G.Kasturi (1924-2012), the longest serving editor of the Hindu newspaper, was somewhat a stranger to me. I have not met him. I have not corresponded (on personal terms) with him. But, as he served as the editor of the Hindu, from September 1965 to January 1991, I was able to feel his taste of news, music and sports by what he chose to publish, comment and editorialize. Having been a reader of the Hindu since 1967 (first occasionally, and then regularly since 1977), I did send two short letters to its editorial desk in 1988 and 1989. To my surprise, Kasturi did publish them in the pages of the Hindu. Though both these letters were critical of the stand taken by the Hindu, that he chose to publish them told me something about his character and editorial integrity. I could not expect the same treatment from Narasimhan Ram, one of his successors.
My requiem to Kasturi, the editor, will be to revisit these two short letters on the anti-Eelam stance of the Hindu.
Letter 1 (The Hindu, August 19, 1988)
Sir – Your editorial ‘Peace in Sri Lanka: What needs to be done’ (The Hindu, international edition, Aug.6) needs some comments. Having been a reader of the Hindu for the past 15 years, I could sense a change of direction in your reporting on the Sri Lankan scence since the 1987 Rajiv-Jayewardene peace agreement. Until mid-May 1987, you had correctly portrayed the dictatorial whims of President Jayewardene in the editorials, articles and cartoons. Somehow, he had become your trusted Sri Lankan politician, from August 1, 1987.
While commenting on the disbursing and monitoring of Rs. 50 crores for the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres, your editorial implied that the present rule of Jayewardene is a ‘legitimate soverign government’. Nothing is far from the truth. Early this year, one of the chief negotiators of the Rajiv-Jayewardene Agreement (former Finance Minister of Sri Lanka, Ronnie de Mel) had questioned the moral authority of the present Sri Lanka government which had extended its stay in power by undemocratic means since 1983.
The Sri Lanka citizens were never given the opportunity to elect their parliamentary representatives in a general election for the past seven years. And you call it ‘legitimate’. Sri Lankan Tamils in particular (especially those in the Northern and Eastern provinces) never gave a mandate to the UNP to rule them in the last held 1977 general election. Only one Tamil MP was elected on the UNP ticket (in the Eastern province) by a slender majority of nearly 550 plurality votes. I do not question your right to support President Jayewardene. But please do not insult the intelligence of Sri Lankan readers by making wild statements which lack common sense.”
Letter 2 (The Hindu International edition, Sept.23, 1989)
Sir – I read the results of the two surveys conducted in Madras regarding the stationing of the IPKF in Sri Lanka in The Hindu international edition (Aug 5 and 19). As a Sri Lankan Tamil, I was somewhat amused that these surveys were conducted in Madras and not in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Vavuniya or Mannar. These surveys would have merited more if the opinions of the Tamils of Sri Lanka were also sought on this important crisis. Afterall, the Tamils who are living in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka are in a better position to state whether they wanted the IPKF for the security and whether Prabhakaran’s Tigers are heroes or freedom fighters or terrorists. You should not forget that for the British imperialists, freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose were ‘terrorists’.
After reading your biased commentaries on the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for the past two years, I am beginning to lose confidence in The Hindu’s so-called‘imparital and erudite coverage’ of international events.
One of the best evaluations of the Hindu’s attitude and performance on the liberation movements (including that of British-ruled India) was provided by none other than Jawaharlal Nehru. He had written in his Autobiography (1936):
“Among the Indian-owned English newspapers, The Hindu of Madras is probably the best, so far as get-up and news service are concerned. It always reminds me of an old maiden lady, very prim and proper, who is shocked if a naughty word is used in her presence. It is eminently the paper of the bourgeois, comfortably settled in life. Not for it is the shady side of existence, the rough and tumble and conflict of life.”
The French word ‘bourgeoise’, was italicized in the original. To the Hindu, ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ were ‘naughty words’, as Nehru had indicated elegantly. It is unfortunate that despite his long tenure as the editor of the Hindu, Kasturi could not change this image of what Nehru wrote about the Hindu in 1936. For the same reasons, whatever modernizations it may show off in technical improvisations, circulation gimmickry and brag about its 134 years of existence, the Hindu is too shamed to offer its complete archives of its editorials during the pre-Independent period. Tactfully, it covers its moral nudity by posting selected photos of that period. One sample is presented nearby.
The malady faced by the Hindu was aptly diagnosed by S. Sivanayagam, while he was residing in Chennai. He wrote in 1988, “The tragedy of the Hindu is the tragedy of newspaper editors who allow themselves to be sucked into the decision-making processes of their governments!” [Tamil Times, London, Oct. 1988]. This trend became particularly visible, when Narasimhan Ram prostituted his job as the editor of the Hindu to that of a bucket carrier of dimwitted Indian politicians. The virtue of Kasturi was that he was not rewarded with the ‘Sri Lanka Ratna’ award that was offered to the services of Narasimhan Ram.