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How two Gujarati monthlies covered Independence in 1947. Media today can learn a thing or two

Sanskruti, a monthly started in January 1947, dismissed sheer pessimism that discarded any celebration around Independence. It urged to accept what India had got.

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The end of British rule on 15 August 1947 marked country-wide celebrations. But the darkness of unprecedented and horrifying communal violence was not lost. The newspapers brought out special supplements and congratulated readers on the new dawn after a long, long night. Prestigious Gujarati monthlies published from Ahmedabad, Kumar and Sanskruti did celebrate freedom in their August issues. But their tone was nuanced.

Kumar, a reputed Gujarati monthly, chose an illustration of the National Flag with a boy scout, on the cover of the August 1947 issue. The style of salutation and uniform (knee-long shorts, cap), originally representing Sewa Dal of Congress, became synonymous with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the later decades.

Known for covering wide-ranging topics on literature, arts, culture, science, etc, and not indulging in current affairs, Kumar, “a monthly for the citizens of tomorrow”, published a map of Independent India with the title ‘Independent yet incomplete India’. The accompanying write-up explained the problem by citing the formation of Pakistan and the areas controlled by several princely states, even if they were merged with the Indian Union. Some of the princely states still had their ‘sovereign’ rule over the population as they were yet to take the decision. They made the Independence incomplete according to the monthly.

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The legendary editor of Kumar, Bachubhai Rawat, was known for grooming poets and writers. In the reputed poetry section of the August 1947 issue, there were poems by Sundaram, Rajendra Shah, and Balmukund Dave—all of them rose to become prominent poets of Gujarat with Shah getting the Jnanpith Award in 2001.

While the poetry of Sundaram and Shah was celebratory, Dave’s was titled A Cloudy Dawn. In the first stanza, he narrated the sacrifices made for the cause of Independence and asked in the same breath, ‘Why the dawn is cloudy and foggy?’ He imagined people waking up and feeling underwhelmed as the light was hazy. In the last stanza, Dave portrayed Gandhi’s imagery beautifully: “Graceful yet tragic and weak eyes looking through the sky. He was the one who had digested the poison of darkness and yet stood there at the front of the masses, completely detached, an unperturbed ascetic, like Lord Shiva. It was his guidance that prompted the people to shed despair and look for a better future.”

In a small, unsigned piece in Kumar titled ‘As the independence has arrived’, the readers were cautioned that the real task had just begun. The country was in a somewhat similar situation to that of Russia in 1918 after the revolution. ‘We need thousands of qualified persons to run our home with long boarders…If we will not make our shoulders strong enough to carry the burden of independence, it will crush us’. It was easy sometimes to sacrifice in the heat of zealousness but to offer sacrifice through silent resolve was difficult. And it was the latter that would be needed.

Kumar also started a series of articles on the martyrs of freedom from the August 1947 issue. The September 1947 issue carried the photo of the national symbol of the four lions of Sarnath. The issue carried a two-page article titled ‘The freedom is ignited in the country but not in our hearts’. It reminded a few bitter facts and stated that we must refrain from unnecessary self-praise. The piece also narrated the unruly behaviour of the celebrations of 15 August at some places.

Sanskruti, a new monthly started by poet-writer Umashankar Joshi in January 1947 was equally measured in celebrating 15 August. Joshi in his column Samayrang (moods of time) wrote that the country will become a dominion instead of a colony just by the virtue of a law passed peacefully (in British Parliament) and the fact itself is amazing. He also noted that no segment of people has displayed the kind of joy one expects on such an occasion. Joshi also dismissed sheer pessimism that summarily discarded any celebration and wrote, “To accept what we have got and to make full efforts of building a grand structure based on it is the only way forward…The country cannot remain lifeless for long as it is today.”

Joshi was critical of the British command over the armies of both India and Pakistan. He wrote without mincing words that Indian leadership lacked farsighted statecraft and statesmanship. There were three pieces of poetry in the issue welcoming Independence, one by Joshi himself.

In the September 1947 issue of Sanskruti, Umashankr Joshi expressed sheer disappointment in the editorial and wrote that the country has reached an unprecedented low, spiritually. He also criticised the political leadership for abandoning Gandhism or any such ideals.

The more scathing comment appeared in his column ‘Samayrang’ in which he expressed anguish at the high salaries of newly appointed Indian governors. Quoting a Gujarati proverb that one can see the child’s traits right in the cradle, he noted a new practice of tax-free salary for the governors which was not even the case during the British Raj. Joshi remarked that it was a bad omen to see the ministers emerging from the Birla House to assume power, with kanku (red turmeric) applied on their forehead. He regretted that not a single minister refused to take a salary or offered to use it for a public cause. There was not a minister who at least stuck to the salary of Rs 500, the amount Congress ministers took as a salary in 1937 when Congress formed governments in several provinces after the election.

“The way our leaders have furthered the inheritance of the British, perhaps the British might not have inherited it in the same way from the Mughals.” Wrote Joshi and wished that the new rulers and office bearers will act as humble servants of the people.

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Joshi was also critical of excluding the spinning wheel from the national flag and was surprised that Gandhi could be convinced of the change. Citing religious and spiritual history of the chakra in Indian tradition even before Ashoka, he wrote that “the inclusion of the Chakra is like trying to show respect towards the essence of Gandhi in the present and that of Ashoka in the past but effectively appropriating the pride associated with both of them.”

The tone of two prominent Gujarati monthlies on such a historic occasion as 15 August 1947 can be instructive for the media and writers witnessing government-driven Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

Urvish Kothari is a senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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