A Broadsheet And Its Broadside

An interesting chronicle that reads in part like a diary and not a narrative of the sweep of history it witnessed
The Tribune, 130 Years: A Witness To History
By V.N. Datta
Hay House | Pages: 380 | Rs. 500

The Tribune is one of the few genuine newspaper trusts in the country, with no axe to grind by dint of ownership, community or ideology. Its founder, Sardar Dayal Singh Majithia, set out the credo in the paper’s first issue, published from Lahore as a weekly on February 2, 1881. It was to strive to serve the downtrodden and oppressed to build a modern, democratic, secular, egalitarian nation. Its trustees and successive editors have by and large fulfilled that mandate.

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Like its readers across the old Punjab, The Tribune suffered the trauma of Partition, and had to seek refuge in India—first in Simla, then Ambala and finally in Chandigarh. While driven by liberal, nationalist tendencies of the time, a rival view has it that Dayal Singh was concerned about the growing influence of those wishing to promote Oriental learning. He preferred to go with the new Punjabi elite who demanded an expansion of modernist English education, free of sectarian and caste influences.

The Tribune pleaded for a higher intake of Indians in the ICS, wrote of rural indebtedness and forest conservation at the cost of tribal rights, and sought the construction of the Bhakra Dam in 1937.

With the founding of the Congress in 1885, communal tensions surfaced. There were riots, Curzonian machinations such as the Partition of Bengal, the demand for separate electorates and rise of the Muslim League, though Punjab under the Unionists ran a broad Muslim-Hindu-Sikh administration. The paper was critical of the Congress’s tame policy of prayers and supplication.

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It protested Lajpat Rai’s deportation for “sedition”, rallied around Gandhi’s dynamic leadership post-1919 and articulated outrage over Jallianwala Bagh. The paper faced official wrath and censorship for its outspoken criticism. It opposed the idea of Pakistan, but with that fast becoming a reality, called for a modern state, free of religious bias.

The paper criticised the tame policies of the early Congress, supported Gandhi post-1919 and opposed Partition.

The Tribune was a casualty of Partition. Its editor had to flee and the paper compelled to close by August 15 to relocate in Simla to articulate the problems of refugee rehabilitation. It editorially accused “those whom Providence has made the architects of our destiny of being horribly unfair and unjust to the Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs, of accepting the Satanic two-nation theory and sacrificing them to it, of describing their unprecedented suffering as the price of freedom and then treating the payers of that terrible price as political lepers....”

In 1955, the Akalis launched a movement for Punjabi Suba. The Tribune backed Kairon in opposing what it believed could be another partition. But in 1971, it supported Fateh Singh’s demand for a purely linguistic Punjabi- speaking state. After the Allahabad High Court judgement quashing Mrs Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha, the paper called for her resignation. It later supported Operation Blue Star, but appealed to “Punjabiat” to heal the Hindu-Sikh divide. It deplored the destruction of the Babri Masjid and inveighed against the growing criminalisation of politics.

The book makes an interesting chronicle. However, it reads in part like a diary when it could have been a more absorbing, if selective, narrative of the sweep of history it witnessed.

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