Tribute to Inder Malhotra

By Surendra Nihal Singh

Inder Malhotra, who died in New Delhi on June 11, 2016, was above all a guru of political reporting. During his long career as reporter, editor and analyst he excelled in recounting major developments at the drop of a hat, recalling dates, places and personalities. One of the major books he authored was an acclaimed political biography of Indira Gandhi and he was working on his memoir when he died.

Inder’s dedication to his metier was such that even while nursing his ailments for long, his thirst for political news and gossip was such that he avidly sought to keep himself abreast of new twists in political developments in the Narendra Modi government and in the state of the Congress party.

Perhaps his greatest legacy will be the intimate and sentient accounts of India’s development from the days of Nehru to the Modi era, partly developed in his incomplete autobiography. Future researchers of the six decades of independent India will find a wealth of material in assessing the long period of Congress rule under the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the Narasimha Rao interregnum, the short but significant Vajpayee era, the double harness of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi and the Modi era after his hurricane win of an an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha after three decades.

Inder had few illusions about morality in politics, aware as he was through constant interactions with the movers and shakers of political India and the usually unsung bureaucracy supporting the political structure. But he was forgiving of human foibles and politicians’ hankering after newspaper headlines of the right kind. This trait, however, never kept him from running a good story, however embarrassing it might prove to be for the target. His journalistic itch was his primary loyalty.

Inder had worked his way up the ladder, starting as a junior reporter in the United News of India. Having proved his worth, he was picked up by Prem Bhatia, then The Statesman’s Political Correspondent, as a member of his team of political correspondents. He made most of his prize assignment by giving his newspaper, then classed as the country’s best, a succession of scoops much to the discomfort of his rivals.

In those days, The Statesman’s New Delhi political team, which I joined, was akin to a happy family. The Statesman lunch room often led to a coffee session in a neighbouring restaurant and the political reporters were joined by the amiable circulation manager Bikram Singh, and the news editor, Philip Crossland.

Those were precious moments which, like most good things, did not last.  Inder moved to the Calcutta office of The Statesman and I to South-east Asia. But the fond memories remain.  Predictably, Inder put his heart and soul into the Prem Bhatia Trust in gratitude to his mentor.

Surendra Nihal Singh spent 25 years at The Statesman from 1954-1979, in various roles from reporter to foreign correspondent to political correspondent to Resident Editor, New Delhi and Editor, Kolkota (then, Calcutta).    He also served as Editor of Indian Express, Indian Post and Khaleej Times, Dubai. He was a friend and colleague to Inder Malhotra.