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Volume: II, Issue I, January-June 2011



The aim of this article is to study with an open mind, the coverage that had been given to the various events starting with Quit India movement and ending with the freedom of our country. The newspaper chosen is The Tribune which is one of the pioneer newspapers that have survived to this day. Since, the Tribune depicted the popular feelings of the northern region during the freedom struggle, it is interesting to peep into the old issues of the paper and discover what the headlines said. The content of the front page of the The Tribune, from the year 1942 (Quit India Movement) to 1947 (The independence) throws light on goings on during the period as also the opinion of the newspaper. The coverage of the Tribune connected the masses to the events as they unfolded.

Keywords Content

Newspapers are known to be record keepers of history. They have been performing this function since the time of their inception. The inherent characteristics of this medium in being fair and accurate make it a reliable source of information. As they are an important part of the society, they write about every major happening, any new law or legislation, public opinion on various subjects, public debates, social and economic problems faced by the contemporary society, political atmosphere and every thing that matters to the newspaper reading population. Many societies and Governments wished not to have newspapers at all, and allowed them only when it became more inconvenient not to do so. As it advanced, the information systems came to rely more and more upon this simple, mechanically produced article, which once it existed, became inseparable from the business of government and economics.

The relevance of newspapers in the present scenario of globalization cannot be denied but what is equally important is to acknowledge the role played by newspapers, whether vernacular or Anglo Indian, English or even underground press during our freedom struggle.  

Indian perspective
In India, the earliest newspapers were of the British, by the British and for the British. However, the educated Indians did not take much time to recognize the power of this seemingly small sheet of paper. Soon, the Indian newspapers rubbed shoulders with the freedom fighters during the struggle for freedom. They demonstrated the role of the participant journalist all through the freedom struggle. They rebelled against the British rule, created public opinion and made deities out of the freedom fighters.  The story of our freedom struggle is incomplete without a mention of the newspapers either published or patronised by the most prominent freedom fighters, Ram Mohan Roy with Sambad Kaumudi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak with Mahratta ,Gandhi with his Young India and Harijan,  Motilal Nehru with  Independent , Jawaharlal Nehru with National Herald  and Dyal Singh Majithia with The Tribune. 

The Tribune
The Tribune is one of the pioneers that have fortunately survived to this day. It was started from Lahore on 2nd Feb. 1881 and is now printed from Chandigarh. Surendranath Bannerji had helped Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia to start the paper and to choose its first editor, Sital Kanta Chatterjee. S D S Majithia was a prominent nationalist of northern India and he started a trust that continues to function even today. In its first issue, the Tribune carried this objective, ` the aim of the Tribune will be as its name imparts fairly and temperately to advance the cause of the mute masses.’ The aim of the newspaper was to spread the doctrine of Indian nationalism and to bring about unity in a society that was afflicted by differences on questions of religion, caste, language and region. Nehru BK [1998]. It has been doing just that.

In 1906, the Tribune turned daily. The Tribune often clashed with the British whenever, they tried to suppress the freedom of the press. It continued to stand like a rock in performance of its duty to educate the people. Its editor Kalinath Ray during the 1919 period of the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre wrote fiercely against Punjab government and Gen Dyer and was imprisoned for three months. When he was sent on rigorous imprisonment for 2 years the whole of Punjab and the press; the people and the leaders rose as one man; because he had emerged as `undisputed leader of the press in Punjab’ Aggarwal Vir Bala, Gupta V S [2001, 126-127]. Later, The Tribune opposed the partition and had to itself bear the brunt of what was to follow. In the grim days of August 1947, it became apparent that the Tribune could not continue publication from Lahore. On the eve of independence, its offices were ransacked by enraged mob. Its equipment, newsprint, property, and even cash were handed over to the Pakistan Times. Its issue of the August 14 could neither be delivered to the subscribers nor hawed on streets, its staffers stabbed and killed. The Tribune had to suspend publication for 40 days and resumed it only towards the end of September from Simla. In 1948 it moved to Ambala and shifted base to Chandigarh in 1969. Natarajan J. [1955: 148-149]. Over the years the Tribune has built for itself a reputation of being fair and courageous in the pursuit of truth.

Since, the Tribune depicted the popular feelings of the northern region during the freedom struggle, it is interesting to peep into the old issues of the paper and discover what the headlines said. A good way to study modern history is to research the document that recorded it as and when it happened.  That document is the newspaper and in this case, The Tribune.

The content of the front page of the The Tribune, from the year 1942 (Quit India Movement) to 1947 (The Idependence) throws light on goings on during the period as also the opinion of the newspaper. The aim is to study with an open mind, the coverage that had been given to the various events starting with Quit India movement and ending with the freedom of our country.   

The beginnings
It all began on March 24, 1942, with a news report with the headline, `Congress demand of Independence’. The report suggested that provincial congress committee had discussed a `very important question’ related to the freedom movement. During this period, one observes that the stress of these newspaper stories was on the transfer of power from British hands to Indian hands. Most news stories on the front pages related to the freedom struggle. The failure of the Cripps mission led to popular revolt against the government and it is reflected in the newspaper too.  March 28, 1942 headline of The Tribune details the meeting of Cripps and Gandhiji. A banner headline announces `Gandhi meets Cripps’ and continues, `observes silence after interview’ (fig 1). It is felt that the interview was held in camera  while the media waited outside for a photograph or a quote from any of the two. The news report makes major news story out of the trivial things said by them and comments passed in jest. This implies that the public was interested in every word uttered by Gandhi and so the media lapped it up.

On April 13, 1942, (fig 2) the headline screams with a quote by Pt. Nehru, ` non co operate with the aggressor’. The report urges the reading public, `don’t submit or surrender’. Nehru was referring to the Russo-German war and India’s role in it due to its strategic location. Pt. Nehru suggested Guerrilla Warfare, not to embarrass the British government but for self protection.  On April 19, 1942, Gandhiji is quoted as demanding immediate `withdrawal of the British from India’, later on July 14, 1942- the Congress working committee at Wardha declared that `British rule in India must end immediately’. The news appeared in banner headline the next day (fig 3). The historic `Quit India Resolution’ was passed in Bombay, on August 8th, 1942. Gandhiji started his campaign for `orderly British withdrawal’ from India. Jupiter Info media, [2008] He wrote in Harijan, “Leave India in God’s hands, or in the modern parlance, to anarchy. Then all parties will fight one another like dogs, or will, when real responsibility faces then come to a reasonable agreement.” Hogg Dorothy [2007:220]. The consequence was the immediate arrest of the principal leaders including Gandhi and Nehru. The Congress realised that there might be risks involved in the non violent strength of Indians to face the violent forces. But it also felt that there was a need for such a risk in order to achieve its goal. While it does seem impatient to achieve its purpose it was not in favour of taking any hasty violent steps. They wanted to have the United Nations on their side.

However, this was a period when the whole world was facing political and economic crisis. In 1943, Bengal faced the worst famine and nearly 3 million people died of starvation. There was deep anger amongst the people as they felt that timely action from the government could have prevented such a massive loss of life. This anger found expression on the pages of the Tribune with its coverage and photographs. Besides talking about the political situation the news headlines also show the deteriorating economic conditions of the masses. As the war with the aggressors increased, the scarcities also increased. There were no imports from outside. Gandhi’s message urging the grain dealers to be in touch with the people made headlines. He himself visited the grain dealers to motivate them to shed their greed and to feed the hungry. The falling economy made the Indian even more dependant on the British. Encyclopædia Online Britannica, [2010]

In February, 1943, a new development provided a burst of political activity. Gandhi commenced a fast on 10th Feb. He declared that he would fast for 21 days as a response to the constant condemning by the British for the public action related to the `Quit India ‘ movement. The fast did exactly what was intended. The anti –British feelings heightened and an opportunity for political activity was provided. The front pages demonstrated the depth of nationalistic feelings reached during this period. It placed the demand of independence on the immediate agenda of the national movement. In 1944, when a member of Parliament Mr. DN Pritt commented that India wanted a government based on their feelings so that they could deal with all problems in their own way, the newspaper ran a headline, `India wants a government based on feelings of her people’ (January 25, 1944) The report explained that the position of the country was different from that of Britain. Culturally and otherwise it was very different from Britain and hence it needed its own government.

The movement intensifies
In the meantime, the quit India movement gave a fillip to the Indian National Army. They began to participate more actively and many were arrested. In 1945, lakhs of people demonstrated on the streets of Calcutta to demand the release of the INA prisoners. It is seen that during 1945-46 there were numerous strikes, agitations and demonstrations all over the country. By July, 1946, post and telegraph and the railway department also went on an all India strike. Ray Keka Dutta [1992: 56]. By this time Lord Wavell had joined as the Viceroy, having succeeded Lord Linlithgow. Wavell released Gandhi from prison in May 1944 on grounds of ill health. Soon after, began the Gandhi-Jinnah talks, with Jinnah insisting on partition as a demand of Muslim league. Jinnah declared in the headline that appeared on March 17th, 1945 that ` Pakistan is our irrevocable and unalterable national demand- we shall never accept any constitution on the basis of a united India.’ The news item continued that the trend all over the world is to unite countries in the common effort for the good of the world. It would be height of folly to think of dividing the country. Gandhi’s views were also given due importance as he felt that Hindu Muslim unity could be achieved after independence and matters related to partition should be discussed after freedom is achieved. Jinnah’s open criticism of Nehru and Gandhi got due coverage. Nehru made it clear that he was not prepared to discuss Pakistan till the time freedom was achieved. On June 14, 1945, Wavell’s plan that emerged from these discussions was announced. The plan was limited in scope. It related to the formation of provisional interim government at the Centre. It proposed that the Viceroy’s executive council will have an equal number of Muslims and Hindus and all the portfolios will be held by Indian members except the war portfolio. Wavell convened a Conference at Simla on June25, 1945, which was attended by 22 political leaders. He made it clear that this was not a final solution to India’s complex problems. Congress opposed the idea of parity between the Cast-Hindus and the Muslims. All this resulted in a deadlock. Finally, Wavell announced the failure of his efforts on July 14. Thus the Simla Conference couldn't provide any hope of proceeding further. Enterprise Team, [2003]

Jinnah demanded that all Muslim members should belong to the Muslim league and the Muslim members should have a veto on all important decisions of the party. On February 19, 1946, the British Prime Minister announced that a mission of three cabinet ministers would visit India. The news story appeared with the headline, `a mission of three cabinet members’. These cabinet members were Lord P Lawrence, Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Directors and AV Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty. Johari J C, [2000: 58], Next news story announced their arrival in India with ` Cabinet mission reached India’ in March 1946. The newspaper kept track of all the discussions that took place between the Indian leaders and the mission members. The members suggested that Union of India would embrace British Indian status with control over defence and foreign affairs. The plan was not considered satisfactory by most sections of Indian people. The Muslim league accepted it on June 6, 1945 on the condition that Pakistan would be created.

Another event which gave rise to a number of news stories was the plan laid out by Mountbatten for the partition of India. He put forth his ideas in the presence of seven top leaders of the day- Nehru, Patel, Kriplani, Jinnah Liaqat, Nishtar and Baldev Singh.  On June 3, 1947 British Prime Minister Clement Attlee introduced a bill in the House of Commons calling for independence and partition of India. Blood R Peter [1996: 32] Mountbatten announced the acceptance by the British government of the principle of partition. A seventy two day timetable was set starting from June 3 to August 15, 1947, for the transfer of power and the division of the country.

The August 14, 1947, issue talks about the festivities in Karachi and the headline says ` goodwill and friendship with Britain and Hindustan’ Qaid-e- Azam Jinnah’s aim’. There are also stories about the preparations in New Delhi and an address by Dr Rajendra Prasad, as the President of the Constituent assembly assuring the minorities that there would be no discrimination in India and that they would receive fair and just treatment. Jinnah, in his Independence Day message spoke about, ‘the plans of the enemy, especially the pre planned genocide”. Blinkenberg Lars [1998: 136]

On August 15, 1947, The Tribune celebrated independence with a banner headline `India wakes to life and freedom, nation takes pledge of dedication to service of motherland’ In a separate box The Tribune also added, `Birth of Pakistan, an event in history.’(Fig 4)

The photographs that appeared on the front pages did speak a thousand words about the most popular leaders of the period. Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel, Pandit Pant, Sir Tek Chand, Mahatma Gandhi, JL Nehru, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru , SC Bose were photographed the most. The photographs were almost always related to some seminar, conference political gathering, activity or meeting. Maulana received a lot of coverage on the front pages of the Tribune perhaps because he was in favour of a `national government’ and never in favour of partition. He was the other face of Muslim leadership that the Tribune was trying to show to its readers. Other personality that received a lot of coverage was Gandhiji because he was always the centre of some very controversial activity. Dandi march, Bharat Chhoro Andolan, 21 day fast etc. The photographs reveal that he became the leader of the masses with the various methods he devised time and again for public participation. JL Nehru made his appearance on the front pages as a maker of modern India. He always gave quotable quotes making it a very good copy for the front page coverage. On Feb 15, 1945 he commented that British government is unfit to rule India. This received major coverage. He appeared more regularly towards the Independence Day as he was the prime minister designate.

The coverage of the Tribune connected the masses to the events as they unfolded. There seems to be no unnecessary interpretation. Straightforward and matter of fact reporting is made more interesting with photographs and quotes by the prominent people. It never tried to mislead the public and even when it reported the death of Subhash Chandra Bose in a plane crash on his way to Tokyo, on March 29, 1942, it quoted Nehru about Subhash Bose’s death, saying that ` the news should be regarded with suspicion.’ An event as major as this one had all the potential of being played up but the Tribune kept a level head and only quoted Nehru since there was no proof.

As is evident from the above observations The Tribune never tried to play up issues for the sake of sensationalism. Whenever it was imperative to report news items without adequate proof, the newspaper relied on quotes of responsible persons. On communal issues, one observes, that its efforts have been to douse the communal fire. It took upon itself the role of a public educator. For instance, when it reported Jinnah’s adamant stand on partition it informed its readers that the major trend of the world was not partition but unity. Despite its serious stand on issues, the Tribune also reported news of public interest knowing that the readers are hungry for any information about their favourite leaders. 
The Tribune continues to be run in accordance with the constitution laid down at its inception, keeping liberal, progressive and independent policy in view of larger public interest. 

Aggarwal Vir Bala. Gupta V S. 2001: Handbook of Journalism and Mass Communication: Concept Publishing Company New Delhi:126-12

Bengal famine Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010: Available from: Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Blood R Peter, 1996. Pakistan : A country study: Dianne Publishing: 32

Enterprise Team:  Available from:  http://www.storyofpakistan.com/articletext.asp?artid=A046&Pg=2

Hogg Dorothy .2007:  India- A plea for understanding: Read Books, US: 220

Jupiter Info media Pvt. Ltd, 2008: Available from  : http://www.indianetzone.com/24/quit_india_resolution.htm

Johari J C. 2000. Indian political system: A critical study of the constitutional structure: Anmol Publications: New Delhi: 58.

Natarajan J. 1955: History of Indian Journalism: Publications Division, Ministry of I&B: 148-149

Nehru BK. 1998: Available from:  http://www.apnaorg.com/research-papers/sardar-majithia

Ray Keka Dutta. 1992:  Political upsurges in post-war India 1945-46:  Intellectual Publishing House, New Delhi: 56

The pages of The Tribune. March 28, 1942 , April 13, 1942 , April 19, 1942 ,August 15, 1947.


Figure 1: March 28, 1942 headline of The Tribune

March 28, 1942 headline of The Tribune

Figure 2: April 13, 1942 headline of The Tribune

April 13, 1942 headline of The Tribune

Figure 3: April 19, 1942 headline of The Tribune

April 19, 1942 headline of The Tribune

Figure 4: August 15, 1947 headline of The Tribune


August 15, 1947 headline of The Tribune