The passing away of Sri T. Prakasam, the veteran leader of Andhra, at the ripe age of 86, marks the end of a momentous epoch in the political evolution of South India in particular and India generally. Daring by nature, Prakasam was cast in a heroic mould with a seemingly forbidding exterior which scared away people of lesser stature. But the heart behind that rugged exterior was of purest gold, and only those who worked under his shadow could feel the impact of that great warmth and cordiality which lay enshrined in it and flowed spontaneously like pellucid water from a perennial spring. The intensity of his emotions was only equalled by the adroitness with which he could control and canalise them in furtherance of his mission.
But there are also others who hold the view that Prakasam was only a mere visionary and that he was more an iconoclast than a builder. To a superficial observer, this may appear somewhat plausible, but on a closer scrutiny, it will be found to be baseless. Prakasam was a visionary all right, a dreamer if you like, but the basic foundation for his convictions and faith was his intense love for his Motherland. If he could not realise his objective during his life-time, it was not his fault; the time-spirit was working the other way. Yes, Prakasam was an iconoclast and a revolutionary, for be never believed to shibboleths and slogans and blind worship, either in religion or politics, and he aimed at breaking through that meek subservience to outworn ideas and restoring reason to its place. Prakasam’s place in the Indian political plane cannot be assessed either in terms of triumph or disappointment. That he was a soldier of magnificent courage ready to lay down his life in defence of the honour of his country nobody can dispute.
In this article, however, I would like to refer to Prakasam as a journalist. I have had the rare privilege of coming into close contact with him during my long association with Swarajya, (Prakasam’s creation), as member of its editorial staff, as its Special Correspondent at Bangalore and finally as its Editor for a few but hectic months at Madras. I consider those days as the best and most momentous in my journalistic career of forty five years, and even today after retirement and taking a retrospective view of things done or allowed to slip, I do not for one moment regret that I had the honour of being associated with Swarajya though from a material standpoint it was not attractive.
The thing that attracted and almost enslaved us all was the dynamic personality of Prakasam and the example he set before us by his own irrepressible energy and infinite capacity for work. Neither day nor night made any difference to him; and sometimes we, many years younger to him, felt we were being taxed too much physically. But he never thought of others’ physical discomforts, because he himself shared them with us and therein lay his real greatness.
I can recall several instances in which Prakasam made us feel ashamed of our love of ease and comfort. One night, at about 10 P.M. he motored straight from Madras to my residence in Bangalore and asked me to get ready for a tour in Tumkur District and said: ‘Don’t you think this trip is long overdue?’ ‘Yes, Sir,’ I replied, not anticipating what was to come. ‘Then get ready to come with me. I shall return from the hotel in an hour’s time and then we can start off,’ he said. I was somewhat against night journey and suggested we might start early next morning. Shaking me by the shoulder, he said: ‘What can we do if we start next morning? Most of the time will be taken in covering the distance and we will miss our objective. The best thing is to cover the distance during the night and to get through our work in daytime. So get ready and I will be back in an hour.’ So saying he left and I had no alternative but to get ready. When we reached Tumkur town past midnight, we were told that the gentlemen (District Board President) whom Prakasam wanted to meet was camping some fifty miles away. I suggested we might take rest in the traveller’s bungalow and leave early next day. Prakasam listened and with a smile at me he directed the chaffeur to drive on to the District Board President’s camp. It was nearing 3 A.M., when we reached that place. Prakasam found the President sound asleep in his camp but managed to wake him and fix up a tentative tour. Next morning, after a hurried Chota-hazri, we were on the road again. I cannot now remember how many miles we covered, how many places we visited and how many persons we saw. After three days of hectic tour from village to village, without caring for food or comfort, we returned late in the night to Bangalore. As he dropped me at my house, he suggested a trip to Mysore and Hassan next day. I pleaded for some respite, as I was very much worn out for want of sleep and food. As a concession, he replied with a laugh ‘You fellows are no good. Then you may take some rest. We shall have the Mysore programme next month. I am leaving straight for Madras.’ I slowly put in he might take rest for a day and then start. He simply laughed away my suggestion and left immediately for Madras. Such was the man: work for a cause held dear by him was all that mattered and physical discomforts were secondary and had no terrors for him. In these and various other ways, at the risk of his health and comfort, he tried to place Swarayja on a solid foundation and gave his all to keep its flag flying.
Though he could not realise his objective, due to causes beyond his control and perhaps also owing to lack of organisational strength, essential for a daily newspaper, the way in which he worked for its consummation until he himself saw the futility of his efforts must compel and command everybody’s admiration; and from out of the sacred ashes of Swarajya there arose in prolific variety and abundance an iridescent vision, a stirring concept, a splendid tradition and a new epic in human endeavour, in the rearing of which Prakasam neither spared himself nor others, His was an outstanding example of supreme sacrifice, of relentless search for forces of harmony and cohesion, and of un-flinching faith in the mission for which he lived and died. There were occasions when our nerves were at breaking point; a few left the storm-tossed ship but in no case had anybody left with any rancour in his mind. Only it was difficult for some of us to rise equal to the stature of Prakasam. Most of us lacked his dynamic energy and apostolic faith and were sometimes unable to share his optimism; and if we failed to come up to his standards, it was not for lack of love or loyalty to him but because of our preference for ease and comfort.
I would like to recall one memorable incident which showed the greatness and magnanimity of Prakasam. When G. V. Krupanidhi bade farewell to Swarajya, almost its last tenacious and loyal Editor to leave the ‘burning deck’, I was recalled from Bangalore to take up the editorship of the paper. It was a command I could not disobey, though I hesitated to step into the shoes of the versatile Krupanidhi. The paper was run under precarious conditions and there was despair all round. But Prakasam assured me he would make perfect arrangements for running the paper on business lines and left immediately on tour. I was left alone to manage the paper with one apprentice to help me and another to look after the business side. The latter was Manager-cum-Cashier, but only he had no cash to dole out. The paper dragged on its precarious existence for about two months with the greatest difficulty and things began to deteriorate rapidly. I had to live practically in the office itself, while my family was stranded at Bangalore. At that time I had a chance in The Hindu as Bangalore correspondent, though I could not easily persuade myself to grab at the sweep-stake that came in my way. At last I had to make a choice but could not get at Prakasam who was on tour. Finally, I made up my mind to leave Swarajya which I loved very dearly and which was then in the last stages. A few days later, the paper suspended publication.
A month after I joined The Hindu, Prakasam called at my house in Bangalore and asked me peremptorily to start for Madras along with him to re-start Swarajya. Further, he assured me that he had made fool-proof arrangements for running the paper smoothly thereafter and that I should not worry for money any more. I was wavering between my love and high regard for Prakasam and the generous opening I had in The Hindu. Prakasam insisted on my coming to Madras and no appeals of mine would convince him to the contrary. While he would not budge an inch from his position, I had to use all my ingenuity to persuade him to leave me free for some time. In the end, after four hours’ talk, Prakasam relaxed a bit and said slowly: ‘I can see your standpoint. You fellows got fed up with my adventure. See what Krupanidhi and Subba Rao have done. I realised you all went through hell. I release you now on your definite promise that you would come back to me after I place Swarajya on a sound footing. When that call comes, be ready to start. No excuses then. Remember that.’ I promised him that I would be ready to serve under him on any salary he could give, provided the paper was run on business, not emotional, lines. That very night he motored back to Madras and Swarajya had one more flicker before it finally disappeared from the horizon altogether, and I was not called upon to perform the obsequies.
The failure of Swarajya could not be construed as a personal failure of Prakasam by any means. He did not start the paper with the object of making any profit out of it. His sole objective was to spread the message of the Congress through its columns without fear or favour, and he gatherd round him men of tested integrity and intellectual calibre and set an example of high thinking and plain living. The success of a paper depends not solely on personalities but mostly on its management and sound financial backing. Prakasam threw his whole fortune into this adventure besides tapping all the resources he could commandeer, and even then the paper could not survive. It must, however, be said to Prakasam’s everlasting credit that he made superhuman efforts to re-vitalise Swarajya at every stage, but no newspaper could thrive long merely on emotional excitement.
To those who came under his hypnotic spell, Prakasam was like a father, sometimes rough and exacting in his demands of us, but lovable all the same. During the last decade of Swarajya’s existence, I came to know him very intimately and I used to feel overawed by the volcanic energy he displayed in everything he did. Food, sleep, and rest were minor things to him: work in furtherance of his mission was his only concern and anything else did not matter. He had the zeal and fervour of a missionary, the courage of a warrior, and the simplicity of a child. He was blessed with unique qualities which made him a hero and an object of veneration to one and all.
Though he was immersed in public work, he struck me as an intensely religious man without trumpeting his faith, as some do, and his philosophy was the philosophy of the Gita. It was enough for him that he was in the fray and he would not bother about the results in the true Gita spirit. He had developed and lived a philosophy in which defeat and success were inseparable shades of public service. In fact, he was a shining example of a ‘Nishkama Karma Yogi.’ His spirit and enthusiasm and dauntless courage rose to great heights in a crisis when lesser men would have quailed before it. He had the dash and energy of a Titan: he championed a cause in the same grand manner. He was beloved of both gods and men.
Prakasam is gone. When comes another like him?