Prakash N Shah – In Conversation With Urvish Kothari

In the “Saarthak Conversations’ series, Urvish Kothari presents the multifaceted public persona of Prakash N Shah, from Parakash Shah’s own retrospective perspective, in a book that is based on his interviews with the Prakash Shah.  Prakash N Shah is presently the founder-editor of a Gujarati fortnightly, Nireekshak, which essentially is a journal representing the liberal civil ideological thinking, and a respected columnist of Gujarati edition of Divya Bhaskar. Apart from the liberalist civil society strata, he is also read by those who are on the lookout for a fresh, incisive. angle on any current subject.  His articles cover a wide range of subjects such as politics, social and economic issues. The book serves to reveal the deep inside of the iceberg of the persona of Prakash N Shah, of which one sees only the tip in his writings.

We undertake a quick glance at the different facets of Prakash N Shah in his conversations with Urvish Kothari:

Prakash N Shah would call himself as someone who cherishes all the facets of life by understanding the joy of living. He does not fit into ant traditional definition of any party, or organization or any ‘ism’. His priority is to be a natural participant in the public activities that help shape the creation of a fair and just society. His reading habit has been inculcated into his personality from his childhood maternal side upbringing.

After completing his B.A., Prakash N Shah got to read The Hindu Way of Life (Dr. S Radhakrishnan), Hind Swaraj (Mahatma Gandhi) and Swadesh (Rabindranath Tagore). These helped build the base of his core thinking. Prakash Shah further elaborates that his understanding of Gandhiji matured after reading Ram Manohar Lohia and that of Marx matured after reading Jaiprakash Narayan. However, the conviction, expression and feelings in his thinking have remained his own.

When he was in the first year of M.A. Prakash Shah spoke in favour of direct action in a parliamentary democracy while participating in Mahadevbhai elocution competition. This was about a decade before he was to develop his ideology-shaping actual contacts in the public life. That also was the first indication of the way his own preferences and understanding – of the persona of those public figures – were to shape up in the years to come.

Prakash N Shah came into direct contact with Acharya Kripalani sometime in 1968-69, when Acharya had stayed at Ahmedabad. Prakash Shah was assigned duty to give company to Acharya Kripalani by reading books to him at Gujarat Vidyapith. It was then that Prakash Shah got ‘tuned’ with Acharya. While reading or listening, Acharya Kripalani may fall into deep thoughts and may not utter a word for a long period. But when he was in jubilant mood, he would intervene with a sweet injection of a Sindhi adage or folk song line or some subtle observation based on his own experiences. His love for his wife Sucheta Kriplani was more ethereal and deeper than what was appeared on the face. He had deep respect for Sardar Patel but would not hesitate to spell out his difference of opinions, without mincing the words.

During the Emergency (declared by Indira Gandhi during 1975-77), Prakash N Shah had had the longest imprisonment period, along with a few of other active members of the politically non-aligned organizations. One of main probable reasons for this imprisonment was his direct contact with Jaiprakash Narayan and with the Gujarat end of his movement. He spent most of his time with reading from the jail library. His writings mainly confined to his personal letters to his wife and his daughters. He had several occasions to hold intense discussions with other inmates who were from the RSS or the Sarvodaya movement. Thus, he could very closely observe these two ideological thought processes. When he was on a four-day parole, he had had first contact with Narendra Modi as one of the many callers on him. Ever since then, they have an arm’s distance relationship that is characterised by a critical eye on each other’s activities.

Prakash N Shah had had occasions to meet Lal Krishna Advani during a few years in 1990s. In one such meeting, L K Advani, in response to a question about the basic difference the thinking of Congress and that of BJP, stated that Congress and BJP have almost an identical approach in so far as the economic reforms are concerned, but BJP’s identity is in its ideology of Hindutva. It is but natural that such basic undercurrents of the thinking would put the independent-minded Prakash N Shah into the role of the opposition.

Jaiprakash Narayan was as radical-minded Dr. Rama Manohar Lohia However according Dr. Lohia, JP was ‘worn out’ once he had joined the Sarvodaya movement. Dr. Lohia also further believed that, however it was only JP who may be able to bring any change. In one of the public discourses, sometime in 1972/1973, Prakash N Shah has noted that, in his journey for the such of newer dimensions, from Congress to Socialist Party to Sarvodaya Movement, JP now seemed at the cusp of a new turn in his life.

These varied experiences and exposures seemed to have some effects on the ideology of Parakash N Shah. He started writing from his school days. Later on, he used to write articles on different subjects in journals associated with different ideologies, which now has culminated into his writings in Nireekshak, the fortnightly newsletter that he now edits. Between these two mileposts of his writings, his professional experiences got transcribed into wide choice of the subjects of his articles in Vishwamanav , then Gyangangotri series and then, as a journalist, in Gujarati newspapers of Indian Express group and Times of India group. This also helped shape Prakash N Shah‘s very unique style of writing.

Prakash N Shah had had occasions to establish a direct contact with the active politics as well during the whole process of Gujarat and Bihar (JP) movement [~January- March, 1974], the Janata Front in Gujarat [~June 1976], Emergency [~1975-1977] and the rise of Janata Party [~1977]. This was also the period of rise and development of responsible and recognizable civil society movement. Prakash N Shah and his like-minded colleagues fought the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation elections in 1987 on this civil society platform. Based on these experiences, he has co-founded the Movement for Secular Democracy. The organization has been putting across its secular-veined memoranda on the events like Godhra [~2002] and post-Godhra issues to Human Rights Commission, Krishna Aiyar Commission and similar other current issues of national ethos.

As much debated, interesting and important as the public issues that Prakash N Shah has gone through in his life is his unique writing style. He easily coins terms that are usually not used in the present-day journalism or literature. Profusely interspersed with such ‘Prakash Shah’ian terms, his writing style also provides enough cause to the opponents of Prakash N Shah’s oppose the expression of his ideology as well. Even the fans of his writing style, too, do smart from their inner races while wading through such terms in his articles.

As Prakash N Shah enters the eighth decade of his eventful life, he talks about his dreams – then and now. He recalls that during his youth, he aspired to write a novel on Tolstoy, narrated form the point of view of the Countess. In the period of 1975 to 1990, when he was active in the JP Movement, he aspired to write a novel, based on the subject of Gandhiji starting his movement afresh with JP and Dr. Lohia as his follower-soldiers, as if Gandhiji wereand Nehru and Sardar Patel active in the government However, at the present juncture of his life he would like to put his thoughts, expressed in his varied oral discourses, in to an organized documented order. He dreams that the very basic understanding that would emerge from the retrospection of such writings may help the coming generation in addressing their issues, in whatsoever little way it could.

On the whole the conversations of Urvish Kothari does help the reader of the book to draw up a fairly meaningful picture of the multi-faceted personality of Prakash N Shah, a liberal, humanistic and plain-spoken civil rights torch-bearer, an independent minded ideologist and a lucid-and-flowing-styled unorthodox writer.

‘પ્રકાશ ન. શાહ’ [Prakash N. Shah – In conversations with Urvish Kothari]
Author: Urvish Kothari © July 2019
ISBN: 978-93-84076-37-5
Pages – 160, Listed sales price – Rs. 150/ –
Publisher: Saarthak Prakashan, Ahmedabad
Principal Distributor, Bookshelf, Ahmedabad