Note: These are excerpts from D.V. Gundappa’s Kannada book entitled Vrutta Patrike (Newspaper) first published in 1928 then reprinted a few times. The book is a collection of essays derived from D.V. Gundappa’s speeches and writings roughly beginning in 1928. My translation uses the enlarged edition published in 1968, which is the one available today. The excerpt published in this piece is from an essay titled Vicharave pracharave? (Disquisition or Publicity?)
Any translation error is mine.
Journalistic writings of the past were mostly intellectual in nature. An editor typically used to take up a serious topic and write a detailed editorial exposition on it in a serious manner. The editor used to quote from several primary and definitive texts in such expositions, thereby enhancing and enriching the knowledge of readers. The names of such editors have thus remained immortal in the literary history annals of their respective languages.
If an editor is simultaneously a scholar, thinker, and a philosopher, his writing will be imbued with a comprehensive examination of various facts, perspectives and will stimulate the intellect. More significantly, it is not enough if the editor is merely a pundit and a good writer. He must also possess the ability and attitude to examine a topic or issue objectively, and from all angles including contrary viewpoints with a fidelity to only the truth.
This fidelity to the truth forms the moral and ethical foundation of any newspaper.
Newspapers prior to Gandhi’s time freely carried writings and debates on a broad range of diverse topics. It was commonly accepted by all readers that every question or issue had two, three, or even four alternative or differing perspectives. It was also equally accepted that it was essential to objectively examine each of these perspectives. Thus, Gokhale had his own path carved out, Tilak had his, Lala Lajpat Rai had his, and Surendranath Banerjee had his. Public discourse freely and gladly welcomed and allowed space for everybody. People examined the merits and deficiencies of disparate opinions.
This atmosphere prevailed not just in politics but in economics and social reforms. Leaders and prominent public figures applied independent thought before arriving at an opinion. This naturally led to difference in opinion. In other words, a healthy dose of diversity of opinion existed in that period.
After Gandhi entered the scene, people lost this practice of critically examining any topic or issue and approaching it from multiple perspectives. The emphasis suddenly shifted in favour of a unilateral political voice which therefore meant that no obstacle should hinder the Mahatma’s leadership. The impression sought to be conveyed to the British as well as the international community was that India had spoken if Gandhi had spoken and that he had no opposition. Gradually, a situation arose where people began to believe that unless this impression was convincingly made, we wouldn’t achieve Independence. No public gathering or speech was complete without the slogan of Gandhiji ki Jai! Slowly, this escalated to the level of thought—nobody could even think about Gandhi without the mandatory Mahatma prefix.
Our newspapers and opinion-makers quickly followed suit. Their stance was that perchance somebody found something to disagree with even one thing that Gandhi said, he or she had to compulsorily suppress its expression. Thus the national atmosphere of discourse quickly became one where nobody could ever think of something different from what Gandhi thought. The minds of the general public—both literate and otherwise—soon became habituated to conformity, which then turned to blind loyalty towards a partisan idea.
It could be possible that partisan loyalty might be useful for us in winning freedom. However, once freedom is won, this kind of partisan loyalty is definitely not sufficient to retain it. The need of the hour is diversity of perspective and diversity of parties and an objective examination of both. Our people must develop their intellectual faculties to carry out such an examination patiently and in a spirit of fairness. If ideas are not subjected to intense, objective and fair scrutiny and debate but are blindly implemented, they will most certainly be unhealthy for the nation.
Therefore, the fundamental goal of any newspaper should be to stimulate and engage the public in free, fearless, and objective intellectual discourse and debate.