Press Club of India : Termination, expulsion, harassment and spying on members is the order of the day!

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Yashwant Singh-

Analysis : Press Club of India Elections 2023

There was no fizz in the watering hole in Delhi’s, The Press Club of India elections 2023. Infact it appeared like a walk over for the presumed ‘Leftist Group’. There was no ‘right-wing’ contestants. The reigning panel were lurching in unfulfilled promises. The 64-year-old institution is managed by five office-bearers and 16 managing committee members, i.e. with a group of 22 elected members.

The estimated annual revenue is more than Rs. 13 crores. Infact it was a lackadaisical elections, with no fervor or heat of election campaigns. The sloganeering was absent and the candidates hopping from one table to another to discreetly hand out pamphlets; was also missing. In stark contrast to the last two years, the campaign for the annual polls at Delhi’s Press Club of India appeared to be lacklustre this year, despite a list of unfulfilled promises.

Infact false agenda and fake promises are a normal annual feature of the contesting panels. There is no ‘right-wing’ challenger this time as the Press Club of India in Lutyens Bungalow Zone held the recent elections. It’s shameful that there’s a supremacy of only one group. That’s shocking in a democratic pattern. It’s like fascism and totalitarianism!

Elections at the club are managed by annually elected functionaries, usually contested between two panels. The governing panel, seen as a ‘leftist liberal clique’ in charge since 2010, faced an inconsequential and a weak challenge from another panel of only four office-bearers posts this year. It was up against individual candidates for seven other posts, including the 16 of the managing committee.

This year, the baton was passed to Gautam Lahiri (73 years old/ young) while the challenging panel waa led by journalist Prashant Tandon (70 years). Fragmented contestants put up four names. It was a lost battle all the way. For the position of Vice President, an independent candidate, Pramod Sharma, Editor of Ravivar, had no support and was a completely unfamiliar face. The contest was without any panel’s support against NDTV’s Manoranjan Bharti. Manornjan Bharti did not campaign at all. He doesn’t even come to the Press Club during the course of one year. Ravish Kumar and Rajdeep Serdesai came to cast their votes. Obviously to their Leftist Group!

Other candidates who were part of the panel included, Niraj Thakur for Secretary General, Mahtab Alam for Joint Secretary and Mohit Dubey for the post of Treasurer. All of them won hands down.

On the other hand, the challenging panel led by Prashant Tandon included, Pradeep Srivastava for the post of Secretary General, KVNS S. Prakash (Surya) for Joint Secretary and Rahil Chopra for the post of Treasurer. All of them lost in hustings. It was a completely ‘One-sided’ election. Infact one can say it was almost like a walk over.

“This election is completely one-sided. The opposition is absent. Those who are contesting against the ruling panel were once part of the same panel,” complained most of the members.

The absence of a ‘right-wing’ panel has triggered a speculation about the possible reasons; some point to repeated failures and defeat, others claim that they were secretly backing the ‘Left wing’ panel only.

In 2021 and 2022, a panel included journalists Pallavi Ghosh, Sanjay Basak, Santosh Thakur and Sudhir Ranjan Sen contested but they had failed to secure a victory. “They have now left the battlefield. They realised that they couldn’t defeat us,” claimed Dhirender Jha, supporter of the Left panel.

A member of the club’s management committee claimed that the panel may not be contesting the elections but “many are backing the weaker panel”, said a few members. Sanjay Basak, who contested for Président’s post in 2022 says, “there was no specific reason for the panel for not contesting the elections this time. Offices have started, and we are all busy with work.” This is a pretty vague kind of comment!

Until September 20, the Prashant Tandon panel was non existent. People didn’t even know about this panel till the last day. They neither prepared their agenda nor had any manifesto. “We were actually contesting individually and came together only after the nominations were approved,” said a member of the challenging panel.

The panel’s members were hardly seen campaigning together. Their presidential candidate could not be seen on PCI premises on the first two days of the campaign, while other panel members were seen distributing indivudual fliers and pamphlets alone. At one point, Srivastava approached the ruling panel’s presidential candidate Gautam Lahiri to ask for his vote.

“I am contesting for the position of joint secretary. Please vote for me,” Srivastava said. “Though I am contesting to lose, I will break your back this time,” he said, going on to ask for votes, returning four minutes later. “I can’t beg for votes with folded hands.” Even though the Lahiri panel was in a comfortable position, there was ostensibly a terrible rift within this camp.

Umakant Lakhera, who has been the President for the last two years, was not seen in the club or campaigning for the panel. While office-bearers dismissed Umakant Lakhera’s absence, attributing it to the latter’s personal reasons. It’s reliably learnt that there have been serious disagreements within the group over the management related issues over the last few months.

Vinay Kumar backed office Secretary Jatinder Singh, who has ‘become bigger than his shoes’! Most of the Club members are disgusted with him and call him an ‘extra constitutional authority’.

The rift began in December 2022, when other committee members opposed Lakhera’s proposal to outsource the club’s sanitation work to a company managing the same at the INS building. Those who opposed the plan had cited ‘financial burden and labour rights’ claimed a member.

The washrooms in Press Club are pathetic and very unhygienic, to say the least. Further there has been a terrible showdown between Vinay Kumar and Jatinder Singh on one hand and Umakant Lakhera, over non renewal of liquor license in time. Jatinder Singh misbehaved with Umakant Lakhera and shouted on him! Various MC members protested on financial bungling and they were removed. Vinayak had almost left the panel!

Swati Mathur, Joint Secretary was also dumped. Anil Chamaria, who backed the Tandon panel, said that the fight is against a nexus who has been controlling PCI for a long time. “Here, a nexus has been formed. Those who are part of it, contest the elections after a gap of few years”.

Gautam Lahiri has been the president twice before. Manoranjan Bharti won the elections in 2013. In 2022, also he became the Vice-President. What is there about the Press Club of india that some people are so glued and entrenched into it? New and young people should have a chance. Tandon said, “Contesting elections should not become a career. It should be a democratic choice for journalists. That’s why I decided to contest.” It’s a fact that some members of the Left Group behave like a mafia.

One Sanjay Singh, who claims to be a media advisor of Yogi Adityanath, UP’s Chief Minister, was seen lobbying for the Left wing panel. So is this man, Sanjay Singh, a Right winger or a Left winger? Everyone knows everything!

What is more contentious is the fact that major promises made by the panels over the past two years have remained unfulfilled and they reappear in the poll pamphlets each years – be it awards or fellowships for budding journalists.

In 2022, the ruling panel promised to start a fellowship program for journalists. Nothing much was done. Termination, expulsion, harassment and spying on members is the order of the day. Poor service, overcrowded premises, constant abuses and violent fights amongst members etc. has made Press Club a centrepoint of roadside Dhaba.

(To continue)

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