Kesari: Tilak’s spirit lives on

50 Great Indian Newspapers: The Living Legends

Prof. (Dr.) Mrinal Chatterjee*

Journalism is often termed as the first draft of history. Newspapers record history. Some newspapers also create history for several reasons. Kesari is one of those newspapers which has recorded and created history in almost equal measures.

Started in January 4, 1881 at Pune, Kesari recorded the social history of pre independence India, its struggle for independence. It has with time also recorded the gradual development of India in general and Maharashtra in particular from an agriculture-dependant poor country to industrial power house. Kesari has also played a significant role in triggering and driving the socio political movement in pre independence time; also after independence. It has been used as the socio political platform of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, one of the most prominent leaders of Indian freedom movement. Kesari was his megaphone for propagating his social and political ideology and countering his opponent’s.

It was in January 1881 that Bal Gangadhar Tilak (23 July 1856 – 1 August 1920) and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (14 July 1856 – 17 June 1895) along with Mahadeo Ballal Namjoshi, Vaman S. Apte and Ganesh K. Garde, started two newspapers: The Mahratta on Sunday, January 2, 1881 in English and the ‘Kesari’ on January 4, 1881 in Marathi. They had specific objectives for starting these newspapers, which were spelt out clearly in the first issue of Kesari: “a newspaper is useful in two ways. Firstly, if the newspapers carry out their duty impartially and dauntlessly, government officials are filled with awe. The purpose that is served, in the night, by lighting the street lamps or by the continuous patrolling of the police, is the purpose that is served by the incessant penmanship of journalists.”

For the first six years, Tilak was the editor of the ‘Mahratta’ while Gopal Ganesh Agarkar was the editor of the Kesari. Gradually ideological differences crept up between the two. However, articles of both Tilak and Agarkar got published in both the newspapers. Ideological differences between the two can also be seen in the articles they wrote during this time. But the differences grew, and Tilak took charge as the editor of the Kesari on 25 October 1887.  Agarkar left Kesari in 1887 to start his own news paper, Sudharak (the Reformer). Since 14 September 1891, Tilak became the legal owner of both the newspapers. Tilak was emotionally and functionally closer  to Kesari than Mahratta. Over time, Kesari became an extension of his personality. To quote noted litterateur N. C. Kelkar, “It is impossible to consider the ‘Kesari’ exclusive of Lokmanya Tilak and Tilak apart from the ‘Kesari”.

Tilak made use of Kesari for bringing about political consciousness among the masses for the purpose of the freedom struggle, for giving a new direction to their thinking and for boosting the different agitations and programmes initiated by him. The four-point programme of ‘Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education’ that Tilak offered to the Congress and to the whole nation, was strongly propagated by Kesari. As Tilak took to agitation and confrontation with the British Govt., he and along with him Kesari had to suffer the rage of the British Rulers. It had to face many court cases. Many times Kesari had to furnish sureties and the editors had to suffer imprisonment.

However, two such cases became much talked about. There were charges of sedition first in 1897 and the second in 1908. In 1897, it was a series of articles on the mal governance and repression of the British administration during the 1897 Plague epidemic in Maharastra, particularly in Pune that angered the administration. The ‘Suspension of Land Revenue’ campaign started by Kesari also incurred the wrath of the British rulers. The murder of Rand at Ganeshkhind in Pune ultimately unhinged the mind of the Government and they at last launched prosecution against Tilak and charged him for sedition. This resulted in 18 months rigorous imprisonment for Tilak.

The second prosecution on the charge of sedition was in the year 1908. It was a very disturbing time for the country. Governor General Lord Curzon had planned the  partition of Bengal and the entire country was opposed to it. Following the bomb blast at Muzaffarpur, an engine of repression was let loose in Bengal. In this situation Tilak wrote about the development concerning Bengal in four articles in Kesari titled, 1) ‘Misfortune of the Nation, 2) ‘Double warning’, 3) ‘What the bomb blast really means’, 4) ‘These Remedies Not Durable’.

The British administration slapped sedition charges based on the first and fourth article. Tilak was convicted and sentenced to six years imprisonment and was  sent to Mandalay prison in Myanmar (Burma). But nothing could dampen the zeal and spirit of Tilak and his dear newspaper Kesari.  Tilak said, “Even if the sky collapses on me, I shall stand firmly thereon. Kesari continued.

During the Tilak’s life-time ‘Kesari’ had been a weekly that was published every Tuesday. It was N. C. Kelkar, who made it a bi-weekly on 3 August 1929, and it was published every Tuesday and Friday. It became a tri-weekly from 2 January 1951, published every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. This was an attempt to keep pace with the changing time. Kelkar had said in the special issue published on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of ‘Kesari’, “Readers’ psychology at Lokmanya Tilak’s time changed during my time and their psychology even at my time has not remained the same today. It will go on changing in the future as well. The editors of the ‘Kesari’, therefore, will have to keep on experimenting, which, I am sure, they will.” N. C. Kelkar had not thought of making Kesari a daily.

It was during the editorship of Jayantrao Tilak that Kesari was made a daily. The day was  8 October 1962, the auspicious day of Dashahara.  On this occasion, the editorial of Kesari wrote, “It is (also) true that this is a good occasion to embark upon new challenges for those – be they persons or institutions – who continuously aspire to visualize new horizons of gallantry during the course of their life. Today Kesari has advanced further in its course of publishing. In a sense this is the progress of letters (akshare). The letters that created, in very adverse circumstances, self-realisation among Indians, explained to them ‘Swaraj’, their birthright and enabled them to oppose injustice; the words that fought ceaselessly with the foreign rule, are approaching people in a new form appropriate for the modern times.”

Kesari  was a harbinger of change in all forms. From the inception, it had tried to keep pace with time. It introduced changes in its content, presentation and also in technology commensurate with the need and demand of the time. It introduced variety in a daily newspaper by introducing special supplements on Thursdays and Sundays, the monthly special publication for children, the ‘Chhawa’ and the special daily supplements on Agriculture, Science, Investment, Women’s issues, Education, Youth, Sports, Entertainment, etc.

Kesari  was quick in picking up technological changes also from the beginning. In fact Tilak prepared his own font and asked monotype to prepare punches accordingly. This type was known as ‘Tilak Type’. In later stages mechanical compose came into existence by MonoType and LinoType which helped the newspapers to improve its look and also to cut down labour cost. With time, it became one of the pioneers in adopting the latest techniques such as photo-composing, off-set, Colour printing, DTP etc.

Media houses aligning with social issues and organizing events has become a trend now. However Kesari has always been active in this domain. Besides social and cultural issues, it has always been active in the field of sports. Its involvement with Kesari Karandak FootBall Trophy, Judo Association, Shivaji Mandir Health Club bear testimony to this.

In its 135 years of history Kesari has stood firm on its principles. It has fought many battles, weathered many storms. It has grown into a venerable institution now. Besides Pune, it now has four editions from Solapur, Sangli, Ahmednagar and Chiplun in Maharashtra. It has a slender presence on web. It also made a foray in television.The Kesari Mahratta Trust, run by Tilak’s family manages Kesari now. Tilak’s grandson Deepak Jayant Tilak is presently the editor of both Kesari and Mahratta. May it continue to lead the society to the path of ‘su-raj’ (good governance).


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