Romesh Thapar

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Romesh Thapar (1922–1987) was a left-wing Indian journalist and political commentator. A member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Thapar was the founder-editor of the monthly journal Seminar, published from New Delhi, India.

Personal life and background[edit]

Thapar was born in Lahore (now in Pakistan) to a Punjabi trading family of the Khatri caste. He was the brother of Romila Thapar, the eminent historian. General Pran Nath Thapar, sometime Chief of Army Staff, was his father's brother, and the journalist Karan Thapar is his first cousin. Thapar was also related distantly to the family of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru's niece, the writer Nayantara Sahgal, was married to Gautam Sahgal, brother of Bimla Thapar, wife of Pran Nath Thapar.[1]

Thapar's family was newly wealthy, having made their fortune in trade during World War I, as commission agents for the colonial British Indian Army. Thapar was therefore sent to England for his education.[2] Fabian socialism, which was fashionable in the universities of England in the years between the two world wars, had a deep impact on Thapar at a young age. Starting as a fashionable socialist, Thapar developed into a Marxist ideologue over the years, and remained a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) until his death.

Career[edit]

Thapar returned to India in the mid-1940s and took a job in Bombay as a journalist with The Times of India, while Frank Moraes was its editor.[2] After a couple of years, Thapar used some of his family wealth to start an English language magazine of his own, named Cross Roads. The magazine, which was published monthly, offered views rather than news, and combined high-brow intellectualism with communist ideology. It never gained much circulation, but this did not bother Thapar, who regarded it as an interesting occupation and not as a source of livelihood.

Seminar[edit]

On 1 September 1959, Thapar started Seminar as a monthly journal, with a fund of Rs 11,000, a princely sum in those days. This time, he sought to establish a stable revenue model through subscribers and advertisers. Predictably, nearly all the advertising revenue comes from the government, and a large proportion of the sales are also to government institutions including libraries, colleges, research centers and PSU establishments. Thapar and his wife also moved with their children from Mumbai to Delhi in order to leverage their growing political clout in the socialist and "socially progressive" Nehru-led dispensation. Here, Thapar were duly allotted prime commercial property at a very low rate by the government through a scheme which also provided similar government largesse to other left-leaning and "Progressive" publications, which duly expressed their gratitude by giving the incumbent regime a good press.

Seminar continues to be published from Malhotra building in Connaught Place, Delhi, a prime commercial location in the heart of New Delhi. The publication is brought out by Thapar's daughter Malavika Singh and her husband Tejbir Singh, who is the editor. In 2009, the publication celebrated its 50th anniversary.[3][4]

Other party activities[edit]

During his years in Bombay, Thapar was associated with IPTA, the theatre wing of the CPM[2] He was involved in story formulation and script writing for their films inspired by communist ideology. He also acted bit roles in two Hindi film, being Footpath (1953) directed by Zia Sarhadi and Merchant Ivory's debut film, The Householder (1963).[5] Before the advent of television, he also did the commentary in the monthly news-reels produced by Films Division, which were shown in cinema halls prior to the screening of films.[3]

Political clout[edit]

Thapar and his wife grew especially close to Indira Gandhi through the 1960s and 1970s. Although he had known her earlier, it was after Nehru's death that Thapar became a part of the inner circle of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, along with politicians like Dinesh Singh. This connection brought Thapar significant clout in society and government, and numerous sinecures were showered on him as patronage. Thapar served at various times as director of the India International Centre, of the National Books Development Board, of the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), and as vice-chairperson of the National Bal Bhavan, Delhi (1967–1974),[3] all of which are government sinecures conferred on him by successive Congress party governments.

However, during the Emergency of 1975, Thapar was marginalized by the Gandhis (Indira and Sanjay) for not being "supportive" enough, although observers feel that he could hardly have done more;[6] he vigorously applauded the discipline and efficiency of that period of dictatorship and appreciated that many communist agendas, such as forcible and irreversible birth control operations to limit population growth, were enforced.[6] Nevertheless, with the loss of political clout, his social standing waned and he had to limit himself to journalism.[6][7]

Personal life[edit]

In 1945, Thapar married Raj Thapar (1926–87), who also hailed from a Punjabi Khatri family of Lahore. The couple lived in a flat in Mafatlal Park, in the upmarket Breach Candy neighbourhood of Mumbai, and were notable mainly for being well-connected socialites.[2][6] They had a son named Valmik and a daughter named Malavika.

Thapar's son, Valmik Thapar, is a prominent tiger conservationist. He is married to occasional actress Sanjana Kapoor, daughter of bollywood actor Shashi Kapoor by his actress wife Jennifer Kendal, an Indian of British heritage. Valmik and Sanjana are the parents of a son, Hamir Thapar.

Thapar's daughter, Malavika Singh, who now runs the Seminar magazine, is married to Tejbir Singh, who edits the magazine. Tejbir Singh is the nephew of writer Khushwant Singh and grandson of the construction magnate Sir Sobha Singh.[8] Malavika and Tejbir have a son, Jaisal Singh, who runs as many as five wildlife resorts (the "Sujan" chain of boutique properties) in Rajasthan. He is married to Anjali Anand, only child and heiress of Deep C. Anand, founder of the Anand group of companies which had a turnover of Rs. 6100 crore in 2014-15.[9] Anjali is being groomed to take over the business empire built by her father; she has also been instrumental in the meteoric expansion of her husband's wildlife resort venture. Jaisal and Anjali are the parents of twins born in 2012..[10]

Raj Thapar died in 1987 of cancer, at the age of 60. Romesh Thapar died a few months later. A few years later, Raj Thapar's memoir, All These Years was completed, edited and published by her daughter Malvika Singh in 1991. It was based on her diary which she had kept over two decades.[3][6]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jha, Prashant (10 June 2013). "When the Devil's Advocate has the Last Word". The Hindu. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gyan Prakash (2010). Mumbai Fables. Princeton University Press. pp. 137–139. ISBN 1-4008-3594-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Half a century of ideas". Indian Express. 25 October 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Anjali Puri, Dola Mitra (14 September 2009). "Seminar: Fit At Fifty". Outlook. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Romesh Thapar on IMDb
  6. ^ a b c d e Bernard Weinraub (9 July 1991). "New Delhi Journal; The Kitty Kelley of Delhi Scandalizes the Nabobs". New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Rajni Kothari (1999). "Personally speaking". Seminar. Retrieved 13 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "'Delhi, the perpetual city, has a soul unlike Mumbai'". Hindustan Times. 6 December 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  9. ^ Anjali, her father's heir
  10. ^ Anjali, her father's heir

External links[edit]