Saturday, Sep 13, 2003
Mahatma Gandhi, flanked by Sarojini Naidu and A. Rangaswami Iyengar, at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931.
An ardent Congressman, an admirer of Tilak and direct action, but above all a man who sought a new and free India, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar made the voice of The Hindu "a clarion call that might annoy but could not be ignored." Throughout his editorship, his policy was "that no leader is above criticism because he is well meaning, that no policy is sacrosanct as such." And Tilak himself learnt this.
When Kasturi Ranga Iyengar died in December 1923, he left a paper with a circulation of 17,000 and considerable advertising support, a paper recognised by both officialdom and the citizenry as a major communication force. To make all this technically possible he had, between 1921 and 1923, installed the first rotary printing press in South India and modern linotype composing machines, setting the trend the paper follows to this day of being first with modern newspaper technology in India. He arranged for an efficient news-by-telegram service and ensured quick delivery of the paper to remote areas. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar had taken over a paper with "a high political reputation and as low a financial outlook as possible" - a paper in which Subramania Aiyer had made "righteousness readable" - and made it a paying proposition. He made "readable righteousness" remunerative, but not at the expense of human interest - often at its most interesting in the extensive readers' column - leavening humour, and comprehensive coverage of meetings down to those of even sanitary inspectors.
Kasturi Ranga Iyengar was succeeded by S. Rangaswami, son of his eldest brother. Rangaswami, a lawyer who joined The Hindu as an Assistant Editor in 1910, made his name with incisive "elucidation, reviews and comment" on the battles of the Great War. He went on to develop into a wielder of a brilliant, caustic and critical pen. He was just the man for Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's campaigns of moral indignation. An avid reader of everything from penny dreadfuls to world literature, a perennial protester against the social and moral conventions of society, especially Brahmin society, he contributed trenchant writings that were masterpieces of satire and irony. His exchanges with the eloquent V.S. Srinivasa Sastri were epic. It was S. Rangaswami who described the Moderates as "moderates only in their patriotism" and Moderatism as "not a policy but a disease." He advised Moderates afraid that the Reforms would be withdrawn that "there are occasions on which it is wiser to let go the bird in the hand and pin our hopes on those in the bush."
If The Hindu of this time did not hesitate to chastise the British, it was no less ready to take on Gandhiji, of whom S. Rangaswami wrote in 1920: "It is perhaps India's misfortune than Mr. Gandhi's fault that he should be possessed of a mind so mercilessly logical. Prepared himself for the greatest of sacrifices, it is open to question whether he does not impose on his following conditions the rigour of which is greater than it can bear." He added: "The strength of a chain is not in its strongest but its weakest link... Does Mr Gandhi seriously think the [non-cooperation] movement will retain its outstanding characteristic of non-violence concurrently with chaos, anarchy and disorder?" He wrote: "For our part we do not think the British connection is sacrosanct and have not hesitated to say so... There is no divine right about the British connection. If India is held by the sword it is her right to free herself by the sword. If she is not, she has a right to be treated on a status of equality...We advocate a campaign, Mr. Gandhi advocates a forlorn hope. According to our plan we cannot afford to leave untried and untested every possible means to the end in view."
It was, however, for Srinivasa Sastri that S. Rangaswami reserved his choicest language. Describing "the official apologist" as "the pet lamb of the British Government," The Hindu wrote: "It was said of the Austrians that they had a genius for defeat. It may be said with equal justice of Mr. Sastri that he had a genius for surrender and this is the man who is nowhere less honoured than in his own presidency... ." To Sastri's credit it must be stated, that in The Hindu's Diamond Jubilee supplement in 1939, he let bygones be and wrote: "For several years after the paper passed into the hands of Mr. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, my sayings and doings ran athwart his policy. I was no favourite with him and figured frequently in his columns as a Servant of India whose services India could do without. This Babylonian exite, however, was not everlasting. I recall with gratitude many a pat on the back which betokened my restoration to grace and in particular an indignant protest against the persistent abuse of which I was victim at the hands of Justice, then alive, and spitting fire and brim-stone."
While S. Rangaswami wielded a pen that scorched paper, K. Srinivasan, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar son, attended to management, playing more and more of a major role as his father's health deteriorated in the early 1920s. He teamed up with Rangaswami and his brother to turn the paper into a financial success. Together they remodelled the methods of production and circulation. A battery of Linotype machines and a new high-speed rotary prints were in place by 1921. Space for `Commercial', `Financial' and `Sporting' features was increased. And so were wages for all - which were supplemented by a Provident Fund. An even faster rotary machine capable of printing 30,000 copies an hour was ordered.
Together they introduced numerous entertaining features to brighten up the paper. In the mid-1920s, The Hindu, introduced cartoons, a full picture page, a weekly woman's page, short stories and humorous skits aplenty - and the paper included among its exclusive contributors Jawaharlal Nehru, Krishna Menon, Subhas Chandra Bose and a galaxy of writers from abroad introduced through syndicated services. It published wedding photographs, pictures of arrivals and departures (this exposure becoming a status symbol), of social functions and entertainments, of successful persons and new appointees. It was a paper as game to publish a whole page of pictures of Governor Lord Goschen's daughter's Madras wedding as it was to publish pictures of the ex-Maharaja of Indore and his American fiancee as well as columns of reports on their international romance. It was a natural and successful partnership that lasted until Rangaswami's untimely death in 1926 - his memory now commemorated only in the trophy for national supremacy in the game he loved, hockey, the Rangaswamy Cup presented by The Hindu in 1957.
The liveliness gradually declined when A. Rangaswami Iyengar came in as Editor in 1928, fading out almost completely in the 1930s. The sports page, the weekly women's page, the pictorial page and the erudite weekly Literary Supplement survived till World War II, but only the first named came through the restrictive rigours of that holocaust.
Rangaswami Iyengar, son of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's sister, was of a different mould from S. Rangaswami. A man of moderate political views, he left The Hindu in 1915 to edit the Swadesmaitran, which was to make him an all-India figure. In 1928, he was invited back as the Editor of The Hindu by Srinivasan. Rangaswami Iyengar, a constitutional expert, was an important man in the Congress machinery; he had been its Secretary twice. Srinivasan persuaded him to return to The Hindu.
Jawaharlal Nehru's letter to K.Srinivasan on The Hindu's Diamond Jubilee.
A politician-journalist and a man who took a legalistic view of public affairs, Rangaswami Iyengar constantly strove to bring the official and unofficial worlds closer, using his remarkable political insight to make The Hindu a vehicle of political thought. With him began an era of moderation and conciliation ending the more firebrand eras of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar and S. Rangaswami. To Rangaswami Iyengar, "unjust" if used with indisputable facts was as effective a word as "damned unjust," a view The Hindu has rather stuck to ever since.
Together, Rangaswami Iyengar and Srinivasan saw Civil Disobedience growing nowhere. The Hindu argued in the Editor's best lawyer manner: "Everyone will agree with him [Gandhiji] ... on the message of non-violence preached by him in the darkest days of India's travail. By adopting it as `the right route to our goal' in 1920 the country has gained in political stature, momentum and power; we see the evidence of it in the mass consciousness of national self-respect that has made itself felt both by our rulers and by the world at large. But neither the country as a whole nor many leading Congressmen will agree with the views which Gandhiji has put forward of the tenet of non-violence and its scope in practical application ... It can hardly appeal to those politically minded Congressmen who still feel that mankind will have to travel a long, long way before such a lofty goal could be realised."
The Hindu's crest, which replaced the lion and unicorn on January 1, 1935.
This was almost the last influence on The Hindu of A. Rangaswami Iyengar who had once acted as Gandhi's secretary at the London Round Table Conference. With his death in 1934, Srinivasan became Managing Editor, the post he held till his death in 1959, assisted by his younger brother Gopalan, co-proprietor, Printer and Publisher.
It was on the question of the freedom of the press that The Hindu of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's day, and to an extent during his son Srinivasan's stewardship, waxed most eloquent. The newspaper first strongly asserted its views on the question of press freedom in the wake of its comments on the Punjab turmoil, when the Government sought security deposits from it for good behaviour. The paper answered: "We feel no doubt that the action of the Madras Government... is a violent stretch of the arbitrary power conferred by the Act. It is a gross and dangerous infringement of the liberty of the Press and if the present policy is continued it must lead to the extinguishment of honest and independent journalism in this country. So far as The Hindu is concerned, the contemplation of a perverted application of the Press Act and the involving of it into further pains and penalties will not have the result of inducing it to swerve from its past traditions and the path of journalistic independence and rectitude which it has always maintained." During the Moplah Rebellion of 1921 - its climax being the death of 66 out of 100 prisoners who were confined overnight in a closed iron wagon that was part of the Calicut-Madras train - The Hindu asserted its independence when asked to publish only official reports. "We may be wrong," it said, "but we feel that an attempt is being made to put the Press in blinkers and we do not propose to submit ourselves to that operation. Putting it bluntly, the public have no confidence in official accounts and to ask us to refuse publication to others unless they have the imprimatur of departmentalised truth is asking us to betray our responsibility to the public." The era of the cousins was marked by the bluntness of S. Rangaswami and Rangaswami Iyengar's reasoned criticism in blunted words.
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