Published : Oct 10, 2003 00:00 IST

HE came to a standing ovation, which rose to a crescendo as he went on the dais at the 125th anniversary celebrations of The Hindu at the University Centenary Auditorium in Chennai on September 13. The emotional moment of G. Kasturi's arrival was also an acknowledgment of the newspaper's tradition of serious, independent, quality journalism which he upheld from 1965 to 1991 as the longest serving Editor of the newspaper after his uncle Kasturi Srinivasan.

That tradition did not fail to strike Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who inaugurated the celebrations. "An impressive journey," he said, in his inaugural address, for a newspaper that began with a print-run of 80 copies. "Even those who differ with it on issues agree that The Hindu has been one of the leaders in the comprehensiveness of its coverage and in the way it has combined editorial content with technological innovation, professional management and commercial acumen," Vajpayee said.

In continuing with this mission, the newspaper will be guided by a set of five principles it has worked out for itself and proclaimed editorially recently. They are: truth telling, freedom and independence, justice, humaneness, and contributing to the social good. "We are determined to make this panchsheel work," said Editor-in-Chief N. Ram, welcoming the assembled gathering of distinguished invitees and employees.

(Left) The Hindu's headquarters in Chennai, illuminated for the celebrations. (Right) The National Press Building at 100 Mount Road, where it all began.

He called The Hindu "the oldest surviving major daily newspaper of Indian nationalism, by which we mean the great socio-political movement that won freedom for India from colonial bondage and helped consolidate the gains of Independence in every sphere of national life". "We stand in awe of this newspaper's history," he said.

The Hindu was founded on September 20, 1878, by six young nationalists led by radical social reformer and school teacher G. Subramania Aiyer of Tiruvaiyyar near Thanjavur. The others were: his school teacher friend M. Veeraraghavachariar of Chengalpattu and law students T.T. Rangachariar, P.V. Rangachariar, D. Kesava Rao Pant and N. Subba Rau Pantulu. The "Triplicane Six", as they were called, were angry that the Anglo-Indian press - newspapers owned and edited by the British - had panned the appointment of T. Muthuswami Aiyer, as a Judge of the Madras High Court, the first Indian to be so appointed. They borrowed one rupee and 12 annas and started The Hindu as a weekly - published every Wednesday - to counter the campaign against Muthuswami Aiyer's appointment.

The founders. Four of the 'Triplicane Six', (From top left, Clockwise) G. Subramania Aiyer, M. Veeraraghavachariar, N. Subba Rau Pantulu, T.T. Rangachariar. The other two, whose pictures are not available, were D. Kesava Rao and P.V. Rangachariar.

In the first editorial titled "Ourselves", published on September 20, 1878, the founders flagged two guiding principles: fairness and justice. From October 1, 1883, The Hindu became a tri-weekly - published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday - to provide "a timely discussion of topics of current interest". It became an evening daily from April 1, 1889. From November 11, 1940, it became a morning paper, dictated by the coverage demands of the Second World War and the difference in time zones. Today, it is printed in 11 centres and boasts a circulation of 9.33 lakh copies. Kasturi & Sons Ltd. is a Rs.400-crore company.

During its initial years, the paper was printed at Srinidhi Press, Mint Street, Black Town, Madras. Soon the students, who became lawyers, parted ways with Subramania Aiyer and Veeraraghavachariar, the Managing Editor. Later, the two former school teachers had differences over the issue of social reform. Writing in the special supplement issued along with The Hindu of September 13 to mark the 125th anniversary, Historian S. Muthiah said: "The Hindu was Subramania Aiyer's vehicle for social reform crusades. In a conservative society, it was inevitable that such zeal would encounter a hostile backlash. Veeraraghavachariar, in charge of the business side, found the repercussions squeezing the paper's finances... . There was an inevitable parting of ways and the partnership was dissolved in October 1898... . Within days of the break, Subramania Aiyer took over full-time the editorship of the Swadesamitran while Veeraraghavachariar took over the entire business of the struggling newspaper."

In the 1900s, The Hindu's circulation dropped to 800 copies and Veeraraghavachariar decided to sell it. S. Kasturiranga Iyengar, The Hindu's legal adviser, "a politically ambitious lawyer", bought it. On April 1, 1905, he, along with two partners, took over the paper for a consideration of Rs.75,000, and by July 1905 had independent charge of it.

Kasturiranga Iyengar could be termed The Hindu's first moderniser. According to Muthiah, between 1921 and 1923 he installed "the first rotary printing press in south India and modern linotype composing machines, setting the trend the paper follows to this day of being first with modern newspaper technology in India". When he died in December 1923, the paper had stabilised with a circulation of 17,000 copies and considerable advertising revenue.

Kasturi Srinivasan, Editor, 1934-1959. K. Gopalan, Joint Proprietor and Publisher.

One hundred and twenty-five years on, its first editorial continues to shape the paper's role in creating, regulating and moulding public opinion. Said N. Ram in a signed editorial in the 20-page special supplement, "Looking Back", issued on September 13 to mark the anniversary: "No issues of the newspaper from the first three years have survived as far as we know. Fortunately, we have the text of the first editorial titled "Ourselves." Not surprisingly for the times, no radical vision of freedom for India informed this leader... . But the remarkable thing about the editorial... was the clear-sighted and bold formulation of a role for a weekly starting with a print-run of 80 copies - as the creator, regulator and moulder of public opinion. Attributing the absence of public opinion to `the want of a well conducted native press to which the public may look to regulate their opinion,' the first editorial proclaimed that "the Press does not only give expression to public opinion but also modify and mould it according to circumstances. It is this want that we have made bold to attempt to supply."

In the article `The Hindu experience' in the supplement, S. Muthiah tells how the newspaper achieved this in a riveting account of the paper's campaign for widow remarriage, its support to the freedom struggle, its blowing the lid on l'affaire Bofors, and its stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil problem, besides other issues.

Reader response to The Hindu turning 125 was so overwhelming that the Editor-in-Chief acknowledged it in print, on September 17, reiterating the paper's commitment to its core principles. He said: "We have received hundreds of letters from our readers, industrialists, leaders of political parties, non-governmental organisations, educational institutions, journalists, individuals and organisations greeting The Hindu on its 125th anniversary celebrations. We thank all of them for their good wishes and reiterate our commitment to the core principles that we have set for ourselves."

S. Rangaswami, Editor, 1923-1926. A. Rangaswami Iyengar, Editor, 1928-1934. S. Parthasarathy, Editor, 1959-1965.

Sudha Raghuram from Secunderabad wrote: "My father-in-law, who is 104 years old, has this to say about the paper: `I have been hooked to the paper from 1920. I find its presentation of news and views exceedingly creditable... '." Sunil Bhatt of Karauli, Rajasthan said: "My love for the paper is reflected in the fact that I get it from Jaipur as it is not available in my hometown." V. Bhimeswara Rao of Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, said: "The Hindu's inspiring saga and the nostalgic rare images of yesteryear blend together to make the supplement a treasure trove." M.D.D. Nair from Vijayawada struck a different note. "An obstinate passion towards periodical BJP-bashing and an eagerness to project yourselves as a crusader of secularism are likely to boomerang on your edifice. At times, you forget that you are very old and behave like an angry young paper," he said.

The Hindu's commitment to its core principles is inviolable, a fact that Vajpayee acknowledged in his address. "Within the matrix of resurgent nationalism and a vibrant democracy, he said, we have to implement our vision of India as a developed nation. This included providing a high standard of material and cultural life for all its citizens, being compassionate towards the needy, caring for the environment and so on. I have no doubt that a serious and progressive newspaper like The Hindu will play an honoured role in this national endeavour."

While he was sure that the Indian media would take care of its responsibilities and professional ethics, he insisted that "the media should draw its own lakshman rekha." Then, turning towards N. Ram, he asked, "Or should I say Ram rekha?" The audience enjoyed it.

Ram said, in his welcome address, that at least two of the "reasonable restrictions" on freedom of speech and expression in Article 19 of the Constitution had become unreasonable and illiberal in practice. He referred to the way in which the criminal defamation and criminal contempt of court laws had been used against the press to create what may be called a "chilling effect". "The Hindu is of the view", Ram said, "that statute changes have become necessary to eliminate the problem. We feel that to safeguard Article 19 freedoms, defamation must be decriminalised and the civil remedies made more effective, and the sky-high powers assumed by the higher courts to act as `judges in their own case' must be taken away by Parliament and the people."

In his presidential address, Tamil Nadu Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao pointed out how throughout its long life, except for one period, The Hindu combined ownership and editorial direction and control, "a phenomenon generally frowned upon in judging the media". Even so, he said, the paper's sincerity of purpose and editorial evangelism protected it from accusations of commercial consideration. Ramamohan Rao, a long-time reader of the newspaper, added: "It proved that good journalism is also good business by combining journalistic merit with business savvy."

In his special address, Dr. C. Rangarajan, Chairman of the Twelfth Finance Commission, said a free press was an integral part of the vigilance squad, a watchdog of people and the country's interests. A good newspaper should let the information provided to speak for itself.

N.P. Ramajayam, general secretary of The Hindu Office and National Press Employees' Union, appreciated the newspaper's management for not resorting to downsizing even when it introduced new technology.

Proposing a vote of thanks, N. Murali, Joint Managing Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., wanted readers of The Hindu to feel free to "interact with us on any important issue, and to call attention, admonish, or even correct us if ever they find us, wittingly or unwittingly, swerving from our chosen path and the core values of truthful, fair and balanced journalism."

These core values and its chosen path were encapsulated succinctly in an audio-visual presentation, which traced its growth from its incipient beginnings with borrowed capital, its coverage of the freedom struggle, the lead role played by Mahatma Gandhi in it, the various stages of its modernisation up to the present. The presentation revealed how The Hindu scored an exclusive on the Japanese surrender in the Second World War when most of the country's morning dailies missed it. A stenographer posted to monitor radio bulletins every night during the War years listened to the BBC news for a last check at 4-30 a.m., when the printing of the first edition was under way. He heard the news of the Japanese surrender and the paper headlined it, while the others missed it.

The linotype section of the 1970s. The pagemaking section now.

Later in the evening on September 13, a reception hosted by The Hindu at the Taj Coromandel Hotel was attended by, besides the Prime Minister, a galaxy of other political leaders, captains of industry, academics, representatives of other leading media houses, top officials and personalities from various other fields. Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee was a notable presence as was former Sri Lankar Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

INVITEES to the 125th year celebrations had a pleasant surprise when they received a Special Release titled, "The Mahatma and The Hindu, A representation of the coverage of an epoch-maker by a newspaper of record, 1896-1948". The supplement will be issued to readers along with the copies of the paper on October 2, Gandhi's birthday. It has rare pictures of M.K. Gandhi as a practising attorney in South Africa in 1905; a fully clothed, turbaned and moustachioed Gandhi during the Kheda satyagraha in 1918, a bare-chested Gandhi reading his correspondence at Mani Bhavan in Bombay, in 1934, and with mill workers in Lancashire in 1931. In an accompanying note to the Special Release, Ram said, "The first editorial on the public activities of the remarkable Indian barrister in South Africa appeared on August 20, 1896. In turn, Gandhiji, the consummate politician and master communicator, fed the newspaper with his communications on the struggle in South Africa, resulting in some exclusives."

The Hindu was the first in India to introduce fascimile transmission of pages, from Chennai to the other printing centres. The latest computer-to-plate technology that speeds up the production process.

That editorial was titled, "Our countrymen in South Africa". It began thus: "We are obliged to Mr. M.K. Ghandi for sending us his pamphlet on the grievances of our countrymen in South Africa. The pamphlet is an appeal to the Indian public on behalf of the 100,000 Indians in South Africa." In another editorial on October 27, 1896, the paper spells Gandhi's name correctly. The editorial says, "We hope that some good will result to our oppressed countrymen in South Africa from the efforts which Mr. Gandhi is making to rouse public opinion in India. Mr. Gandhi is a Hindu Barrister-at-Law practising in Natal, and has taken upon himself the patriotic task of ventilating the grievances of his countrymen and obtaining redress... ."

On October 27, 1896, the paper carried "A Message of Thanks from Mr. M.K. Gandhi." Gandhi wrote, "It would be ungrateful on my part if I did not thank the Madras public for rallying round the cause of the British Indians in South Africa as they did so admirably last evening." The association grew from strength to strength during the freedom struggle and right up to the passing of the Mahatma.

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