Journey of a newspaper
The Partition affected people and institutions alike. This excerpt from The Tribune 130 Years: A Witness to History by V. N. Datta traces the newspaper’s tumultuous passage from Lahore to Chandigarh

The founder of The Tribune Sardar Dayal Singh Majithia
the founder of the tribune sardar dayal singh majithia

Jawaharlal Nehru reading a copy of the Tribune
jawaharlal nehru reading a copy of the tribune

The March 25,1930, issue
the march 25,1930, issue

A group photograph of The Tribune employees in 1905
a group photograph of the tribune employees in 1905

Earlier premises of The Tribune at Lahore
earlier premises of the tribune at lahore

IT speaks volumes of the strength and resilience of The Tribune that it resumed publication soon after the Partition. It had stopped publishing for 40 days. After the Partition, the first issue of the paper appeared from Simla on September 25, 1947. The Tribune had to find a suitable place for its publication. Amritsar was sulking on the border, and was not considered the right place for the publication of the paper. Ludhiana was not developed, and Ambala city had water problems.

A small printing press near the Ridge known as Liddell’s was available, which The Tribune trustees secured through the aegis of the Punjab government. A large bungalow ‘Bantony’ on the Mall was obtained for providing accommodation to The Tribune office and staff and some other employees, who occupied three rooms on the first floor. The Tribune began to function under difficult circumstances because of the small printing press, inadequate staff, and financial crunch.

Mercifully, cash reserves approximating to Rs 10 lakh had been transferred from the Punjab National Bank, Lahore, to its Delhi office three days before the Partition. The Tribune also held securities worth nearly Rs 25 lakh. Vallabhbhai Patel, the Home Minister, asked the Minister of Rehabilitation, K.C. Neogy to ‘give all facilities to The Tribune to resume publication’. Later, owing to the initiative of the Chief Minister, Punjab, Gopi Chand Bhargava, the special representative of The Tribune, A.C. Bali, went to Lahore at his personal risk and succeeded in bringing back The Tribune records, The Tribune files since 1881, and some library books in five trucks provided by the Pakistan government with a police escort for their safety till the Indian border.

Voice of the region

After his return from Kashmir, Rana Jang Bahadur Singh resumed his duty as Acting Editor and The Tribune started publishing from Simla. In the first issue after its rebirth, appearing from Simla on September 25, 1947, The Tribune wrote:

The last seven or eight weeks have been weeks of great tribulation for the people of Punjab. They had to pass through terrible experiences. Not only have they been uprooted, but also complete ruination stares lakhs of them in the face. Their sufferings are unimaginable; words cannot describe them. We felt that at such a time we should be by the side of our people and try to serve them and champion their cause to the best of our ability. But certain difficulties stood in our way. Now we have succeeded in overcoming those difficulties, though partially, and have arranged to bring out The Tribune in a smaller size, for the time being, from Simla.

Problems in Simla

The location of The Tribune printing press in Simla caused immense difficulties regarding its supply, delivery, and circulation in Punjab and Delhi. A truck, car and station wagon were insufficient for a speedy delivery of the paper. Within a period of two months, The Tribune managed against heavy odds to increase the size of the paper from two pages to six pages by the end of January 1948.

The Tribune had suffered a serious handicap after the retirement of Kali Nath Ray in finding a highly competent editor. But with the appointment of J. Natarajan, the vacuum was filled. J. Natarajan, son of the famous S. Natarajan, Editor of the Indian Social Reformer, was one of the leading journalists of the time reputed for his independent outlook and his courage to express his views fearlessly on public issues. Sir Manohar Lal, The Tribune trustee, used his influence with the authorities to obtain a bungalow for The Tribune in Ambala Cantt in October, 1948 called ‘Mustafa Manzil,’ which belonged to a Muslim who moved to Lucknow. Dr M.S. Randhawa, the Commissioner at Ambala, rendered much valuable help in the rehabilitation of The Tribune to start its publication in a new place.

A new machinery for composing and printing was secured from Bombay and installed. A thatched roof bungalow was acquired in the cantonment area for the accommodation of several staff members. A new machinery, which had been ordered from Lahore arrived from the USA in 1948. Prakash Ananda writes:

Throughout its 25-year stay at Ambala, the paper was printed on a gloss Duplex Unitubular stereo rotary, which had a speed of 40,000 copies per hour of a 16-page newspaper, occasionally in three columns printed, folded and ready for dispatch.

The Union Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation acquired the building ‘Mustafa Manzil’ and sold it to The Tribune for Rs 1,17,466, which covered the cost of extensions (Rs 88,361) and renovation (Rs 29,105). The Tribune took special care of its employees and built up a colony for their residence. A plot of 2.5 acres was acquired for the cost of Rs 12,000 on the eastern outskirts of Sadar Bazar, Ambala.

Nehru's message

On May 13, 1948, The Tribune published on the front page a message from Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister, which he sent on the occasion of its publication from Ambala Cantt. The message conveying his good wishes and greetings reads as follows:

You have passed through many difficulties and have stood many tests. I trust you will not be carried away by momentary passions but will function with vision of the future before you.

Fearless reporting

The Tribune supported the central union government in its repudiation of the formation of linguistic states. Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, the Chief Minister, Punjab (1956-1965) was opposed to the idea of forming states on linguistic principles.

Pratap Singh Kairon was an extremely able and a dynamic leader, who was in a desperate hurry to modernise Punjab. He firmly believed that a living civilisation must be progressive and fast-moving but should not be allowed to get stuck in the mire of the past. In his anxiety to move fast, Kairon would not mind circumventing rules and regulations to achieve his object. A man of strong likes and dislikes, he would not tolerate just criticism. Amolak Ram, the joint editor, explains how The Tribune was compelled by the prevailing circumstances to come into conflict with Kairon because he had put a blanket ban on the publication of all reports about the (Akali) agitation. Kairon ordered that all reports relating to the Akali agitation in the newspapers must be subjected to pre-censorship. The Tribune resisted the Chief Minister’s orders and pleaded their modifications, but the Punjab government refused to relent.

Time to change

At Ambala, Amolak Ram was the Acting Editor when Prem Bhatia joined The Tribune as Editor in 1959. Prem Bhatia was a reputed journalist widely known for his professional skills. He had served as sub-editor at the Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore (1934-1939).

On the outbreak of World War II, he moved on to Delhi to take the post of News Editor, Central News Organisation, All India Radio till 1942. Thereafter, he served in the Directorate of Public Information, Bengal (1945-46). He was a Special Representative and Political Correspondent of the Statesman at Lucknow and Delhi, 1946-1958. He joined The Tribune in 1959 from where he moved on to Delhi to serve as Resident Editor, The Times of India in Delhi.

Change of guard

With Prem Bhatia’s departure, Amolak Ram again acted as Editor temporarily. In November 1962, R. Madhavan Nair was appointed as Editor. He served The Tribune both at Ambala and Chandigarh till 31 March 1977. R. Madhavan Nair started his journalistic career as a part-time correspondent of The Hindustan Times, when Durga Das was the Editor. He also worked for the Associated Press of India. In 1946, he joined the Pioneer as sub-editor, where he served for 16 years, including the period when he was its Acting Editor. Endowed with a prodigious memory, R. Madhavan Nair was a scholar, who could, without reference, freely quote in his editorials from Shakespearee and The Bible.

Position of strength

The Tribune, published from Ambala for about 21 years, had established for itself a commanding position in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The trustees felt that the right place for The Tribune’s further growth and expansion would be Chandigarh, the newly built town and the state capital. This was going to be the third migration of The Tribune in its history.

Excerpted from The Tribune 130 Years: A Witness to History by V. N. Datta. Hay House India. Pages 380. Rs 500.