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OCTOBER 25, 2012

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Since the main task before the Congress was mass politicization, propaganda and formation of a nationalist ideology and not any agitational politics, the Press was the chief tool of arousing, training, mobilizing and consolidating the public opinion. Very powerful newspapers emerged during these years to accomplish it. Examples include The Hindu and Swadeshmitran under the editorship of G. Subramaniya-Iyer, Kesari and Mahratta under Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bengalee under Surender Nath Banerjea, Amrit Bazar Patrika under Sisir Ghosh and Moti Lal Ghosh, Sudharak under GK Gokhale, Indian Mirror under NN Sen, Voice of India under Dada Bhai Noroji, The Tribune and Akhbar-I-Aam in Panjab. In fact, there was hardly any important political leader who did not edit or write for a newspaper in those days. Interestingly, almost one-thirds of the founding members of the Congress were journalists. Newspapers in those days were not business enterprises, they were more of a national service.


 Nearly all major political controversies were conducted through the Press. Slowly, library movements sprang all over India where everyone would discuss and comment on political news. The newspaper was not just a political educator, reading or discussing it became a form of political participation.


Since the Indian newspaper mostly wrote things to the discomfort of the rulers, the Government decided to attack them through a Vernacular Press Act in 1878. It was specifically targeted at Indian language newspapers, barring the English Press. The Act provided for the seizure of the printing press and other materials used in running a newspaper if it was publishing "seditious" materials and had violated an official warning. It led to strong protests by the vernacular Press in India. Various public bodies also campaigned against the Act and consequently, it was withdrawn by Lord Ripon in 1881.


Surender Nath Banerjee was the first man to be jailed while performing duties as a journalist. But the man most frequently associated with freedom of the Press is Bal Gangadhar Tilak. His contribution to national politics and journalism was momentous by any standards. In 1881, he, along with GG Agrakar, founded the Kesari and The Mahratta. In 1888, he took over both and used it to spread discontent against the British and promote national resistance. Tilak was a fiery and courageous journalist, who had a simple but highly effective style. In 1893, he started the traditional Ganpati Festival to propagate nationalist ideas through songs and speeches. In 1896, he began the Shivaji Festival for the same purpose. In 1896-97, Tilak also oragnized a No-Tax Campaign in Maharashtra in protest against the government ‘s insistence on collecting land revenue despite crop failure. He was tried accused by the rulers for spreading disaffection against the government among Indians. Overnight, he became an all-India figure and was lovingly given the title of Lokmanya  (Respected By The People). Once again, in 1908, he was arrested and tried for sedition. Having been pronounced guilty, he was sent to jail.





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