“Impact.” That is the word which is a perfect fit for his reporting. His news reports are not mere “stories”, a word used for daily staple, filling in the columns which cannot be left blank. A reporter worth his salt writes to make impact. ”Have I made some difference to the people who are my readers?” is the question a sensitive reporter asks himself. Not everyone gets answers in affirmative. But it is a different story with Prafulla Marpakwar, the Political Editor of The Times of India. His news reports often come like bombshells forcing the powers of being to change and mend their ways. Successive governments have been compelled to act fast after Marpakwar’s reports were published in the powerful daily. He has unearthed many scams and exposed corruption or misuse of power on many occasions. His Monday column in the Times ‘Public Eye’ is very famous among the readers.
In early eighties he wrote about the exploitation of Beedi workers and the state government under A. R. Antulay had to ensure a substantial increase in their wages. This is not a solitary example of Marpakwar’s impact oriented journalism. He exposed a scam in Nagpur. Some professors had usurped land belonging to the government. Because of his reports the land was reverted to the government. That is how Prafulla Marpakwar works. He is a crusader against injustice and exploitation. He likes to expose misuse of power and authority and lend his voice to the victims. A dedicated and committed journalist indeed, but that is in his blood.
A part of his upbringing, his father Chintamanrao Marpakwar was a well-known freedom fighter and a teacher devoted to achieving social justice and equality. His mother Saraswatibai was a home maker. P. V. Narsinha Rao who later became Prime Minister of India and Chief Justice Hidayatulla who became Vice-President of India often visited Chintamanrao. Some other freedom fighters and great personalities came to their house. Chintamanrao Marpakwar was a great teacher and he opened two schools for the sole purpose of propagating education among the Dalit community and women in 1943-45. That was the atmosphere Prafulla grew in.
Prafulla himself started writing letters to the editors of newspapers when he was studying in Hislop College. He wrote about various social problems. The journalist in him was already taking shape. Prafulla went to a municipality run primary school and high school in Dharam Peth. Later he completed his B. Sc. degree from Hislop College. After graduating he took up a job with the English daily Hitavada, of which Meghnath Bodhankar was the then-editor. Marpakwar completed his Masters in Journalism degree from Nagpur University while he was working for Hitavada. Afterwards, he joined Nagpur Times and worked there from 1981 to 1986. Naresh Gadre was the then-editor of Nagpur Times. He married Nandani in 1987. After that he started searching for a new job. He applied in many establishments. During this period he met the renowned journalist Arun Sadhu, who offered him a job with Free Press Journal. But same day after his meeting with Sadhu, he received a letter from PTI asking him to join the premier News Agency. He found himself facing a dilemma and reached Sadhu for advice. Sadhu told him that PTI was where core news was handled and it would suit him better to go to PTI. Marpakwar worked with PTI for a year and gave many ‘breaking news’ headlines. At the end of the year he was contacted by Rahul Singh and Dinkar Raikar of Indian Express with a job offer. By then he had established himself as a competent reporter. He worked for Express from 1988 to 2004, a very long innings indeed. His next significant job change came in 2004 when the Times of India editor Joydeep Bose (Jo Jo) called him and offered a job. Marpakwar accepted it as Boribunder was considered the ultimate destination in journalism in those days. He has been with the Times since then. His journalistic career thus spans 37 years and has been eventful. As a journalist he acknowledges influence of towering editors like Arun Shourie, Shekhar Gupta and Joydeep Bose(Jo Jo).
Marpakwar has many scoops and exposes to his credit. He was instrumental in getting justice in many situations. His reports forced the governments to discard and change laws. He reported that Sanjay Dutt, then an accused in the Mumbai Bomb blast case was kept in JJ hospital with even when there was no medical reason to do so. TADA court judge J.N.Patel called for a report and the celebrity accused was sent back to jail. It was later made mandatory that prisoners should be admitted to hospitals only after a thorough investigation by an expert panel. A landmark impact indeed and another example of his investigative journalism is the Petroleum Scam during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. The news series ran for 22 days and there were attempts to lure and threaten Marpakwar for not pursuing the scam. He did not bend. The notorious Kini Murder case which he followed up rigorously was another instance when received threats and was intimidated. He did not give up. He exposed the infamous Enron Power Rate contract which caused a major political upheaval in the state. His reports about over pricing and profiteering of the Heart Stent caused a sensation and forced the government to act in favor of patients. Health Minister Suresh Shetty extended his cooperation in that matter and later he was interviewed by BBC over the subject. One of his reports brought out the building on Navy land scam better known as Adarsh scam which resulted in resignation of the then Chief Minister. Though his report resulted in the Chief Minister’s ouster, personal relations between them continue to be cordial as before.
Marpakwar has also been fighting for working conditions and facilities for Scribes tribe. He was President of Press Accreditation Committee of the state for three years. The committee to look into attacks on pressmen was constituted at his behest. The period for decisions about accreditation applications was reduced to one month from six months. The renewal period of accreditation card which was every year was made biannual. He made provisions for life time accreditation for senior journalists. The ST bus travel pass was converted into a smart card reducing lot of paperwork. The Medical Welfare Scheme for journalists in the name of Shankarrao Chavan was introduced in his tenure as president. He undertook a tour of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra, Telangana, Kerala, Delhi and studied the journalists movements and nature of facilities provided to them. Later he insisted on implementing some of the good schemes in Maharashtra. He tried hard to bring about a pension scheme for journalists here.
He made many friends during his long journey as a political correspondent. He misses late Vilasrao Deshmukh with whom he worked on many committees. Marpakwar never accepted or claimed any allowance or honorarium for working on any committee whatsoever.
As a journalist who has been in the field for four decades, Marpakwar has many happy moments but he has his concerns too. He is worried about the fast eroding credibility of media in recent years. When he opens up to friends and colleagues he tells them that the authenticity of news content in media is at stake. In this competitive era of being the first to break the news, fact has become first casualty and media loses credibility if the report is not factual.
Marpakwar has made many friends in different circles and developed close relations and contacts with personages from various walks of society. Politicians including great statesmen, top bureaucrats, businessmen and industrialists are on his friends list. Late R. R. Patil alias Aaba has been Marpakwar’ favorite personality in politics. Among bureaucrats that position goes to Johnny Joseph, former IAS officer. He is a good leader for his colleagues and leads his team from the front.
The Marpakwars are devotees of Ganapati and celebrate the Ganesh festival at home every year. During the festivity many friends visit their home.
His devotion and dedication to his work has earned him many accolades and awards. He values the love and appreciation by his readers very much.
He is a much traveled man.
On the family front he has four brothers and a sister. He and Nandani are blessed with two sons. Nandani, is a central government employee. Their son Chaitanya is following his father’s footsteps and is a rising star, a figure to look out for in the next generation of journalists. His other son Yashraj is in the corporate field. The Marpakwars are very hospitable hosts.
Social service is a family tradition with Marpakwars. Markapwar and his wife Nandani have practically adopted the school in the railway officers’ colony where they live and they pay attention to the needs of the children studying there. He has been a close friend of mine for a while now.
I first met him during a program to celebrate the then Chief Minister Narayan Rane’s birthday at the Taj Hotel on 10th April 1999. Marpakwar has still retained a photograph of us with the Rane family. This bond of friendship continues in the next generation of Marpakwars and Thorats. My son Chintan is a close friend of Chaitanya. Chintan went to do his Masters in Political Communication after Chaitanya advised him to do so. Prafulla Marpakwar is keen on making friends and maintaining cordial relations with them. I wish this friend of mine a very bright future.