The Pioneer: 150 Years and going strong..

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee*

Question: Name the only newspaper in India, which had two Nobel laureates on its staff?

Answer: The Pioneer. And the two Nobel laureates were- Rudyard Kipling and Sir Winston Churchill. Kipling served as a sub-editor and reporter. During his stint with the Pioneer he reported from Calcutta and also from Shimla. His reports were as fascinating as his fiction. Churchill served the Pioneer in the late 1890s as its War Correspondent during the Tirah campaign of the North-West Frontier of India. It was before he became the Prime Minister of UK.

The Pioneer was started by Sir George Allen in Allahabad in 1865, who was the ‘sole manager, editor-in-chief and distributer of the paper’. It was the first British-owned and British-edited newspaper in northern India. Here is a fascinating account of its beginning:

The Mutiny was over and the British Raj had been formally installed with the Crown taking over from East India Company. The British Indian Army was now a much larger force. The size of British garrisons in upcountry ‘cantonment towns’ grew by the day. George Allen, an Englishman who came looking for business opportunities in Allahabad, discovered that the sahibs and memsahibs needed a newspaper of their own; the wait for The Times, which arrived by ship and was then sent by train to upcountry readers, was far too long.

So, George Allen decided to launch a newspaper. Thus was born The Pioneer in 1865. Till 1869, the newspaper was published thrice a week. In 1866, a weekly supplement called The Pioneer Mail, comprising 48 quarto-size pages (mostly of advertisements) was added to the paper.1

News was then mainly the record of the letter writers, gossip or cuttings from belatedly received ‘home newspapers’, from the UK. But there was this advantage to set against the paucity of ‘live’ news. The writers and readers of special articles could indulge their taste for fine writing, a reputation that The Pioneer has consistently enjoyed through the ages under successive editors. The paper was hugely popular to begin with. As Dr. S.N.Ghosh, who was the longest serving editor of the paper wrote celebrating its 125th anniversary,”… a paper that had no rival and covered news from all quarters. Hence the popularity of 48 pages advertising matter which appeared in each issue of the Pioneer Mail mirroring the life and lifestyle of bygone era.”2

In 1872, the editorship passed to AP Sinnett, who had already been editing a newspaper in Hong Kong and had established his reputation as a vigorous writer. Journalistic and literary talent continued to be attracted to The Pioneer. The foremost among them was Rudyard Kipling, who worked for the paper as an Assistant Editor from November 1887 to March 1889. Much of his best work was produced while he was in The Pioneer. In 1938, George Orwell was all set to become the editor of The Pioneer, but his failing health prevented him from taking up the assignment.

It has had many distinguished persons as its editors. Maitland Park, Sir George Chesney, Clive Ranigan, George Woolacott, Edwing Howard, FW Wilson and Desmond Young were some of the distinguished editors who are still remembered in India as outstanding craftsmen of their trade. In fact Desmond Young, a full editor at the time World War II broke out, left behind his deputy in the editor’s chair and moved on to where the real action was — Africa — to send in some of the best war reports ever. A byproduct was the bestseller, The Desert Fox. Young was also instrumental in planning a new building to house The Pioneer in Lucknow. The foundation stone was laid by the then Viceroy of India, the Marquis of Linlithgow, on December 16, 1936.

The Pioneer began as a pro-British newspaper and remained so for a very long time. However, things began to change after the First World War was over. This happened for many Anglo-Indian pro-British newspapers. But the most striking example was of The Pioneer and there were several factors for this change; primarily financial and political. There were issues with the ownership of The Pioneer. The British owner wanted to get rid of the paper and a consortium of Indian princes and landowners bought this paper. The Pioneer shifted bases from Allahabad to Lucknow in mid thirties because of two reasons. First, it wanted to avoid competition from the Leader, which became more popular than it in Allahabad, and second, the political power centre was shifting to Lucknow. It was a very difficult time for the newspaper. It survived against heavy odds.3

The ‘indianisation’ process of the Pioneer was completed as Dr Surendra Nath Ghosh took over as the first Indian editor of the paper after Young left in the early 1940 and went on to became the longest serving editor of the paper. Ghosh (May 20, 1904- August 9, 1995) had started his journey as a journalist at the Pioneer on August 1, 1927 as an apprentice. Working hard he learnt the ropes and went on to become the Editor in 1946 and continued till 1972. It was under him that The Pioneer became a part of India’s freedom struggle, shaping the country’s opinion on issues of national importance.

The first Governor of Uttar Pradesh after Independence, Sarojini Naidu, a great national poet and Mahatma Gandhi’s able lieutenant, sent this message on April 22, 1948: “Apart from the technical merits of production and layout, there is a sense of balance and dignity and also an independence of views which though they may not always coincide with mine are well worth considering. I value greatly your complete freedom from communal bias and a sense of perspective during times of crises.”

After independence, The Pioneer, and its then sister Hindi newspaper, Swatantra Bharat reflected the mood of the times and the aspirations of free nation. It was published from Lucknow and Allahabad but it was the main newspaper of Uttar Pradesh and wielded both clout and influence. Ghosh steered the paper for over two decades after independence and laid the roadmap. He set a very high benchmark for the paper.4 He relinquished editorship in 1972. But he kept his association with the Pioneer for half a century and died in mid-90s after a very long innings in life and journalism.

The tradition of good editors was continued when in December 1991 the newspaper launched its Delhi edition under Vinod Mehta, one of the best in the field in contemporary India. After he left in 1995, Chandan Mitra, another good journalist, took over as editor.


Till the 1990s, the paper changed hands several times. Sir JP Srivastava’s family owned the paper for a while, before handing it over to the Jaipurias. It was during these decades that The Pioneer evolved from being a paper meant for the expatriate British community and the then social and political elite into a paper for Indian readers reflecting their concerns and interests.

In 1991, The Pioneer was bought by the Thapar Group and LM Thapar became the chairman of the newspaper with Vinod Mehta as the editor. It was revamped and the Delhi edition was launched in December 1991. As Mehta left the paper in 1995 to launch Outlook, Chandan Mitra, with a distinguished track record of working at The Statesman, The Times of India, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times, took charge of the paper In 1996. Two years later, the Thapar Group decided to exit from the newspaper business on account of mounting losses and financial problems. Chandan Mitra took it over and besides being the editor also became the CEO on May 15, 1998.

The Pioneer, like many long-lived institutions, has had its share of good and bad times. The war years had precluded any possibility of revamping its antiquated and worn out press by imports. Apart from import restrictions, the stumbling block was financial constraint, for the new proprietors could not raise enough money or invest their own to renovate the outfit. Despite its financial constraints and other limitations, The Pioneer was rated, both at home and abroad, as an outstanding newspaper with a proud tradition. It may interest the readers to learn that way back in 1951; The Pioneer was selected as one of the three leading papers in India to represent the World Press in a Tour of the United States Government.

International recognition came when the Population Action Council, Washington, selected the newspaper for the coveted award for media excellence as the best developing world daily in fostering support to solve the world population crisis through demonstrated commitment to shared ideas, knowledge, and experience towards the ultimate objective of reducing population growth and creating a better life for all the “World People”.

Today The Pioneer, under Chandan Mitra, comes out from as many as eight cities and is one of the mainstream English language publications to articulate the Right-wing perspective, and as some admirers of the paper opine “thus providing ‘the other view’ as it were in the dominant Left and Left-of-centre literary culture in the country.” However there are critics of the paper too who lambast the paper for its ‘ultra’ right wing leaning.

Editors of The Pioneer

Founder: Sir George Allen, Rev. Julian Robinson (1865-1872), A.P Sinnett (1872-1888), Sir George Maclagan Chesney (1888-1915), Maitland Park Jan (1915 – March 1915), Maitland Park (1915-1920), John Evasna Wollacott (1920-1926), Edwin Haward (1926-1929), F.W Wilson (1929-1931), J.S Thornley (1931-1932), H.W Wouters (1932-1933), Desmond Young (1933-1940), H.E.B Catley (1941-1945), Dr. S.N Ghosh (1946-1972), Dr. K.P Agarwal, Managing Editor (1973-1983), Mr. Amalendu Ghosh (Feb. 1983-Sept 1983), Mr. R.D Kwatra (1983-1985), Mr. Adarsh Kumar Verma (1985-1986), Mr. Somnath Sapru (1986), Vinod Mehta (1991-1995), Chandan Mitra (1996- Cont.).

Reference :

  1. =article&id=2748:the-pioneer-a-glorious-journey-spanning-146-years&catid=401:link-article&Itemid=425
  2. Looking Back, The Story of Pioneer, Dr. S.N.Ghosh, 1989.
  3. Milton Israel wrote about this in detail in his book Communications and Power: Propaganda and the Press in the Indian National Struggle, 1920-1947, Cambridge University Press, 1994
  4. Dr. S N Ghosh was awarded the Padma Shri on April 10, 1969.

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