Saturday, Sep 13, 2003
Kasturi Ranga Iyengar (seated, left) with fellow editors when he visited the war front in Europe in 1918 as a guest of the Government of India.
For a while after Subramania Aiyer left The Hindu, it seemed the growing tree might wither. The 12 pages contained far less news, much more non-controversial views, and six pages of advertising. But despite a Sunday supplement, introduced late in 1898, attempts to rent out a portion of the building, and willingness to undertake commercial printing such as printing textbooks, the paper barely managed to survive. In 1901 Veeraraghavachariar attempted to make The Hindu a limited company with a capital of Rs 1,20,000. But the scheme failed with less than half the offered 1,200 shares being subscribed.
With an eye on revenue, The Hindu's adventurousness began to decline in the 1900s and so did its circulation, which was down to 800 copies when the sole proprietor decided to sell out. The purchaser was The Hindu's Legal Adviser from 1895, S. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, a politically ambitious lawyer who had migrated from a Kumbakonam village to practise in Coimbatore and from thence to Madras. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's ancestors had served the courts of Vijayanagar and Mahratta Tanjore. He traded law, in which his success was middling but his interest minimal, for journalism, pursuing his penchant for politics honed in Coimbatore and by his association with the `Egmore Group' led by C. Sankaran Nair and Dr T.M. Nair.
Kasturi Ranga Iyengar was past forty when he decided to buy The National Press and its major publication, The Hindu, much against the advice of friends and relatives, who termed it "a mad venture." On April 1, 1905, he took over the paper for a consideration of Rs.75,000, retaining Veeraraghavachariar as Manager, Karunakara Menon as Joint Editor, and hoping that Sankara Menon and T. Rangachari, his two partners in the initial investment, would stay on in the business. Within a matter of months all of them quit and, by July 1905, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar was in sole charge. In 1910 he persuaded his nephew, A. Rangaswami Iyengar, a Tanjore lawyer, to join the newspaper as Assistant Editor and Manager.
From the first, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar treated The Hindu as the family's only business, a tradition continued to this day. He soon generated good advertising revenue from both Indian and English firms. Subscribers in arrears just did not get the paper any more. The Hindu only wanted paid up subscriptions. All this ensured that by 1910 he was able to pay off accumulated liabilities and was free of survival of business anxieties. At the same time, he ensured that readers got their money's worth - a newspaper with much more up-to-date news. He subscribed to the Reuter's telegraphic news service and published court cases in extenso. He provided space for a weather report, shipping and commercial information and "Sporting News", continuing with the practice Subramania Aiyer had started of reporting English cricket and beginning a new tradition of reporting horse racing.
The formula worked, with Kasturi Ranga Iyengar ending his first year with a profit of Rs 150. He also shaped a new editorial policy for the paper. In July 1905, The Hindu wrote of "A Pauperised India." Wondering whether there was "now a single intelligent Indian who still cherishes a hope that the British Parliament will ultimately save India from ruin," it went on to assert that India's hope lay not in British statesmanship but "solely and entirely in her own exertions." A month later The Hindu wrote: "The only wise, beneficial and permanent arrangement is to transfer the chief control over the Government of India... to... the people who alone are the rightful and competent guardians of the country's interests." This was a radical break with the Subramania Aiyer past. The Hindu was saying "Quit India" long before the Congress.
However, it was not this policy that was to establish The Hindu as the South Indian's adjunct to his steaming morning coffee. It was, among other things, its strong focus on Madras Province news - ranging from angry editorial outbursts to genial reporting of Governors' tea parties. Some of the most trenchant comment in the newspaper's history was made when Arbuthnot and Co., one of the oldest commercial institutions in Madras and the Presidency's leading bank, crashed in 1906. Its failure, it was observed, was "the ruin of many hundreds of families in Southern India." The Bank's insolvency affected thousands, from Governor Lawley and Maharajas to those investors of "the earning classes."
The Hindu, which called the business of Arbuthnot and Co. "a swindle of the vilest description... decoying innumerable innocent men and women into investing in its rapacious maw," campaigned for over a year seeking justice for the investors. It may have been instrumental in getting Sir George Arbuthnot, a powerful figure in India, convicted of misappropriation. The Hindu established its reputation as a newspaper concerned for the man in the South Indian sun. And its encouragement led to the establishment of the Indian Bank.
By 1912 The Hindu was a 16-page folio sized newspaper (half the size of today's paper) and was devoting a considerable amount of space to tilting with Annie Besant, whose contentions were first questioned by Subramania Aiyer in 1894. In the next quarter of a century, The Hindu crossed words interminably with Mrs Besant and her New India, clashing over Theosophy, J Krishnamurthi and Gandhiji and agreeing only on her Home Rule Movement.
The highly personalised bitter attacks and counter-attacks would come as a surprise to readers of The Hindu of today. For instance, the newspaper commented: "Only fools or mad men could believe in this 20th Century that the boy Krishnamurthi is an incarnation of the divinity. Mrs Annie Besant and Leadbeater have made up a story of the sacred mission of the boy." The Hindu successfully defended two criminal prosecutions for defamation and this led to the Theosophical Society and Mrs. Besant withdrawing two civil suits, for Rs. 200,000, they had filed against the paper. Then, in 1920, The Hindu opposed the proposed marriage of Theosophist G.S.Arundale and a Hindu girl who, it claimed, was a minor. Nevertheless, the 40-year-old Arundale married the 16-year-old Rukmini Nilakanta Sastri in a civil ceremony in Bombay and The Hindu was left gnashing its teeth.
Between its two vigorous campaigns against Annie Besant, The Hindu proved to be one of her more ardent supporters when in 1914 she launched her Home Rule Movement. When in May 1916 the Madras Government demanded a security of Rs.2000 from New India under the Indian Press Act, 1910, The Hindu protested strongly. "The public will have no difficulty", it editorialised, "in coming to the conclusion that this arbitrary step has been taken to undermine the influence of Mrs. Annie Besant, an Englishwoman of striking personality and generous instincts, who has done splendid service in the cause of India and who has recently given a powerful stimulus to the movement for self-government for India."
In June of the same year, The Hindu referred to rumours of an impending repressive policy in Madras and action against Mrs. Besant and commented: "It would be an injury of a grave kind not only to Mrs. Besant personally but to the people of the country for whom she has been rendering invaluable services." In a moving letter to the Editor, Mrs. Besant wrote: "Dear Mr. Kasturi Ranga, May I say a word of thanks for your very kind words about me yesterday. I am expecting an order which will silence me, so this will be my last word."
Meanwhile, its war of words with The Madras Mail continued unabated. The Madras Mail in November 1917 charged The Hindu with profiting from the advertisements of European businessmen while characterising them as "glorified grocers" for the political demands they made. In its reply The Hindu argued that their money was "not any more tainted because their opinions on the future ordering of this country happen to differ from ours" and gave the assurance that "we shall certainly not model our political opinions to suit the views of our advertisers."
On the principal national issues, the paper was more restrained although its stand was clear. Initially continuing to affirm its loyalty to the British throne, it gradually shifted its stand from Moderatism to Tilakian and Gandhian opposition, the change beginning in 1918 with the publication of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. This was The Hindu's finest hour: its cause became the independence of India and its story was inextricably intertwined with the saga of the Indian freedom struggle.
The Hindu's deep commitment to steps leading to an independent India was manifest in the years following the Great War, though the paper hailed the victory by the Allies. It strongly opposed the Moderates and was stridently vocal against Government repression.
In 1919, the paper was in trouble for its reports and comments following the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre and a Government "run mad." It observed that there was "no question that in India the authorities are too ready to take extreme measures at the slightest provocation" and that "the sanctity of human life has no application in India." It charged: "We have no hesitation in asserting that this handing over of the city [Amritsar] to the military as well as the subsequent atrocities, the crawling, the stoppage of water supply, and the crowning atrocity at Jallianwalla Bagh were all part of a deep laid plan to make an example of the city, to do something that would strike terror into the heart of the Punjab, to teach India a lesson that she should not forget in 50 years... It is therefore a moral certainty that the police, presumably with the knowledge and connivance of Gen. Dyer, took steps to make the massacre as successful as possible."
The Hindu was no less forthright on local issues when it felt the path of propriety had not been followed. It was "pained and surprised" by the Justice Party's manifesto, which it published in full but strongly criticised for creating "bad blood between persons belonging to the same great Indian community who have been living hitherto in perfect harmony and to whom good sense should suggest that there is nothing more suicidal at this movement and perilous to the national cause than to create causes for mutual discord and to play into the hands of the enemies of the national progress." It was willing, however, to react more favourably to parts of the manifesto, which were "in the direction of social and educational progress and in securing a sufficient representation of their separate interests in any scheme of political reform."
Associated with Kasturi Ranga Iyengar during this glorious period of vociferous dissent, when the newspaper repeatedly clashed with the Government as well as political and cultural leaders of various hues, not to mention rival newspapers, were his two nephews who served as Assistant Editors, S. Rangaswami and, for a while, A. Rangaswami Iyengar. Both become famous Editors of The Hindu and died in harness in the decade that followed Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's passing in December 1923.
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