It was 1985 and I had just entered IIT Kanpur. It was also the year when Rajiv Gandhi got his landslide victory, the biggest in Independent Indian history so far. I remained a student of IIT Kanpur between 1985 and 1989 and like any other studious student, was a regular reader of India Today (IT for short). It was nearly at this time when the word Bofors was first heard and had soon become the most-discussed and narrated word, so much so that it was making effect in the entire Indian political system. It was also the time when two personalities other than Rajiv Gandhi- V P Singh and Gyani Zail Singh, were jutting in to occupy the center-stage of Indian political and public life.
But to me equally important to these great events were the corresponding issues of IT which covered these events, along with their dissection, analysis, assimilation and overall assessment of each of them. Many of the photographs on the cover page of IT are still quite fresh in my mind. The laid-down body of the slain Indira Gandhi with her beautiful and serene face wrapped between the Pallu of her red Saree, the hugely garlanded and smiling face of Rajiv Gandhi, the meaningful and crusader-like smile of V P Singh, the emerging new hero of India and the juxtaposed tense faces of Rajiv and Gyani Zail Singh when their relationship had completely soured are only some of the most important imprints on my mind. I don’t exactly remember but it seems to me that IT at that time was a fortnightly. But one thing I clearly remember is that I waited eagerly for each and every issue of IT, with no less enthusiasm than a young man waits for his heart-throb.
This went on for years. Meanwhile I could see that IT was becoming more and more of a legend. It was now an establishment with unparallel recognition and authority. It was becoming a voice that had the most authentic say in the media world. People often quoted and referred to IT and anything that was written there was taken as a gospel truth. Yes, IT was an Icon, IT was the last word and IT was the bye-word for journalistic endeavour, feisty journalism and deadly pursuit for truth. I could also understand that each and every member of the IT crew was a legend in his or her own way. In short, it was the “Day of the IT.”
But then like everything, IT days also started changing with time. Slowly but surely one could understand that it was no more the same IT. The pro-establishment mood and tenor of the magazine was slowly becoming all too obvious and before one could say enough is enough, it started looking like an extended arm of the respective ruling establishments. The number of true exclusives and real investigative stories that IT was so fond of providing were decreasing with every issue.
Instead we had more and more of those lollipop type stories clearly beating around the bush, while skirting the real issues. The sting was somehow gone, though the magazine was still a mammoth. Now, the magazine came to be known more for its yearly sex-surveys where the viewers gave their opinions about which male and female parts they were more attracted towards, which style of copulation they preferred and how much faithful and distrustful they were towards their spouses. Similarly, many of the issues of IT got so structured and stymied that it started taking a cathartic look. Though the structure was now so big that it was almost a monopoly but somehow the intensity and force seemed to be petering away.
And then a time came when even a die-hard IT fan like me, who had almost grown with the growth of the magazine, stopped reading it. It was as regards the same magazine which I once regarded the best in the world- even better than Newsweek and Times, because of its balanced, piercing, investigative, focused and hard-hitting style. I know that I am not the most knowledgeable and most smart reader. I also very well know that a great institution like IT is not dependent on a small fry like Amitabh Thakur. But, for me my opinion does count a lot and I personally feel that there would be many who would be sharing my views.
My views got really reinforced today when I was going through a Forbes India article entitled “M J Akbar- India Today’s Outlook” which went into great details on almost the same lines, hoping that the change of guards would help IT get back to its good-old days. A die-hard IT fan would always love that to happen.
Amitabh Thakur, IPS officer from UP, currently at IIM Lucknow.