Mahendra ends distinguished leadership

On March 20, 2021, I stepped down as President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, a non-government, voluntary body under the Commonwealth umbrella, ending a tenure that was prolonged, partly by Covid-19.

Playing the host after over three decades, India was forced to hold the Delhi conference as a webinar, thanks to the restrictions on travel and meeting imposed by the pandemic. It was wonderful working with colleagues, separated by distance. Most of us meet at the conferences and go our ways thereafter, yet maintain a link and work on issues concerning journalists.

I was lucky to have been elected to the International Executive of the CJA at the very first conference I attended in Sarawak in 2008, to become one of the Vice Presidents at the Malta conference and the President at the London meet in 2016. But it was not me – it is definitely India. Its branch had gone dormant. Google has only two small, sketchy, paragraphs about the Delhi Conference in 1987, addressed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the valedictory address delivered by then External Affairs Minister, Narayan Dutt Tiwari.

CJA’s founding president Derek Ingram was keen that India should have an active branch. At his instance, then CJA President Hassan Shahriar, my friend since my Bangladesh tenure, asked us, and Jayanta Roy Chowdhury and I were in Sarawak in 2008. At Derek’s instance, I took up the responsibility in 2016. In the last few years, among some dear colleagues, we lost Derek.

I am glad to have put my signature on the agreement to set up the bursary created from the generous amount he bequeathed. The effort was led by Rita Payne, my predecessor and a President Emeritus, and other colleagues in CJA-UK. I do hope the bursary will benefit young journalists across the Commonwealth.

Thanks to the havoc Covid-19 has played on our lives, we made Covid-19 and its impact on the media the main conference theme. CJA’s branch units sent in their country reports that add up to 10,000 words. I do hope someone somewhere studying political, economic, social and psychological impact Covid has made on the lives of journalists will take note of this collective effort. These are difficult times with economies in disarray. They have been accentuated by political pressures on and within the media organisations and in many cases, on the NGOs who chip in.

Whatever activity and training programmes we did were by branches raising small sums or spending from personal savings. I thank the Bangladesh branch for hosting India-Bangladesh Dialogue.

The Commonwealth Secretariat nominated me as an Election Observer to the Seychelles and Jayanta Roy Chowdhury to Zimbabwe. As CJA President, I was on the Grand Jury of the European Union’s Lorenzo Natali Media Prize in 2018. The EU also invited me for the prize distribution to Brussels. I thank everyone who helped and worked for the organization.

The Delhi Conference ended without electing new office-bearers, as is the norm. Several factors converged to cause that situation. The International Executive Committee (minus me) will now hold consultations and elect a new team to steer the CJA. And with Covid-19 hopefully ebbing sooner than later, I am confident it will revive activities as a collective, united in its goals to further the cause of journalists in the Commonwealth.