Brief History of Kesari & Mahratta Trust

Kesari‘ newspaper started by Lokmanya Tilak, will be completing a hundred and thirty years of its journey on the 4th of January 2011. This is indeed phenomenal in the history of vernacular journalism in India as it is the one and only newspaper in vernacular languages that is being published by a Trust for the last 130 years. This journey of ‘Kesari’, difficult and committed as it has been, needs a special mention in the history of Indian journalism. This is not merely an account of the work done by a Marathi newspaper. It is a historical record of 130 years, of the political, economic, social and cultural revival of the whole nation. Lokmanya’s ‘Kesari’ has been a witness to not less than three centuries of history. ‘Kesari’ has pursued this course with the aim of ‘Swaraj’ (Self-government) in the pre-independence period and ‘Suraj’ (good-governance) in the post-independence period. There is no aspect of the people’s life in Maharashtra that has not been influenced by ‘Kesari’ in its own way. It has made a strong impact in the field of politics, social issues, literature, philosophy, sports, science, entertainment, education, agriculture, industry and so on.

‘Kesari’s work has not been restricted to the limits of Maharashtra alone. In Lokmanya Tilak‘s freedom movement, it was a weapon, used for bringing about awakening among the masses. The ‘Mahratta’, the ‘Kesari’s elder sibling, conveyed in English the ideas and thoughts of Lokmanya and other writers to the far corners of the nation. Thus, ‘Kesari’ remained on the forefront in the great mass movement raised against the British. ‘Kesari’, in fact, became a symbol of the freedom movement. For some time ‘Kesari’ was published in Hindi and Gujarathi as well. It came to be viewed as the newspaper with a fighting spirit, the newspaper that raised its voice against injustice, facing dauntlessly the calamities brought on due to the wrath of the imperialists and still voicing its opinions boldly and independently. This tough and dedicated work generated love and pride for the Kesari in the minds of the people. Even after independence, ‘Kesari’ has made remarkable contribution to many mass movement and also to the work of building Modern India. All this has accorded unique glory to this journey of 130 years.

Image and Objectives of ‘KESARI’

The author of ‘Nibandhamala’, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar along with Mahadeo Ballal Namjoshi, Vaman S. Apte and Ganesh K. Garde, started the newspaper – ‘The Mahratta’ on Sunday, January 2, 1881 in English and the ‘Kesari’ on January 4, 1881 in Marathi with specific objec- tives in mind.

These Objectives have been stated in the first issue of the ‘Kesari’.

  • opening a press and starting a newspaper became a business. It is generally observed that these two valuable instruments have fallen in the hands of those who have not received adequate education.
  • 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.

Pursuant to these objectives the ‘Kesari’ has been discharging its duty as a patrolman for the last 130 years.

For the initial six years, Lokmanya Tilak was the editor of the ‘Mahratta’ while Gopal Ganesh Agarkar was the editor of the ‘Kesari’. Lokmanya Tilak took charge as the editor of the ‘Kesari’ on 25th October 1887. The articles of both Tilak and Agarkar got published in both the newspapers. Ideological differences between the two can also be seen in them. However, since 14th September 1891, Tilak became the legal owner of both the newspapers and ‘Kesari’ acquired its independent identity. ‘Kesari’ became one with the personality of Lokmanya Tilak. To quote Sahitya Samrat N. C. Kelkar, “It is impos- sible to consider the ‘Kesari’ exclusive of Lokmanya Tilak and Tilak apart from the ‘Kesari”.

Lokmanya Tilak made use of ‘Kesari’ for bringing about political con- sciousness among the masses for the purpose of the freedom struggle, for giving a new direction to their thinking and for boosting the dif- ferent 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 upheld by ‘Kesari’. This very same four-point programme continued to be the policy-principle of the ‘Kesari’ even after achieving independence.

‘Swa’ in ‘Swaraj’ means our own people. Thus, by ‘Swaraj’ Tilak expected the rule of the people, that is, democracy. ‘Swadeshi’ meant the growth of indigenous industry, agriculture and commerce by which the money generated in the country would remain in the country and would be utilized for our own country. ‘Boycott’ was meant to be a mass movement which signified boycotting everything that was contrary to the interests of the country. Lastly, ‘National education’ was the education that would arouse patriotism among students and would also provide them training in business, commerce and research that would lead to the progress of the country. By education, Tilak expected modern education imparted along with the education of ancient Indian knowledge and Culture.

‘Kesari’ has pursued this four-point programme for the last 130 years. During this course it has written forthrightly on politics, democracy, agriculture, industry, commerce, social issues such as unequality in all its forms, the education system and so on. This is the basic objective of ‘Kesari’, visualized by Lokmanya Tilak originally.

Cases on KESARI Newspaper

As a result of its fearless and impartial writings Kesari had to face many court cases. Kesari suffered the rage of the British Rulers in the pre-independence days and also of the power intoxicated rulers after independence. Many times Kesari had to furnish sureties and the edi- tors had to suffer imprisonment. Kesari inherited the spirit of sacrifice for the interest of the nation.

Lokmanya Tilak and Kesari were prosecuted many times, however two amongst them are of great importance on a charge of seditions first in 1897 and the second in 1908. The British bureaucrats were really angered by the articles which criticised the repression let loose in Pune and many other towns of Maharashtra during the 1897 Plague epidemic. The ‘Suspension of Land Revenue’ campaign start- ed by Kesari also incurred the wrath, of the British rulers. The mur- der of Rand at Ganeshkhind in Pune ultimately unhinged the mind of the Government and they at last launched prosecution against Lokmanya. This is the first prosecution of sedition. This resulted in 18 months rigorous imprisonment for Lokmanya.

The second prosecution on the charge of sedition was in the year 1908. This has got a background of the partition of Bengal Region mooted by the then Governor General ‘Lord Curzon’. Following the bomb blast at Muzaffarpur, an engine of repression was let loose in Bengal. Nobody could hear except arrests, conspiracy and murders there.

In this very critical situation Lokmanya Tilak reviewed the develop- ment concerning Bengal in four famous articles in Kesari captioned as –

  1. Misfortune of the Nation
  2. Double warning’
  3. What the bomb blast really means
  4. These Remedies Not Durable

Sedition charge of second prosecution was based on the first and fourth article as above. Naturally, as expected Lokmanya was con- victed and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He was, then sent to Mandalay prison in Myanmar (Burma).

Difficulties like these, however, could not discourage the spirit of Lokmanya and his Kesari. On the contrary in such a delicate situation he said, “Even if the sky collapses on me, I shall stand firmly there- on. ” With this vigour Kesari was continued.

After conviction by Jury in the second sedition charge, Lokmanya in his roaring voice, challenged the jurymen as “lnspite of the verdict of Jury, I maintain, I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of things and it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent is to prosper more by my sufferings’ than my remaining free.”

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