Remembering ‘Pratap Baba’, the Immortal Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi

Amitabh Kumar Das
Amitabh Kumar Das

Today, India sits atop a powder keg of communal hatred. Trishool Terrorism is the flavour of the day and Hindu fanatics are busy sending the Muslims either to Pakistan or to Qabristan! Babri Masjid, Love Jihad, Ghar Wapsi, Goraksha , Article 370 etc etc. An endless list of issues designed to target Muslims. And so-called journalists fighting as foot-warriors of Hindutva. When darkness envelopes Hindustan, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi’s sacred memory serves as a silver lining.

Here was a man who was born a Hindu, worked as a pro-poor journalist and laid down his life on the 25th March, 1931 dousing flames of bloody Kanpur riots. His body was discovered from a pile of unidentified bodies at a Kanpur hospital. When Gandhiji was informed of Vidyarthi ‘s martyrdom, the Mahatma termed his death as glorious and said that he envied Ganesh Shankar for such a glorious death. And Vidyarthi was only 40 when he died. So different from today’s power-hungry politicians who in their 90s fancy themselves as Prime Ministers-in-Waiting. But Vidyarthi was always like that. A rebel with a cause. When he dropped out of the school due to his poverty, he affixed Vidyarthi (student) to his name to show his thirst for life-long learning.

Initially, he wrote nationalist articles for Saraswati, a Hindi magazine edited by the legendary Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi. Then he launched his own Hindi weekly Pratap from Kanpur (then spelt as Cawnpore). He took up poor farmers’ cause with such vehemence that farmers called him Pratap Baba! Again and again, Vidyarthi went to jail for his fearless reporting. The soul-stirring song Vijayi Vishwa Tiranga Pyara was first published in Pratap. The song was penned by Shyam Lal Gupta Paarshad, who was such a die-hard Gandhian that like Gandhiji, he drank only goat milk!

Vidyarthi gave shelter to Bhagat Singh and the Shaheed-e-Azam also wrote for Pratap. If you go to Kanpur by air, your plane will land at the Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Airport. But hold your breath. The Kanpur airport was named after Vidyarthi by none other than the UP Chief Minister Dhongi Adityanath ( I can’t call him Yogi) whose hands still carry blood-stains of Gorakhpur riots. In Mera Bharat Mahan, hypocrisy knows no bounds!

(Amitabh Kumar Das is a senior IPS Officer. His views here are personal.)


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