Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2018

From India’s Digital Archives

- Karthik Bhatt

He nurtured The Hindu’s growth

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Kasturiranga Iyengar.

The Digital Library of India (DLI) project, an initiative of the Central Government, aims at digitising significant artistic, literary and scientific works and making them available over the Internet for education and research. Begun in 2000 by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and later taken over by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it has to date scanned nearly 5.5 lakh books, predominantly in Indian languages.

The Hindu turned 140 on September 20th. Its journey from an eight-page weekly in the 1880s to its current avatar has been a remarkable one with several firsts to its credit. That it has managed to achieve tremendous success despite many odds is thanks in no small measure to the spirit of the founders and the several men who have been at its helm over the course of its journey. The book featured in this issue is a biography of one such person, Kasturiranga Iyengar.

Born in 1859, Kasturiranga Iyengar had his early education in Kumbakonam, before completing his law degree at Presidency College in 1884. On completion of his apprenticeship under the legendary Sir V. Bashyam Iyengar, Kasturiranga Iyengar rather intriguingly chose to establish practice in Coimbatore than in Madras. He however established himself as a leading lawyer within a short span of time in the city which was then slowly starting to gain importance.

Kasturiranga Iyengar returned to Madras in 1894 after a successful decade in Coimbatore. Apart from achieving legal success, he had also held several public positions, having been elected to the Coimbatore Municipal Council and the Coimbatore District Board and also being appointed Honorary Magistrate. Even during his apprenticeship, Kasturiranga Iyengar had displayed a keen sense of public-spiritedness. He was one of the founders of the Madras Mahajana Sabha in 1884, a nationalist body which would serve as a platform for Indians to air their grievances and come together to voice their views on matters of social reform. It was a successor of sorts to the Madras Native Association, a body that had been founded by Gazulu Lakshminarasu Chetty in 1852 and which had become inactive following his death in 1868.

The Hindu had been founded in 1878 by six young men, G. Subramania Iyer, M. Veeraraghavachariar, N. Subba Rau Pantulu, T.T. Rangachariar, P.V. Rangachariar and D. Kesava Rao Pant, all of whom were members of the Triplicane Literary Society. It was started as a journal which would serve as a forum to represent Indian opinion, the lack of which was sorely felt when the British-owned newspapers criticised the appointment of Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer as Judge of the Madras High Court. With their avowed purposes being similar, the Mahajana Sabha and The Hindu began a close association, with the Sabha for sometime even functioning out of the offices of the newspaper. It was but inevitable that Kasturiranga Iyengar too would become associated with the newspaper. Soon after his return from Coimbatore, he was appointed its Legal Advisor in 1895. His association was not confined to his legal capacity, for he was an active contributor to its columns on legal, political and social matters.

While the newspaper started to make its presence felt by being vocal on several issues of national interest, it was far from smooth sailing on its financial front. With little advertisement revenue to fall back on and a small circulation (with a good number of subscribers in arrears), it was largely dependent on the munificence of a few patrons who sympathised with its cause. The death of one such patron, Maharaja of Vizianagaram in 1897 threw the paper into deeper difficulties. Adding to its troubles was the fact that G. Subramania Iyer (who was one of two remaining from the founding group) decided to withdraw from the newspaper, leaving M. Veeraraghavachariar in sole charge. A failed attempt in 1901 at reconstituting the paper as a joint stock company (due to poor public response to the share issue) only made things worse.

It was in these circumstances that Kasturiranga Iyengar decided to purchase the newspaper. It was not a decision that had ready approval of his friends and relatives. Undeterred and placing supreme confidence in the growing popularity of the paper amidst the public, he along with Sir C. Sankaran Nair and T. Rangachari bought the paper for Rs. 75,000 in 1905. Thus began a two-decade association with the paper, one that would end only with his death in 1923.

Kasturiranga Iyengar faced several challenges within a short span of taking over. He lost the services of C. Karunakara Menon, who had been with the paper since the 1880s and had served as its Editor since 1898. M. Veeraraghavachariar, who was serving as its manager and principal administrator too left due to illness. Undeterred by the challenges, Kasturiranga Iyengar brought in his nephew, A. Rangaswami Iyengar, who was a lawyer in Tanjore, as Assistant Editor and manager of the paper and undertook several measures to put the paper on a strong financial footing. The pages were increased, which brought in more advertising revenue and arrears in subscription were dealt with by stopping supply of the paper to defaulters. On the news front, he subscribed to Reuters and appointed more correspondents in mofussil and North Indian centres. Under the stewardship of Kasturiranga Iyengar, The Hindu grew to become one of the country’s leading newspapers, not afraid of taking on Governors and public servants and championing several public causes, most notable amongst them being the Arbuthnot bank crash and its fallout. In many ways, it became the hub of political activity in Madras, which earned it the sobriquet “a den of conspirators” in bureaucratic circles.

The book, written by V.K. Narasimhan who was the Deputy Editor of The Hindu, was published in November 1963 as a part of the Builders of Modern India series. The series was an initiative of the Publications Division of the Government of India that dates to the 1920s. In its own words, the objective of the series is the publication of short biographies of eminent people who have been instrumental in the national renaissance and the freedom movement. Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer has written the foreword to this book, which is a fascinating profile of the life and times of a multifaceted personality.

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