“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Sajjad recalls late Sofi Ghulam Mohammad’s desire for the peace option

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor’s degree in Media and his master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book “Bankwatch” which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Sofi Departs

Last week Editor of one of the leading Urdu dailies Srinagar Times, Sofi Ghulam Muhammad breathed his last at the age of 77. One of the pioneers in Journalism, particularly Urdu Journalism, Sofi enjoyed an illustrious career as a journalist since 1960 when he joined Congress mouthpiece ‘Khidmat’. Later on, he started his own daily newspaper – Srinagar Times – in 1969. During his 50 year long career, he authored several books including ‘Loosmet Tarakh’ and ‘Sheeshi-Te-Sangistan’ both of which won Cultural Academy Awards. In 2002 he was nominated to the state Legislative Council. I had a few brief meetings with this gutsy journalist.

I met him first time in 1986 when I was doing my post graduation in Mass Communication and Journalism in Kashmir University. Some political developments at national level attracted me to pen down some thoughts with an intention to get them published under my own name in Srinagar Times.Basically Rajiv Gandhi’s performance in the middle of his term in office as Prime Minister of India was best summed up as “good intentions, some progress, frequently weak implementation, and poor politics.” Two major scandals, the “Spy” and the “Bofors” affairs, tarnished his reputation. In January 1985, he had confirmed in Parliament the involvement of top government officials, their assistants, and businessmen in “a wide-ranging espionage network.” The Spy scandal had remained a lingering embarrassment to Rajiv Gandhi’s administration.In 1986 India purchased US$1.3 billion worth of artillery pieces from the Swedish manufacturer A.B. Bofors, and months later a Swedish radio report remarked that Bofors had won the “biggest” export order by bribing Indian politicians and defense personnel. The revelation caught the attention immediately because of the allegations that somehow Rajiv Gandhi and his friends were connected with the deal. Despite relentless attacks and criticisms in the media as well as protests and resignations from cabinet members, Rajiv adamantly denied any role in the affair.

With this background, I wrote an article ‘Rajiv Gandhi Ka Jahaz Khatray Mein’ and approached to Srinagar Times office. A frontline staff member in the office took me to the Editor’s room where I saw Sofi Ghulam Muhammad first time face to face and he was busy in writing something. After introducing myself, I handed over my article for publication. While having a look (at a glance) at the article, he smiled and suggested me to write regularly for the newspaper and even suggested me to join as a sub-editor after completing my post graduation. Precisely, his response was encouraging. I left his office with all satisfaction and fervently hoped that the article would be published soon.For about 10 days I was eagerly looking for my article in the newspaper, but it didn’t find a space. In the meantime, on a few occasions I approached Sofi sahib and every time he assured me that the article would definitely be published and that too ‘within couple of days’. But that didn’t happen. After a week or so, I once again approached him about the status of my article. This time, he made me to sit comfortably in his office and offered me a cup of tea. Even as I was glad to enjoy tea with the editor of a leading newspaper, at the same time I was curious to know about the fate of my write-up.

The curiosity ended soon when Sofi Sahib categorically told me that the article would not be published. “Most of the revenue comes to us from government advertisements, and no newspaper can afford to lose this support. I appreciate the content of your write-up, but the political situation demands not to publish it,” said Sofi Sahib and simultaneously gave me some topics to write. His blunt ‘no’ did disappoint me, but the way he advised me to write on certain social topics was a huge encouragement to me. Later on I wrote on the topics which he suggested and after submitting for publication, he used to publish them in the very next issue.

Second time, I met him at a private function in October-November 2002. He had a close shave with death when on the evening of September 17, 2002 he was fired upon by an unidentified gunman in his office chamber. He had sustained a bullet injury in his hand and was still nursing his injury. The attack on Sofi sahib was condemned worldwide and the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 100 countries, had expressed their serious concern at the attack and had even called upon then union Home Minister, L. K. Advani to ensure that everything possible was done to bring the attackers to justice and to ensure the safety of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.Coming back to the interaction with Sofi Sahib on the occasion, I told him that he was lucky to escape the deadly attack. He reacted sharply and said, “If I am alive today, it is because of the grace of God. The person who tried to shoot me was basically lucky because I tried to catch him. I think he was luckier.” He had jumped over a small table and raised his to grab the assailant. During the scuffle the gun shot hit him in his right hand, he elaborated.

I asked him about his analysis of the Kashmir situation. He blamed ‘all forces’ and not any particular side. He summed up by saying: “There are so many vested interests here for which the Government of India must take responsibility, just like the government of Pakistan. State administration is also responsible for the turmoil.”What is way out to come out of the turmoil? Like other commentators, Sofi sahib in response to this question said that he firmly believed that this stalemate cannot be solved by the gun. First he listed three common categories of the dispute – those who want to go to Pakistan, those who want to remain with India and those who favour independent Kashmir. Then he listed a fourth category – which according to him is peace. He advised me to ‘please write it on my behalf’. He dished out that ‘unless and until there is peace, there is no solution to the Kashmir imbroglio.’

For this, he suggested that all commentators while writing on Kashmir should mobilize the warring sides to step forward to talk about peace. ‘When a house is on fire, you have to extinguish the fire rather than seeing why it occurred. That is my opinion,’ he concluded the discussion on Kashmir problem. And that is true – unless peace prevails, no problem can be solved. Precisely, I would say that during my brief meetings with him, I found him straightforward in his approach, particularly in his profession. He always referred his newspaper as a family newspaper. May Allah rest his soul in peace and give courage to all warring factions here to promote peace.