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Mahatma Gandhiji As A Editor

S. Jagdisan

I have taken up journalism, not for its own sake, but mainly as an aid to what I have conceived to be my mission in life. My mission is to teach by example and precept under severe restraint, the use of the matchless weapon of Satyagraha. (Indian Opinion: Mahatma Gandhiji).

It was a hundred years ago that Gandhiji became the editor of Indian Opinion in South Africa. The proposal to start the paper was made by his friend Madanjit. Indian Opinion was launched in 1904 with Mansuklal as its first editor. Since Gandhiji was intimately acquainted with the problems of Indians in South Africa and could analyze them with greater discernment, he was persuaded to take up its editorship. Indian Opinion was a weekly in Gujarati, English, Hindi and Tamil.

Gandhiji retained only the Gujarati and English sections. He looked on journalism not as a commercial proposition, but as an effective means of communicating with the people. Indian Opinion was calculated to serve two interrelated purposes.

The first was “to voice and work to remove the grievances of the Indians in South Africa”. Allied to this was the second purpose, namely, to elevate their character by enlightening them on the principle and practice of Satyagraha. Gandhiji continued as editor of Indian Opinion till he left South Africa in 1914.

His second spell of editorship started in 1919. Back in India in 1914, he plunged into politics. In 1919 the Publication of The Bombay Chronicle (with Horniman as its moving spirit) was suspended for political reasons. Two of its directors Umar Sobani and Shankarlal Bankar who were running Young India invited Gandhiji to be its editor. This English weekly, on his advice, was converted into a biweekly. Besides Young India, he looked after ‘Navajivan’ the Gujarati monthly, which was converted into a weekly.

Young India was being published from Mumbai and Navajivan from Ahmedabad. To facilitate better coordination and have a common printing press, Young India was transferred to Ahmedabad. These two papers together were the organs of the Civil Disobedience Movement in the twenties. Gandhiji was editor of these papers till 1931. From 1933-1942 and again from 1946-48 he was editor of Harijan.

While the thrust in Indian Opinion, Young India and Navajivan was basically political, the emphasis in Harijan was social. It was the mouthpiece of the Harijan Sevak Sangh in its campaign against untouchability.

The Raj could not stand the sharper side of Gandhiji’s pen. In 1922, he was arrested and tried for sedition contained in his articles in Young India. His statement of the conclusion of the “Great Trial” on March 18, 1922 is “an imperishable classic” (K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar). He described how his public life began in South Africa in 1893 and culminated in India. He owned responsibility for promoting Satyagraha. He charged the British administration with exploitation, suppression and injustice.

“I know that I was playing with fire. I ran the risk, and if I were set free I would still do the same. Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. I know that my people have sometimes gone mad. I am sorry for it. Their crime consisted in the love of their country. I am here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest penalty. In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflected upon me for what in law is a deliberated crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only cause open to judge, is either to resign post and thus dissociate yourself from evil if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is evil and that I am innocent or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country and that my activity is therefore injurious to the public well”.

His defense is a combination of eloquence free of rhetorical flourish, confession without arrogance or rancour, dignity and moral elevation.

There are many examples of individuals who had the courage to defy institutional forces. They were indifferent to exile, imprisonment, persecution and even death. At a time when people facing charges try to evade or circumvent the law, it is individuals like Gandhiji who exemplify Tennyson’s words:

To live by law

Acting the law we live by

without fear:

And because right is right,

to follow right

Were wisdom in the scorn of


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