Gopal Raju, pioneer of ethnic Indian media in US, is no more

April 10th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by admin  

(Supersedes earlier copy)

New York, April 10 (IANS) Gopal Raju, who was a bridge between India and the United States in the fields of media, politics and philanthropy for over half-a-century, died here early Thursday after a brief illness. He was 80. Raju’s death was announced by his long-time colleague and friend Veena Merchant. He died after complications from a weeklong bout of jaundice.

An institution builder, he founded the India Abroad newspaper, the (IANS), the Indian American Foundation (IAF) and the Indian American Center for Political Action (IACPA). At the time of his death, he was the publisher of the weekly newspapers News India-Times, Desi Talk and Gujarat Times.

A pioneering advocate of the two-million Indian diaspora in the US, becoming involved first in the life of their adopted country, and then being a link to their homeland, he made India Abroad his passion for serving as an information bridge between the community and their native country.

Later, he founded the IACPA in 1993, which extended this community involvement to US politics from Washington to state and local levels.

Under the Center’s tutelage he placed about 200 Indian American interns with Congressional and Senate lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The IAF, which he launched in the 1970s, mobilised millions of dollars in contributions for education, health, social development and disaster relief projects in India, also helping rebuild many homes left devastated by the earthquake in Latur in Maharashtra and Kutch in Gujarat.

Former prime minister I.K. Gujral, who knew him well, said: “He was a institution and also the most significant bridge between India and America. His contribution in setting up India Abroad and a number of other Indian papers in North America speaks a lot about his initiatives. The foundation that he set up and the response he was getting made us feel proud of him and his work.”

True to his shy and self-effacing nature, Raju left instructions shortly before he died for a private funeral “without any fuss”.

He was honored both in his native and adopted lands. Then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam last year awarded him the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman for his contributions to India and its diaspora.

In 2004, he received the Ellis Island award honoring immigrants for their contributions to the US, and in 2000 the Asia Society’s Leadership Award. The US-based Taraknath Das Foundation conferred its 2006 award on Raju.

Raju, who arrived here in 1950, tried his hand at several businesses, running a travel agency and a restaurant, before settling on publishing.

The often excessively reticent Raju had the mental make-up of an old world publisher who did not enjoy a high public profile.

“My job is to publish a quality newspaper and not to project myself,” was one of his favourite refrains.

It was because of that philosophy that India Abroad went on to become the most credible Indian American publication, which The Economist of London once described as a weekly of “unusually high quality”.

One of his unfulfilled dreams was to create an overarching diasporic Indian publication worldwide that would watch over the 25 million strong expatriate Indian community around the globe.

“Raju paved the way for every Indian journalist working in the US today. He was also tremendously supportive of SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) and my own work,” said Sreenath Sreenivasan, dean of students at Columbia Journalism School.

Raju ran the India Abroad Fellowship Programme for several years at Columbia University.

Although he knew many powerful political figures both in India and the US he never made it a habit to leverage his contacts, nor bothered to be seen with them.

H.K. Dua, editor of Tribune and former media advisor to prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, said: “Gopal Raju was a remarkable journalist, always eager to do something more than he had already done and achieved. He was an institution builder. Single-handed, he built India Abroad newspaper and IANS. For most NRIs in the US, the two institutions were windows for knowing about India.

“He loved press freedom. I met him often when he would visit India and a couple of times in New York. He was a well aware man and worked a lot for the people of India.”

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