MK Gandhi: the journalist | Cashmere Images Diary
By: Uh. Prabhat Kishore
Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi was a great journalist and media crusader, not only because he was great in many ways and his greatness was total, but because he had a great gift of expression and communication as a journalist .
Journalism is not scholarship; it is literature or history written in a hurry. In part, it is also action. A journalist must have the ability to understand, reach and communicate; and for half a century, Gandhi was the greatest mass communication medium for one man.
Gandhiji was the most intrepid of journalists. His life was an epic struggle for freedom and equality, even though national freedom came in the last year of his life. He had fearlessly expressed his freedom before it came, fighting so many restrictions imposed by the British regime from time to time. He also fought for freedom of the press. Although it may seem natural, but he was the most independent journalist possible, independent of government and party affairs in the usual external and internal pressure of the press.
Gandhiji not only edited his papers but wrote for them incessantly. They were small weeklies. Gandhi’s rise to journalism, like so much else, was accidental.
In 1904, he was asked to take over a printing press that was operating in Durban (South Africa) under the direction of Shree Madanjeet Vyavharik, a former teacher from Mumbai and political collaborator of Gandhi. Gandhi had contributed much of its cost. Indian opinion was published weekly in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and English and was printed in this press with Mansukhlal Hiralal Nagar as its editor. All but one of the editions had large circulations compared to the other weeklies.
It was through Indian opinion that Gandhi came to the word ‘Satyagraha’. In the struggle of 1913, the newspaper was Gandhi’s standard. 1914 was the year of his farewell to South Africa and his association with the newspaper ended. “Young India” has established itself in a more spacious atmosphere and much greater vogue. Like Indian Opinion, he was also ready for Gandhi to take over. He was also keen on running a Gujarati newspaper and was offered ‘Navjeevan’ a monthly, which was converted into a weekly. Under his full control, Navjeevan appeared on October 7, 1919, and a day later “Young India” appeared; both from Ahmedabad. Gandhi was the editor of both newspapers and Mahadev Desai was its publisher. Both journals were priced at one Anna each, and the circulation of each was at one time about forty thousand. All Indian newspapers reproduced Gandhi’s articles. Interestingly, he did not accept any advertising.
Before taking over ‘Navjeevan’ and ‘Young India’, Gandhi had edited an unregistered weekly ‘Satyagrah’ for a short time, at the cost of a paise, in April 1919 in protest against the discriminatory and biased policies of the British government. This newspaper was the weapon of civil disobedience. In fact, the idea was to publish in each center a journal written without recording it, occupying no more than one side of half a full screed.
On February 11, 1933, the first issue of the weekly “Harijan”, at the price of one Anna, appeared from Pune. It was published for and by Servants of the Untouchable Society (Harijan Sevak Sangh) and contained a poem by Tagore ‘The Cleaner’. Its ten thousand copies have been published. “Harijan” was not a name chosen by Gandhi. Untouchable correspondents had suggested it. He has also published ‘Harijan Bandhu’ in Gujarati and ‘Harijan Sewak’ in Hindi. The three articles focused on social and economic problems of India and the world.
Fight against censorship
The “Bharat Chhodo” movement signified a change. This was the “Karo movement” and Gandhi did not want a newspaper to be published after the severest possible restrictions on publishing news of the “Bharat Chhodo” movement. At the historic AICC session in August 1942, Gandhi said he had asked fellow journalists to be aware of their responsibilities. He wanted them not to become government partners with censorship and pre-censorship. When he along with Sardar Patel and other leaders were arrested, all the old fights of “Harijan” and “Navjeevan” were hampered.
After a period of three and a half years, “Harijan” was revived in February 1946. Gandhi was again immersed in harijan welfare work. He had to rename the weekly and wanted to call it “Bhangi”. After Gandhi’s death on January 30, 1948, an attempt was made to continue the “Harijan” in his memory. There were heated debates and arguments over this issue, but a controversy arose among its supporters and eventually the historic “Harijan” was closed forever.
Various other publications:
In the “Gandhi era” of journalism, many newspapers were published to give voice to the freedom movement. ‘Swarajya’ (1920), ‘Karmaveer’ (1920), ‘Desh’ (1920), ‘Aaj’ (1920), ‘Arjun’ (1923) were some famous newspapers published at that time. In 1920, Ramrikh Pal Sahgal started publishing journals (on the subject of economics) named ‘Chand’ and ‘Gyan Mandal’ of Prayag and ‘Swarth’ of Kashi, Varanasi. Monthly magazines like ‘Sudha’, ‘Madhuri’, ‘Hans’ and ‘Vishal Bharat’ and daily magazines like ‘Hindustan’, ‘Nav Bharat Times’, ‘Veer Arjun’ (all from Indraprastha, Delhi) and ‘Aaj ‘ were well known to all. Many daily newspapers had their weekly edition. Research papers like “Rajasthan Bharatiya”, “Maru Bharati”, “Hindusthani”, “Nagari Pracharani Patrika”, etc. were published at that time.
Gandhiji was a natural writer in Gujarati but also had his place as a writer in English. He had the power of Rajas and Avtars. Three objects of journalism were propagated by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj (1921). The first object is to understand the popular feelings and thoughts of the people and to express them; second, to arouse national, historical and spiritual feelings among the people; and the third object is to write faults without fear.
Gandhi’s diaries suggest that the purpose of his journalism was to serve society in all respects and to inspire the masses for a greater cause. He spoke to people in their own language and was successful in communicating relevant messages. Gandhi’s journalism practice set high ethical and moral standards by practicing mass-oriented and values-based journalism, which will always be a benchmark for the world of print media.
(The author is a technocrat and an academician. He holds a Masters degree in Engineering from MN Regional Engineering College, Allahabad/Prayagraj)