Ramnath Goenka

In the last century Indian journalism saw some truly remarkable publishers and editors. But there is one man who stands out in a class of his own: Ramnath Goenka, publisher of the Indian Express from 1932 to 1991.

Like many publisher-editors of the 1930s and 1940s, Goenka was an integral part of the national movement for independence, walking with Mahatma Gandhi, closing down the newspapers to protest censorship, activating and assisting underground resistance and finally becoming a member of free India's Constituent Assembly.

But his uniqueness came to the fore after the Nehru era, when he recognised before most the new challenges facing India. During Indira Gandhi's prime ministership he set himself up as a crusader against what he considered threats to the country's integrity and growth. Many stalwarts of the press conducted themselves as bold and conscientious watchdogs of freedom during those difficult years, but none with the astonishing courage of Goenka.

When Indira Gandhi finally plunged India into one of its blackest periods by declaring a national emergency, Goenka and his Indian Express rose to the level of legends. Called upon to bend, most of the frightened press crawled, but the Indian Express stood alone to fight the sudden dictatorship. Denied access to banks and normal business opportunities, its advertising revenues squeezed, harassed by censorship, denied even electricity, the Indian Express was brought to the verge of closure. But mass public support inspired Goenka to display a fearlessness that was truly heroic. Indira Gandhi fell from power and Goenka triumphed.

His harassment continued during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership, which he perceived as gravely injurious to the nation's health. The Rajiv Gandhi government brought as many as 200 civil and criminal cases against the Indian Express. Yet Goenka's courage stood that test too and eventually he emerged victorious. During his 60-year stewardship, he built the Indian Express into a synonym for courage, intrepidity, investigative journalism of the boldest kind, uncompromising patriotism and leadership.

When he died in 1991, one sentiment aired in tribute was universal: that no Indian publisher has fought for so long against so many to achieve so much for the press.


V.K. Hamzah

Human rights can brook no lapses; even in democracies they need constant nursing. Eternal vigilance, indeed, is the price of human rights.

India is one of those countries that enjoys a press that is largely free. Madhyamam, established in 1987, has amply made use of this to promote human liberty and fundamental rights.

Central to the question of human rights is that of human dignity, a quality that Madhyamam refuses to sell for financial gain. So, in a media world that is perceived to exploit women for market gains (through advertisements and other promotional means), Madhyamam does not accept advertisements that portray women in unseemly attitudes. Nor does it accept adverts for usurious and exploitative financial ventures.

The human rights struggles the newspaper has spearheaded have been varied and dangerous. It has repeatedly taken up the cause of common people against environmental pollution, lotteries, communalism, nazism and other social ills. Its investigations have led to the reopening of a murder enquiry and it courageously exposed a major fraud while many other newspapers continued to accept advertisements from the criminals.

The numerous awards for journalistic excellence that Madhyamam has won in the past 10 years are evidence of its courage and independence. But it is the continued support of its readers that show how Madhyamam really has made a difference.


Kalki Krishnamurthy (1899-1954)

Among writers of 20th century Tamil journalism and literature, the name of "Kalki" R. Krishnamurthy occupies a special place. In his relatively short life, he produced a prodigious number of writings. His short stories, music and dance critiques, patriotic and reformist writings, travelogues and poems, were all unmistakably marked by nobility of intent. His elegant Tamil prose of simple grace, biting satire and unabashed humour was savoured by all.

Kalki was a versatile writer who championed many causes. The freedom struggle, in which he played an active part as a loyal follower of Gandhi and Raja, the fight against social evils such as child marriage, untouchability and alcohol abuse, all received his constant attention. In many of his writings Kalki promoted Tamil literature and classical music. The pen became the proverbial weapon with which he fought for social and political change and furthered his ideas for the betterment of his country and the condition of its citizens. His commitment to many of these causes was reflected in the successful film Tyaga Bhoomi, based on his novel of the same name.

Through his stirring historical romances he captured the hearts and imagination of thousands of readers, who eagerly awaited the weekly arrival of Kalki, the magazine he founded and edited until his death in 1954 and in which these novels were serialised. He also wrote commanding historical fiction in which he evoked traditional Indian arts and architecture. Kalki was posthumously awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for his novel Alai Osai.

Born in poverty in rural Tamil Nadu in 1899, Krishnamurthy’s student career was cut short when he courted imprisonment and boycotted school before his final examinations during the non-cooperation movement. Jailed for making "seditious speeches" in 1922, he served two more prison sentences in 1930 and in 1941.

Kalki's introduction to journalism came through his involvement in the freedom struggle. He received training in Madras under the Tamil scholar and editor of Navasakti, V. Kalyanasundara Mudaliar. He then honed his writing skills while editing Vimochanam, a journal of the Gandhi Ashram at Tiruchengodu. Kalki had joined the ashram at the request of its head, Raja, who became his political guru and to whom he remained a life-long ally.

Krishnamurthy soon began to contribute articles to the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, a magazine he was to edit until 1941, when he founded his own magazine, Kalki, with two close friends.

As a music, dance and drama critic, Kalki set standards which were hard to emulate. Under the pen name of Karnatakam, he wrote a popular review column in Ananda Vikatan in which he shared his enjoyment of all Indian arts. With acerbic wit he lampooned the idiosyncrasies of the musicians of the day — and audiences — in columns that approached lessons in music and dance appreciation. He initiated many projects to commemorate great artists and worked tirelessly to see them completed.

Kalki was one of the first Tamil writers who reached out to a broader audience. His prose was lucid in style at a time when scholarly penmanship and academic density were favoured. He attracted large numbers of readers who had shunned Tamil prose in favour of English-language publications, creating a new generation of readers. Many of his works have been translated into other Indian languages, as well as English, German and Russian, and are subjects of academic study.

Kalki's birth centenary fell on 9 September 1999. Year-long celebrations were held to celebrate his work and the government of Tamil Nadu declared his writings "national treasures". As a mark of national recognition, the Indian government announced the release of a commemorative postage stamp.


Shri Balasaheb Thackeray

A journalist for 50 years and equally successful with brush and pen, Bal Thackeray is one of the leading crusading Indian journalists in the second half of the 20th century. Through his work, Thackeray gave the 60 million Marathi-speaking people greater self-respect and helped them win power to govern the state of Maharashtra. By dethroning the Congress (I) Party, he brought revolutionary political change across the state and reinvigorated Hindu nationalism.

Thackeray was the son of a social reformer and author. He gave up a comfortable job as cartoonist for the daily Free Press Journal in Mumbai (Bombay) to launch his own weekly, Marmik, in 1960. He and his brother relied principally on their biting cartoons, rather than words, to highlight the views of Marathi-speaking people. His candid sarcasm revealed government apathy and the hostility of businesses towards equal employment of Marathi-speakers. The sustained campaign forced open new avenues for Marathi youth who became able to join the state’s drive towards prosperity. Activists founded a new political organisation, Shiv Sena, in 1966 and hailed Thackeray as their hero. His charisma has remained unchallenged for 30 years.

The form of Indian nationalism that developed in Maharashtra had long been in conflict with the more compromising values of the ruling Congress (I) Party. Maharashtran nationalism is based on a belief that the assimilation of Muslims into the mainstream of Indian society can only take place if there is a revival of majority-nationalism.

Thackeray also launched two other "missionary" ventures — the Marathi morning newspaper, Saamana, in 1989 and the Hindi evening paper, Dophar Ka Saamana, in 1993 — which he used to explain Hindu nationalism and question pro-Muslim policies. Despite facing disagreement from the government and intellectuals, his newspapers helped his party win power in Maharashtra in 1995.

Thackeray's no-nonsense approach sent shockwaves through India's English-language press and forced them to pay greater attention to the grievances of Hindu nationalists.