A nationalist editor

Published : Mar 17, 2001 00:00 IST

A.N. Sivaraman, 1904-2001.

AMBUR NANUIYER SIVARAMAN, a veteran freedom fighter and former Editor of the Tamil daily Dinamani, died in Chennai on March 1. In a sad irony, the death occurred on his 97th birthday.


A respected journalist, Sivaraman knew 17 languages, including French, Sanskrit and Urdu. His association with Dinamani, which belongs to the Indian Express group of publications, spanned well over half a century. ANS, as he was popularly known, w as a firm believer in the freedom of the press and high journalistic ethics. Sivaraman wrote on a variety of subjects in his columns and authored several books.

He was honoured with the B.D. Goenka Award in 1988 for meritorious service in the field of journalism.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, in his tribute, said that Sivaraman was a great pillar of Tamil journalism. His articles on socio-economic issues won a special status for Dinamani. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swara j described Sivaraman as the Father of Tamil journalism.

SIVARAMAN was born in Kochi on March 1, 1904. His early education was in his native district of Tirunelveli in southern Tamil Nadu. A product of the freedom movement, Sivaraman was an uncompromising advocate of democracy. Even as a schoolboy, he later re called, he imbibed the nationalist spirit and was greatly moved by the detention of Home Rule League leader Annie Besant by the British police. At the age of 17, when he was an Intermediate student in a Tirunelveli college, Sivaraman participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement (1921) called by Mahatma Gandhi. An 18-month jail term put an end to his college education, a rare privilege in those days. (He later wrote that he was the first to enter college from his village.) Sivaraman became a Congress activist.

Sivaraman's brief stint as a schoolteacher gave him plenty of time to read books on history, political science and economics. It was the wide-ranging knowledge he acquired during this period that enabled him to grow into an accomplished journalist. Accor ding to family sources, until recently he spent eight hours a day reading.

He joined T.S. Chockalingam, another pioneering Tamil journalist, who was then editing a periodical, Gandhi. A few years later, Sivaraman quit the periodical to participate in the Salt Satyagraha at Vedaranyam, which was led by C. Rajagopalachari. After serving a 20-month jail term, he rejoined the periodical. When Chockalingam took charge as the Editor of Dinamani, which was launched in 1934, Sivaraman joined him as his deputy. In 1944, when Chockalingam left Dinamani, Sivaraman be came its Editor and held that position until 1987.

Sivaraman's 53-year career in Dinamani coincided with a momentous period in Indian history. In the first decade of its existence the daily helped the Indian National Congress in a big way to mobilise people across the State to participate in the s truggle for Independence, which was heading towards its final phase. Once Independence was achieved in 1947, Dinamani, which had by then attained a respectable position among the Tamil dailies of that time, did not allow itself to become irrelevan t; it promptly redefined its objectives.

Sivaraman felt that apart from providing accurate and authentic information, a newspaper ought to disseminate knowledge; in a developing country it could educate readers on democratic ideals and mobilise support for developmental initiatives. He explaine d in a television interview a few years ago that his mission was to remove the strikingly wide gap between English and Tamil newspapers in terms of coverage and also to raise the awareness of the Tamil reader to that of the more privileged English-educat ed reader.

It was these twin missions that encouraged him to write on subjects ranging from space science to political philosophy, electoral reforms to irrigation techniques, fiscal policies to cultural issues, all in simple Tamil. His editorials and articles were valued for their analysis. His writings on complex subjects enriched the Tamil language and set the tone for similar efforts. The objectives of maintaining high journalistic standards and educating the masses gave Dinamani a continuity of purpose and sustained it in the post-Independence era.

IN the 1960s, when the benefits of development did not reach larger sections of the people, Sivaraman supported the right-wing splinter that emerged from the Congress in the form of the Swatantra Party. This was the first sign of the disintegration of th e Congress and the consolidation of the Opposition. In the 1967 general elections, the Congress lost power in several States. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) came to power riding on the anti-Congress wave. The DMK's agitation in 1965 a gainst the "imposition" of Hindi on non-Hindi-speaking States played a significant role in this victory. Sivaraman ran a campaign against the Congress in his columns, to the extent that DMK Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai acknowledged the role played by Si varaman in the defeat of the Congress.

The imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975, which stifled dissent through censorship and the indiscriminate arrests of political leaders, was a matter of great concern for Sivaraman. He was one of the few journalists who stood up to the aut horitarian tendencies of the Emergency regime. He expressed his dissent by leaving the space meant for editorials blank. When even this was objected to, he found ingenuous devices to hoodwink the censor officials. In order to avoid the censor's scissors, in his writings he referred with irony to the practice of democracy across the world, implying that Indian democracy was at best a farce.

When former Congress president K. Kamaraj died a disillusioned man three months after the declaration of Emergency, Sivaraman described him in his conversations as "the first victim of Emergency". However, he could not write so. Therefore, after eulogisi ng his services to the country, Sivaraman wrote: "Kamaraj was dejected and depressed for quite some time ... and my pen now comes to a standstill" (meaning nothing more might possibly get cleared by the censor). After the Emergency was lifted, Sivaraman wrote that the Congress owed an apology to the nation and insisted on statutory protection against a repetition of the 1975-77 misadventure of the Indira Gandhi government.

Many developments of the 1980s including the Bofors payoff scandal and the differences between President Zail Singh and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, pained Sivaraman. He wrote a signed editorial stating that any strain in the relations between the Presid ent and the Prime Minister did not augur well for parliamentary democracy and prayed that better sense prevail upon both. He was so distressed that his very thinking process was hampered. When this mindset continued for some months, he decided to call it a day, Sivaraman explained in an article later. He relinquished office in August 1987. But he did not stop writing or reading.

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