The nation’s voice, free and fearless

The Tribune has a date with history. In 140 years of ups and downs, and a brush with momentous events, the newspaper has become a respected national daily.

On return from London, Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia wanted to play a role in the freedom struggle, which was still in its nascent years. He was particularly concerned about the British newspaper, The Civil and Military Gazette, which was brainwashing the people with official propaganda. Majithia thought that there had to be an answer to it. He gave away some of his personal wealth to start the newspaper, called The Tribune, to spread the idea of an India free from the clutches of the British. Over the years, it became a paper of its own kind.

The Tribune has always been there for upholding the right of the people to dissent and defending whatever is in public interest. Tribune photo: Ravi Kumar

Majithia, though young, had foresight and took a major decision — that The Tribune would be run by a Board of Trustees and not by him, or his family or any commercial interest. The Will left behind by him remains the Trustees’ Charter.

The Tribune has gone through the tumultuous times of India’s history. It vigorously reported on the ferment in Punjab over the Rowlatt Act, the horror of Jallianwala Bagh, the vigour of the Civil Disobedience Movement as well as the Non-cooperation Movement, Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom, Partition of the sub-continent, and the largest migration of people the world has seen. It has not only lived up to the expectations but has also become the Voice of the People. The nation’s challenges were also those of The Tribune.

The Tribune itself became a refugee in 1947, when it had to leave Lahore for beginning its new life in a free India. It rose again amid an immediate war in Kashmir, the resettlement of refugees, making of the Constitution, evolving of a democratic set-up, and economic development of the country. When freedom came, The Tribune had become a part of the Indian dream.

However, those who led The Tribune did not give up its right to free expression. It supported what was good for the people and criticised what was not in public interest.

The paper and its legendary Editor, Kalinath Ray, before Independence, and Editors like Prem Bhatia afterwards, have done this job and some others who followed them have been a part of the efforts to enlighten The Tribune’s readers of their rights and responsibilities in a democratic India.

I had the privilege to serve The Tribune for seven long years and become a part of the mission to ensure that the paper would always be the Voice of the People — a slogan dear to me. These seven years were a rewarding experience for me.

The idea was to awaken the minds of the paper’s readers. The paper campaigned against the widespread tendency in Punjab and Haryana of female foeticide (we called it the killing of the unborn daughter), the spreading drug menace, criminalisation of politics, and spreading of cancer in the region and many other issues of social and political import.

The Tribune has always been there for upholding the right of the people to dissent and the paper’s creed that it has to defend whatever is in public interest.

It has not always been an easy task for The Tribune. Corporates have resources and enormous money to spend on newspapers. The Tribune cannot generate such resources. Besides, the paper has to meet challenges from new technology, which is a costly affair.

Often the authorities may not like criticism a newspaper may voice, but it’s not worth its name if it doesn’t stand up for its commitment to public interest.

Fifteen years ago, I had the privilege to be the Editor-in-Chief of the paper, which completed 125 years in 2006. The anniversary celebrations were inaugurated by Dr Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister, in Chandigarh in September 2005.

I enjoyed my editorship of the paper because I could carry forward The Tribune’s mission and stick to the paper’s ethos. The Trustees were supportive.

We came out with two supplements, including Chandigarh 50 that celebrated the city’s 50 years. Top architects and town planners of the country wrote on pluses and minuses of Le Corbusier’s Dream City. Also, top scientists wrote for a special supplement on the Science Policy. Our idea was to spread scientific temper among the readers and make a contribution to the evolution of a forward-looking nation.

Diversity of opinion was encouraged and writers like jurists Fali Nariman and PP Rao; strategic thinkers like K Subramaniam; and the father of the Green Revolution, Dr MS Swaminathan, wrote for The Tribune, as also Prof VN Datta, who wrote regularly for the paper. Prof Datta, who passed away recently, wrote a volume, The Tribune: 130 Years, A Witness to History, at our request.

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, The Tribune brought out a collection of the paper’s editorials written since its inception, compiled by Pran Neville. A short biography of Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia was also published. The Department of Posts celebrated the occasion by coming out with a special commemmorative stamp, released by the then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee in New Delhi in November 2006.

The paper is likely to face many challenges. How it negotiates its way through remains to be seen. I am sure The Tribune will live up to its ethos and values it is known for.

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