Prem Bhatia

H E (the Late) President R Venkataraman

Prem Bhatia was handsome, gentle, elegantly dressed with a dignified bearing. Even in those young days he was respected and had easy access to the Cabinet Ministers.

He had a charming way of eliciting information without appearing to do so. While regaling the listener with anecdotes of which he had an inexhaustible store, he would slip in his query and get the information from the unsuspecting listener.

As a political correspondent of The Statesman for nearly twelve years that Prem Bhatia established his reputation. This period offered him opportunities to accompany Prime Minister Nehru on several of his official visits to countries like the Soviet Union, China, United States, Britain, Indonesia to name only a few and meet with world statesmen like Khrushchev, Mao Tse Tung, Chou-En-Lai, Tito, Nasser, Sukarno, Eisenhower, Kennedy and other celebrities.

The list of national leaders with whom he had close association is equally impressive. Nehru, Azad, Pant, Kidwai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Tandon, Jaya Prakash narayan, Sardar Patel, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Indira Gandhi, Zail Singh and a host of others treated Prem Bhatia more as a friend than as a journalist.

Prem Bhatia was totally committed to the freedom of the Press. In his volume ‘Of Many Pastures’, he says,  ‘My own feeling during the Emergency was a deep sense of humiliation, resulting especially from ruthless censorship. On the morning censorship was imposed, I felt I had been slapped on the face…’, and later adds it was a most unpleasant period of his life as a journalist. In retrospect, his candid characterisation of the heroes of emergency makes very interesting reading.

As a writer Prem Bhatia was clear, concise and crisp. There was hardly any rhetoric or flamboyancy in his writings but they were elegant and informative. He was a stickler for correct language.

I could talk freely to Prem Bhatia for never even once did he ever embarrass me by quoting me in my columns. He was also a source of information about current affairs relating to administration, political parties and public reactions. He always proved correct in his assessments. Above all, Prem Bhatia approximated to Cardinal Newman’s definition of a gentleman. ‘His was a noble life worthy of admiration of all and emulation by the younger generation of journalists’.