Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary coincides with another milestone: the centenary of his two magazines Young India and Navjivan (1919-1932). Both periodicals, under the editorship of Gandhi, covered issues like the first non-cooperation movement in 1921, the 1919-1924 Khilafat movement, Gandhi’s imprisonment under sedition charges in 1922 , highs and lows of Hindu-Muslim relations, debates on untouchability, Dandi March in 1930, the second Round Table Conference in 1931 and his visit to Europe in 1931.
With prior experience of owning a press and running a weekly paper the Indian Opinion in South Africa, Gandhi knew the nitty-gritty of journalism and the importance of owning a mouthpiece to convey his unique thoughts.
Gandhi the prolific editor
The first opportunity for Gandhi to run magazines in India arrived in 1919 when Umar Sobani and Shankarlal Banker, two young supporters of Home Rule League that fought for bringing self-rule in India, offered him the editorship of their weekly Young India. Incidentally, the Home Rule League of America was also bringing out a monthly with the same name, which had no connection with the Indian Young India.
This was playing out during the peak of the anti-Rowlatt Act movement in 1919. The British government in pre-independent India suppressed the daily The Bombay Chronicle, which had a nationalist perspective and deported its pro-movement British editor B. G. Horniman. Sobani and Banker, helming the agency’s managerial affairs, asked Gandhi to take over the responsibility of The Bombay Chronicle. But, when the paper had to shut down its operations due to government pressure, the duo suggested Gandhi take over their English weekly Young India to carry on the spirit of the freedom struggle. Gandhi too was “anxious to expound the inner meaning of Satyagraha to the public” and also desperate to help the cause of the “Punjab situation”, which worsened after the martial law excesses. (An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, M.K. Gandhi, Translated by Mahadev Desai, Navjivan Press, May 1940, Page 580)
In the meantime, Indulal Yajnik, a passionate young leader and associate of Sobani and Banker offered editorship of his Gujarati monthly Navjivan ane Satya to Gandhi. He accepted it readily and dropped Satya (truth) from the name, most probably because it was indicative of a merger of two different magazines Navjivan and Satya.
The first issue of Navjivan with Gandhi as the editor came out on 7 September 1919. Explaining “Our Aim”, Gandhi noted that “If anyone asks why, if I wished to serve India, I should not pour out my soul through English, I would say in reply that, being a Gujarati by birth and way of life, I can serve India best only by identifying myself completely with the life of Gujarat”.
Expressing his preference for conversing and writing in India’s regional languages, he wrote in the same article, “Navjivan will take every possible occasion to show that it is in vain that we are so infatuated with English”, but clarified, “I do not mean to say that English has no place at all in our studies or our life. I only insist that our present use of English is indiscriminate”. (7 September 1919, Navjivan, Page 3. English translation: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume-16, Page 94)
Young India under Gandhi was a bi-weekly publication, but the additional responsibility of supervising the weekly Navjivan forced Gandhi to turn Young India into a weekly newspaper. Gandhi ran both the magazines from Ahmedabad, at times publishing an extra midweek edition or additional pages to its routine 8-page issue. The period from 1919 to 1921 saw a steep rise in the circulation of his two weeklies along with a surge in the Indian freedom movement.
Gandhi once noted, “Both of them reached a very wide circulation which at one time rose to the neighbourhood of forty thousand each”. He also observed a pattern, “While the circulation of Navjivan went up faster, Young India increased only by slow degrees”.
Gandhi’s prison term after the famous sedition case in 1922, for writing two particular articles in Young India, resulted in a drop in the circulation of the two periodicals — reaching below 8,000 copies. (An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, M.K. Gandhi, Translated by Mahadev Desai, Navjivan Press, May 1940, Page 581) Despite this setback, Gandhi termed Navjivan as ‘weekly report of the progress of Swaraj’.
His widely known autobiography An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth was first serialised in Navjivan as a history of the satyagraha movement in South Africa. Both the magazines, printed on full-scape size paper, had eight pages of content without any advertisement, presented in a double-column layout. The year-ender issue would give a complete subject and article index of the numerous issues covered throughout the year. Gandhi would be very punctual about meeting deadlines and would send his contributions by post even when he was travelling.
These magazines became live platforms for Gandhi to interact with the masses. He would agree to print nasty letters, but replied to them with patience, coherently putting across his viewpoint. He was ably aided by his multi-talented secretary Mahadev Desai who was proficient in both Gujarati and English. Gandhi’s other associates like activists and writers Swami Anand, Kaka Kalelkar, Narhari Parikh contributed to Navjivan and shaped Gujarati language and translations of that era. They also ran the paper when Gandhi was imprisoned in the sedition case. One can read a few articles and appeals of Vallabhbhai Patel in Navjivan, especially during Gandhi’s imprisonment.
The death of the two magazines
Both Young India and Navjivan had to be closed down due to Gandhi’s arrest and the crackdown on the satyagraha movement in 1931. Young India continued to come out in cyclostyled version of 3 pages and even regained its regular form before finally closing down in 1932. Navjivan had its last regular issue on 10 January 1932 followed by a couple of two-page issues before its final closure.
Lawyer and novelist K. M. Munshi, a member of Yajnik-Sobani-Banker group and later a member of the Constituent Assembly, paid a befitting tribute to Navjivan in his 1948 book Gandhi: The Master. “Few other newspapers in the world have had a similar popularity and influence in their area of circulation as this small, unostentatious sheet which never screamed a headline and never published an advertisement. With many, it replaced the novel and the Purana in interest. A single copy of this weekly has often brought to a distant hamlet its only journal and gospel of life”. (Gandhi: The Master, Rajkamal Publications Ltd., Delhi, 1948, Page 49)
The author is a senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal.