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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 8, February 9, 2013

The Mainstream Story

Friday 15 February 2013, by Sumit Chakravartty


An abridged version of the following piece constituted the author’s introductory remarks before the panel discussion on ‘Indian Media Scene Today: Potential and Reality’ to mark fifty years of Mainstream (that took place at the India International Centre, New Delhi on January 29, 2013).

Mainstream first appeared on September 1, 1962. It owes its name to a well-known progressive US journal (currently defunct), Masses and Mainstream, which was at one time the voice of the other America and which implied that the masses would ultimately become the mainstream, something which this journal too believes, howsoever difficult and arduous the path may be at present.

Several personalities played a major role behind the emergence of Mainstream on the national scene. Prominent among them was Mohan Kumaramangalam who later became the Union Minister for Coal and Mines. Also significant was the fact that the founder editor of Economic and Political Weekly, Sachin Chaudhuri, himself encouraged Nikhil Chakravartty to bring out Mainstream as he was keen on proliferation of publications like EPW.

The editor’s letter (written by the publi-cation’s first editor, C.N. Chitta Ranjan) in its first issue spelt out the objectives and purposes of the journal:
“Mainstream owes allegiance to no political party or group. Its loyalty is wholly to India and socialism… It shall be our endeavour to try relentlessly to demolish the wall of misunderstanding, mutual suspicion and even personal pique that divides progressive sections in the country one from another.”

And it concluded with these words:

“From week to week, Mainstream shall strive to bring to your table varied, informative and instructive fare, neither sensational nor dull but honest and objective in presentation. There will be no glossing over friends’ defects for fear of hurting, even as no quarter will be given in exposing whatever is rotten and harmful in society. In this difficult task, dear reader, we seek your support, material and intellectual.”

In its second issue the editor’s letter to the reader carried a communication from the legen-dary M. Chelapathi Rau that read:

“I have gone through the first issue of Mainstream, and I am glad to say it is neatly produced, well edited, and full of promise. Weekly journalism should rise above the daily temptations (and drudgery) of daily journalism, and the kind of articles which have appeared in your journal should make people think. There is no worthier task for serious journals than to reflect the sensation of social and economic change, the only worthwhile sensationalism, and to guide the revolutionary processes. Whatever its stand on specific issues, I have every hope that Mainstream will develop strength of character, and it is journals like Mainstream that can offer the best possible resistance to monopolistic tendencies in the newspaper industry.”
Mainstream has always given space to different views. That is why in its third issue there was an article by Dr Rammanohar Lohia on ‘Politics of Succession’ wherein, as was only to be expected, he launched a diatribe on Jawaharlal Nehru, the then PM, his bete noire, in his inimitable language. While publishing this article the editor in his letter to the reader underlined that even if much of what the Socialist leader had written was not acceptable, “we are anxious that Dr Lohia should get a hearing” and this was “in line with the policy of Mainstream, whose columns are open to all sections which believe in Socialism, although they may not all be agreed on the precise definition of the term”.

Here it may be relevant to recall that when there was a call for monetary help in a ‘Mainstream Fighting Fund’, George Fernandes, one of Lohia’s closest followers, sent a cheque with a note to N.C. that read: ‘Even if sometimes I feel like punching your nose, Nikhil, I think Mainstream must servive.”

Mainstream has all along been a forum of discussion on various issues. There have been numerous debates and encounters in it. In the sixties Ashok Rudra’s sharp assaults on Satyajit Ray with regard to some of his films drew equally sharp rejoinders in its pages. The Chinese aggression on India in 1962 was analysed from different angles shortly after this journal’s inception. The India-Pakistan war of 1965, the Tashkent Agreement of 1966, the devaluation of the rupee in 1966, the Congress split of 1969, the nationalisation of banks and coal mines that followed Indira Gandhi’s snapping of ties with the Syndicate at that very juncture, the Bangladesh liberation struggle, the Indo-Soviet Treaty and the India-Pakistan war of 1971 that culminated in the liberation of Bangladesh, the Shimla accord of 1972—all these came under this publication’s close scrutiny with various opinions being voiced in its columns. But not even once did Mainstream lose its broad perspective while dissecting such events.

Thereafter the Emergency of 1975-77 marked a watershed in its life. Fourteen years after its birth it was forced to suspend publication for four weeks from the end of December 1976 to January 1977 owing to the Emergency’s pre-censorship norms. One does not have to recall what N.C. as the editor wrote before it closed down, albeit temporarily, for it is known to most of you. However, two paragraphs of that ‘Editor’s Notebook’ of December 25, 1976 may be reproduced here as there is a contemporary ring in them.

“Throughout these fourteen years, there has never been any questioning of the cherished values, the ideals and principles, born out of the struggle of this nation for freedom, democracy and a new social order. To strive for such an objective, the unity of forward-looking forces has been and shall be the essential pre-requisite. As it has grown over the years, Mainstream has, in its modest way, endeavoured to bring about such a unity without fear or favour. It has faced many an ordeal and it can humbly claim that it has never deviated from the path of fearless and independent journalism.

“Times have changed, and with them, the values. The political process, its semantics and its very style and purpose, pose questions which Time alone can answer. And to face such an extraordinary situation requires courage—courage not of the foolhardy but of the patient and the silently alert. Battles may be lost but wars are won by firm adherence to clear perspective.”

These words have been the guiding principle of the publication since its birth.
Following the Emergency the question of Left unity came to the fore with the two major Communist Parties restoring their dialogue that was broken since 1969. This issue was discussed threadbare by all sections of Mainstream readers, though nothing came of it due to various reasons that are not necessary to dilate here. The failure of the Janata Raj came in for scathing criticism in the columns of Mainstream with leading figures of the CPI-M (who had at one stage dissociated from the journal) writing articles to expose and assail the rigid approach of the then PM Morarji Desai.

The resurgence of Indira Gandhi on the national scene on her return to power in 1980 evoked remarkably objective analysis by the editor who had minced no words in attacking the Emergency regime led by her and who also did not hesitate to criticise her subsequently for her responsibility behind the rise of Khalistani terrorism in Punjab in the eighties that ultimately devoured her in 1984. His editorial after Indira Gandhi’s assassination was also reflective of the same objectivity. His ‘New Delhi Skyline’ following Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise and funeral too stood out twenty years earlier.

The two issues which Mainstream comprehen-sively dealt with in the Rajiv Gandhi era were the IPKF’s operations in Sri Lanka and the Bofors deal that proved to be the then PM’s downfall in 1989.

Articles in Mainstream have been animatedly discussed on several occasions. The article “The Great Suicide” by a Congressman—that appeared in the Republic Day Special of 1990—found a section of Congress activists attacking a party leader who subsequently became the party’s President and the country’s PM, that is, P.V. Narasimha Rao, because he was supposed to have authored it. But the fact is that “Congress-man” was a pseudonym used by several persons including C.N. Chitta Ranjan as well as a well-known Socialist thinker once associated with the CSP (K.G. Ramakrishnan).

Later in 1994 Madhu Limaye wrote a unique article “Political System is Hostage to Racketeers” unmasking the face of several political leaders (who were specifically named) having taken large chunks of hawala money. None of the politicians mentioned came forward to flaunt their innocence, but one Police Officer pointed out that he was wrongly mentioned. That rejoinder was carried prominently in the following issue as per the accepted norms which of late are frequently practised in the breach by influential newspapers.

A few years ago the issue of Left unity also came up for debate and many views were published. Mainstream too had to endure attacks from sections of the Left in this context.

India-Pakistan relations are currently under strain. It must be pointed out that at no time did Mainstream give any quarter to jingoism. At the height of the 1965 war the Mainstream editorial in the Annual Number of that year ended with the paragraph:

“In the final reckoning, these two neighbours, India and Pakistan, shall have to live side by side as brothers in peace and friendship. As we defend our sacred land with all our might, we must not let iron enter into the soul of this great nation.”
It would be good for today’s TV anchors to comprehend the meaning of those lines.
Mainstream has been in the forefront of the struggle against communalism.

Anatomy of several riots—in Moradabad, Meerut etc.—appeared in its pages as did the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992. The Gujarat genocide in 2002 was brought under scrutiny in detail. At the same time, the journal opened its columns to an interesting Communist-BJP debate on various issues in 1990, the participants being S.G. Sardesai and K.R. Malkani, the ideologues of the CPI and BJP respectively.

The economic reforms of 1991 based on the neoliberal paradigm of development, the events in China under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, the Gorbachev phenomenon in the erstwhile Soviet Union and the dismantling of the USSR were also discussed at length. Mainstream came out with unequivocal denunciation of the Yeltsin betrayal on the suspension of supply of cryogenic engines to India under US pressure.

In the unipolar world sought to be imposed by the sole superpower after the end of the Cold War Mainstream has dispassionately tried to find out the causes of the disappearance of the countervailing force in the global arena while bringing out the infirmities in the US policies, political, social, economic. The ecological disaster staring us in the face, the growing disparities on the national plane, the rise of Maoist insurgency with the unquestioned support of the tribals in our hinterland have found considerable space in the publication. So have the different movements of the civil society and voluntary organisations that have lately come out in sharper relief than the ones ones led by the established political formations.

Since leading figures of voluntary organi-sations are here in our midst speaking on the topic under discussion today, I am tempted to once again refer to N.C. who, while highlighting the increasing role of money and muscle power in the contemporary political scenario, conveyed the following in a piece “Reflections on Our Time” that appeared twenty years ago in August 1993 (a few months before I travelled to Medha Patkar’s area of work on the banks of the Narmada in Maharashtra as a member of a team for an on-the-spot inquiry into an incident of police firing there):

“And yet this expanding cesspool of degeneration in our conventional public life does not represent the totality of the reality of this great country of ours. In distant nooks and corners, among myriads of activists, fighting out social oppressions, bringing the light of knowledge to the unlettered, making them aware of their just dues and instilling into them the self-confidence to aspire for a better life—there lies the focus of hope and true salvation. Into that heaven this country is bound to arise and awake. That shall ring in the festival of true freedom and not the monotony of worn-out sermons from the ramparts of Red Fort.”

The moot question is: is our media presently drawing adequate attention to the selfless work of these activists that should justifiably be the “focus of hope and true salvation”? Regrettably the answer is an emphatic ‘no’. And there lies the source of the problem.

When Mainstream turned twentyfive N.C. wrote in his ‘Editor’s Notebook’ in the Annual Number of 1987:

“Twentyfive years ago, on a September morning, when Mainstream was born, many thought it was too ambitious a venture and were nearly convinced that it would not live beyond a couple of winters. Only after it survived many a summer that the concerned public began to take notice of its existence.

“But its ardent band of well-wishers from diverse walks of life have remained steadfast in their support and encouragement. They, not one of them, have ever flinched. This has throughout been the incentive that has kept Mainstream moving. It has been a wonderful experience, this fund of sustenance, which could help this modest journal to carry on with its integrity intact and head held high…

“After twentyfive years, as one looks back, it has been a rewarding experience. The wealth of goodwill that has come in the way of Mainstream in these twentyfive years is its proud possession. It is on the strength of this goodwill that it looks forward to the future.

“The journey ahead is going to be not only arduous but forbidding at times. But there can be no going back for this nation sustained by a great and continuing civilisation. The ascent of a nation to great heights is not one straight line. It has its ups and downs. It has to cross spurs and ridges, valleys and crevices until it reaches the point where breathtaking grandeur overwhelms one.”
“Towards that journey for our nation, Mainstream rededicates itself as it steps on to the twentysixth year of its modest but purposeful life.”

As Mainstream turns fiftyone we would like to repeat those words even as we know that the voyage before us is far more difficult and forbidding than what it was in 1987. And it needs to be underscored that unless we get the unstinted support of all those present here can we even think of continuing our advance in the days ahead.

On this occasion we would like to felicitate five stalwarts who guided Mainstream in its early years and are still in our midst. They are D.R. Goyal, a distinguished journalist and crusader against communalism, who was this journal’s second editor having functioned in that capacity from 1963 to 1967; Ms Sheila Sandhu, who was in the first management team of Mainstream; Saral Patra, who was in the editorial team for several years and wrote many of the editorials during the Emergency; Anees Chishti, who worked as the Assistant Editor for several years and wrote many valuable pieces; Barun Dasgupta, who was involved in the editorial and production work in the seventies and eighties.

Only Saral Patra is here since both Goyal-sahb and Sheilaji are unable to come due to their age-related problems and Anees-sahb is down with viral fever while Barunda is now in Kolkata. Let us felicitate Saralda today.

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