By Nitya Chakraborty
Om Prakash Sabherwal, more known as OP in Delhi’s media circles, was a leading journalist in the national capital for more than five decades in the last century. He joined India Press Agency (IPA) in1959 at the call of IPA founder Nikhil Chakravartty and was connected with the organization till his last days. He died on May16, 2013 at the age of 90.
OP belonged to a well to do business family of Ludhiana in Punjab but from his student days, he got active in the students movement dominated by the communists and emerged as an important leader of the All India Students Federation. After graduating with Physics from Punjab University, he became a fulltime activist of the CPI and participated in both political and cultural movement. Young OP had a taste in dance and music. He for some time joined the Almora centre of the famous dance guru Uday Shankar. But the surge in anti- British movement led him to be immersed full time in political activities in 1940s.
He worked in the CPI headquarters in Calcutta in late 1940s during the banned period of the party and carried out lot of writing work for the senior party leaders.. He got the attention of the journalist Nikhil Chakravartty at that time itself. After Nikhilda founded the IPA in December 1958 along with the Calcutta based Sri Lankan communist David Cohen, OP was called by Nikhilda to join in 1959..
OP worked under Nikhil Chakravartty’s editorship till 1980 and from 1980 to 2000, he was the Editor in Chief and ran the organization with high professionalism. During this period, IPA had a number of young reporters like Balraj Mehta, Kewal Verma, Narendra Sharma, P N Jalali who later got prominence in the world of national journalism. OP trained young reporters including this writer who worked under him from 1969 to 1973.
What was unique about OP was his command over English language and complete mastery over the areas including political, economic and technology. Mr. C N Chittaranjanwas the news editor during my time. Even CNC told me that once he tried to find fault with OP’s copy in terms of language but failed. It was flawless. CNC was a great taskmaster He extensively edited most reporters copies excepting OP’s.
OP had done series of high quality journalistic assignments like touring Punjab during its terrorism days and writing extensively on how to deal with the militants. Then his reporting from Afghanistan during the presidency of Dr. Najibullah was extraordinary. He was also present at Tashkent in 1965 when the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died. He visited Vietnam a number of times and reported on the economic reconstruction after the takeover by the communists.
But I still remember OP’s reporting on Bangladesh war and finally the report after the surrender of the Pakistan army in Dacca on December16, 1971. OP stayed in liberated Bangladesh for a week and wrote two pieces titled ‘Road to Dacca’. It was released both in IPA and the Mainstream weekly. The pieces got fabulous response from the readers and media persons. Even the foreign ministry of the government of India took note of that.
In his later years, OP focused fully on his main subject of interest nuclear science. He was in favour of making use of nuclear power for the country’s development. He wrote a number of pieces during that period. He worked hard and finally came out with his book ‘India’s Tryst with Atom: Unlocking the Nuclear Story’. He knew almost all senior scientists of the atomic energy sector. Dr. Anil Kakodkar was a very good friend of him. He interviewed Dr. Kakodkar on Doordarshan a number of times. But the most astonishing part was his foray into making science films for TV.
After I took over IPA editorship in 2001, OP told me to set up a division IPA TV and accordingly, a series of films were made for DD on the subject ‘Science for Healthcare’. The entire production was completed under OP’s direction when he was 81. During this time, his main writing focus was on India’s nuclear policy and India-China relations.
But his golden moment was in 2009 when he edited the Golden Jubilee volume of IPA containing writings during fifty years of journey of this leading news analysis agency. He chose the articles from thousands of pieces and brought out an excellent volume which was released in February 2009 at the Constitution Club. The volume contained eight pieces of OP himself covering major political, social and economic areas. OP was 86 then. This programme in 2009 was a fitting tribute to his glorious career in the service of both Indian media and Indian people.
OP was a great human being. He was not financially comfortable during his major stint in IPA. But in later years with his son emerging as a successful banker in USA and the daughter as a scientist settled in US, he was financially very comfortable. He gave loans to many friends with full knowledge that he would not get back. IPA with no big fund backing and run by the retired journalists, was always facing financial crunch. OP was always there to help, when needed. The loans were repaid mostly, but sometimes on his own, he converted the loans into grants. IPA was an idea to him and he always wanted this to remain alive and agile. (IPA Service)