Arun Shourie, India
World Press Freedom Hero (Honoured in 2000)
Arun Shourie is one of India’s most renowned and controversial journalists. From 1979 to 1990, he was the most visible face of Indian journalism as he challenged the might of the state and battled the attempts of successive governments to muzzle the press. As the crusading and uncompromising editor of the English-language daily the Indian Express, he introduced a new style of aggressive, independent investigative journalism to India.
Shourie was born in Jullundur, Punjab, on Nov. 2, 1941. He received his doctorate in economics from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, and served as an economist with the World Bank between 1967 and 1978. Shourie also worked from 1972 to 1974 as a consultant to the Indian Planning Commission, then the arena of major controversies within the government, and made his first foray into journalism by writing several critical articles on economic policy.
It was during the “internal emergency” imposed by Prime Minster Indira Gandhi in 1975 that Shourie decided to fight against the attrition of civil liberties and began writing for the Indian Express, which was bearing the brunt of the government’s censorship drive. “The real tragedy ... the real cause of the drift into an authoritarian nightmare is not that a few leaders become rapacious, that they start breaking laws, disregarding norms or destroying institutions,” he wrote. “Rather it is that common men remain silent ... [and] acquiesce.”
Shourie was appointed executive editor of the Indian Express on Jan. 1, 1979, by Ramnath Goenka, the principal owner of the Indian Express Group. “Do what you like,” Goenka told Shourie, who enthusiastically set about redesigning page layouts, improving content and, according to the newsmagazine India Today, giving the paper “not just a new look but a conscience.”
In a series of remarkable exposés, many of which he wrote himself, Shourie and the Indian Express uncovered corruption in the highest echelons of the government and exposed several major scandals of the era, including what has been dubbed “India’s Watergate.”
Shourie started a one-man crusade in 1981 against Abdul Rahman Antulay, the chief minister of Maharashtra State, who extorted millions of dollars from businesses dependent on state resources and put the money in a private trust named after Indira Gandhi. The story caused the eventual resignation of the state governor, the highest-ranking official in India ever forced from office by newspaper reporting, and great embarrassment to Gandhi and her ruling Congress Party.
Shourie’s exposés resulted in a prolonged labor dispute at the Bombay offices of the Indian Express, where a labor organizer with ties to Antulay encouraged workers to strike for a minimum wage double that paid at any other newspaper in India. It also resulted in a government crackdown that included a host of legal cases launched against the Indian Express by various agencies. In 1982, Goenka fired Shourie as a result of continued government pressure.
Between 1982 and 1986, Shourie wrote for various newspapers and magazines. He was appointed executive editor of the Times of India in 1986 but was lured back to the Indian Express by Goenka in 1987.
Among the many battles Shourie fought for press freedom, perhaps the most famous was his crusade against the government’s proposal in 1988 to introduce a defamation bill. It was widely perceived that the bill had been introduced with unusual speed in Parliament in an attempt to muzzle the Indian Express, and the entire media community joined Shourie and the Indian Express in condemning the move.
At one stage, there were 300 cases filed by the government against the Indian Express, and credit supply from banks was cut off. Shourie, however, continued his battle against government corruption until 1990, when differences on editorial policy forced him to resign from the Indian Express. After that, he devoted his energy to writing books and regular columns, which appeared in different languages in 30 newspapers across India. His writings have gained him a vast following, as well as many enemies, across the country. He has earned many national and international awards, including the World Press Review’s International Editor of the Year and The Freedom to Publish Award of the Indian Federation of Publishers.
Shourie joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1998 and has been a minister of state in the BJP-led coalition government since November 1998.