglamorous, scarcity driven, regional media. Ironically, that’s where I found a ray of hope. A lead into Shastri’s story. In the drawers of honest journalists of India. 

A democracy grows when the first fundamental right of a citizen is his Right To Truth. If we don’t know the truth of our second Prime Minister’s death, how do we expect to find any other truth. That’s why none of the famous scandals, scams have ever reached conclusive end. Because no one probes them. Today, truth is the least popular story. Even if truth comes and stands in front of us it will seem like a lie. , I salute to all truth-seekers of India. 

The 4 years that I gave to this film, living, feeling and behaving like an honest journalist, I realized that this road indeed is full of sacrifices, struggle and life-threatening accidents. Therefore, I salute them. 

I wanted to break the paradigm. I wanted the youth to believe in honest journalism. Again. To believe in the truth. Again. That’s why ‘The Tashkent Files’ is a story of the triumph of a young, honest journalist. This film is about our right to truth. I hope after seeing this film some young people will demand an investigation into Lal Bahadur Shastri’s truth. That would be the real victory of this film. That will the most apt tribute to Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. 

Today, I present this film to the nation. This is my tribute to India’s most honest and humble prime minister. It’s your turn now. To find the TRUTH. 

Jai Hind. 

Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri

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