People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

September 08,2002


Struggle, Survival And Surging Ahead

P Karunakaran

DESHABHIMANI, organ of the CPI(M) in Kerala, completed 60 years of its life on September 6. With its humble but hopeful beginning on September 6, 1942, it fulfilled a need of those turbulent days of our freedom movement. Its beginning was a culmination point of the hopes and aspirations of millions of the oppressed, repressed and suppressed toiling masses. The path it traversed was thorny. Often it faced brickbats from the authorities and adversaries, receiving at the same time bouquets from the masses. The paperís onward march from a weekly to a full-fledged morning daily with six editions plus an internet edition, from a double dummy cylinder to the state-of-the-art equipment with fully computerised infrastructure is a stirring experience.



Deshabhimani has a saga of trials and tribulations. Its chequered history is an inalienable part of the growth of Left and progressive movements in Kerala. It steadfastly stood with the masses throughout and its role has been vindicated by the peopleís involvement in nurturing it. As for financial support, the donation of a pet calf by an illiterate rural woman in earlier days and lakhs of rupees received in one-day bucket collections afterward are clear indications of how much affection the common folk have for this paper. They consider it as their own. To paraphrase the famous words from Abraham Lincolnís Gettisburg speech, Deshabhimani may unhesitatingly and proudly be called as a newspaper "for the people, by the people, of the people."

Prabhatam (The Dawn), started from Shorannur near Trichur on January 9, 1935, under the editorship of late Comrade E M S Namboodiripad, is considered to be the precursor of Deshabhimani. As an unofficial organ of the socialist group in the Indian National Congress, Prabhatam fought against the injustice and atrocities and had therefore to bear the brunt of persecution. The publication of a poem "Athmanadam" (Sound of the Soul) by Chovvara Parameswaran annoyed the government and the paper was fined Rs 2000.

Late Comrade A K Gopalan (popularly called AKG), who rose to become one of the stalwarts of freedom movement and Communist Party in Kerala, came forward confidently to raise funds, which the paper badly needed. He toured to Bombay, Ceylon, Burma and other places to meet the Malayalees and managed to collect enough funds. It was at this time that the second world war broke out. The government promptly withdrew the license for publication without any rhyme or reason.

Many leaders then working in the Congress Socialist Party were influenced by Marxism. 64 prominent figures of the Kerala CSP soon got together at Parappuram in Pinarayi panchayat, Kannur district, and resolved to function as the Communist Party, even though the latter was banned and had to work in the most adverse circumstances till the ban was lifted in 1942.



When the party started functioning openly in 1942, it took initiative to have its own mouthpiece and that was how Deshabhimani was born at Kozhikode. It started as a weekly on September 6, 1942. The fund collected by AKG sustained it initially. Later, EMS disposed of his ancestral property and donated the entire amount (Rs 50,000, a big sum in those days) to the paper.

Deshabhimani editorial "The Call of the Gallows," in connection with the Kayyur martyrs, infuriated the British imperialists. The Madras government took revenge and ordered the paper to deposit a security of Rs 1000. But the people raised this amount within days. Four years later, despite all onslaughts, Deshabhimani changed to a four-page morning daily on January 18, 1946.

The proletarian perspective and progressive view of these papers were so irritating to the erstwhile princely rulers that the papers were banned once by the Cochin government and twice by the Diwan of Travancore during 1942-46. But, by then, Deshabhimani had become an instrument of fight for the struggling people. It took up a number of issues and lent its voice to many struggles. The agitation of toddytappers of Anthikkad (Thrissur) and the strikes of Cochin harbour, Sitharam Mill (Trichur) and Aaron Mill (Kannur) were some of the outstanding struggles among them. Not only the mass agitations in different parts of the state, but the struggles in other states also reverberated in Deshabhimaniís pages. It played its revolutionary role against landlordism and colonialism diligently, and highlighted the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives at Karivallor, Kavumbai, Munayankunnu (Kannur) and Onchiam (Kozhikode) while fighting.

To improve the quality and meet the growing demand, the need to replace the double dummy cylinder press by a speedier modern rotary press was felt as early as in 1947. Again, when the party workers approached the people for fund, the response was fantastic. The experience of Chombala village near Kozhikode at that time is etched in peopleís memory forever. Here, Palora Matha, an illiterate, impoverished rural woman who had nothing else to part with, donated her only calf to the party, telling the comrades to sell the calf and utilise the money for Deshabhimani. What a gesture! Is anything more needed to prove the common peopleís love for the paper?



On the other hand, attempts to harass and persecute the paper continued unabatedly. Under the Public Security Act of 1947, many members of the editorial board were taken into custody and false cases registered against them. Again the authorities insisted for a deposit of Rs 4000. But party sympathisers and workers again raised a fund, as they had done earlier, well aware that the paperís existence was the need of the day.

EMSís article on Malabar rebellion titled "The Message and Warning of 1921" was the ostensible reason for another ban on the paper. Meanwhile, the party was banned and all repressive measures were taken against the paper. It was again banned under the General Security Act of 1948.

The period 1948 to 1951 witnessed the severest repression against the party in independent India. Workers were brutally tortured; mass struggles inhumanly suppressed. Moyarath Sankaran, a staunch freedom fighter, and many others were murdered. Brutal incidents took place at Munayankunnu and Padikkunnu (Kannur). Since the paper was banned, there was none to highlight these atrocities. The paper itself was on the brink of liquidation. But after his release from the jail in 1951, AKG took initiative to revive it.

When Deshabhimani was banned, other methods were used to convey the partyís messages to the people. A series of other publications were started: The Republic, Kerala News, Vishva Keralam and Navalokam were some of them. These publications started from different places; the ban on one of them was followed by the start of another. Then, Deshabhimani resumed its publication on December 16, 1951, almost on the eve of first general elections in 1952. During the election campaign, it served as a powerful ideological weapon against the repressive Congress misrule.

The ideological conflict within the party, that led to a split in 1964, got reflected in the paper as well. After the split, Deshabhimani became the organ of the CPI(M). Late Comrade K P R Gopalan was at the helm of affairs and played a major role in sustaining the paper as the CPI(M)ís organ.

Since the Kozhikode edition alone couldnít meet the growing demand, the party took initiative to start another edition from Kochi in 1969, to cater the need of southern Kerala. In 1973, a new building was constructed for it, again by raising funds from the masses.

The period of Emergency was one of severe stress and strain for the party as well as for its organ. Deshabhimani couldnít publish editorials due to the hard and fast pre-censorship imposed during the Emergency, and had to leave the editorial space blank. The paper was also denied of its rightful share in government advertisements. The paper could not print in time and had even to skip editions because of the delaying tactics of censoring officers who were subservient to the authoritarian rulers.

Yet, surmounting all these difficulties in this period, the paper stood in defence of democracy and of the massesí interests. It exposed atrocities like the infamous Rajan case in Kerala and excesses elsewhere in India like Turkman Gate case, while the monopoly press and others either kept mum or defended the authoritiesí bestialities.



The span of time between the second and subsequent editions was not as long as it was between the Kozhikode and Kochi editions. The growth was rapid, reflecting the partyís increasing popularity in the state.

The third edition of Deshabhimani started from Thiruvananthapuram on January 4, 1989. For it, the party had decided to collect Rs 25 lakh but the response was much greater. In just one day of bucket collection, people generously donated Rs 45 lakh.

The next edition started at Kannur on January 30, 1994, a stronghold of the communist movement. One-day collection through the state for this edition was Rs 42 lakh. Apart from this, Rs one crore were collected from Kannur and Kasargode districts only, by way of 12-year subscriptions. It was a landmark in the history of the paper.

In 1997, the fifth edition started from Kottayam. For it, two days of bucket collection brought Rs 75 lakh. Besides, Rs 1.4 crore were collected through annual subscriptions from the districts within the limit of this edition alone.

It was really an inspiring experience to note that, within a month, about Rs 1.05 crore were collected for the sixth edition from Trissur district alone. People from all walks of life contributed to the fund. Almost all the workers, peasants and employees, etc, contributed their one-day wages. The edition came out on August 31, 2000.

The paper started its multicolour edition at Kochi in 1993, and Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode in 1994. Kannur and Kottayam editions started with the colour printing installations right from the beginning.

All the printing and publishing companies that bring out these editions are named after party stalwarts like P Krishna Pillai, AKG, C H Kanaran and EMS.

Now the party is planning another edition from outside Kerala, that is Mumbai, the hub of business activities in India. The purpose is to cater to a large chunk of Malayalees who have settled there for livelihood but still have fond memories of Kerala. The internet edition started on January 1, 1998 --- another feather in the paperís cap.



From a very humble beginning in terms of assets and circulation, the Deshabhimani has become the third largest daily in Kerala, reaching a wide range of readership. Tiding over all the hardships and constraints, the growth from Kallachu (a primitive calligraphic mode of printing) to the well equipped modern machinery with all-out computerised facilities fulfils the aspirations of the toiling and downtrodden people of Kerala, whose unstinted support and wholehearted loyalty made all this possible.

Stalwarts of the Left and progressive movements in Kerala like E M S Namboodiripad, M S Devadas, V T Induchudan, K P R Gopalan, P Govinda Pillai, K Chathunni Master, E K Nayanar and S Ramachandran Pillai were the luminaries who served as the paperís chief editors at different times. Along with hundreds of party workers and thousands of sympathisers, P Krishna Pillai, AKG, EMS, C H Kanaran, Azheekodan Raghavan, P Kannan Nair, N Sreedharan and Chadayan Govindan were, among others, the moving spirits behind the paper. Since March 1998, after EMS died, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member V S Achuthanandan took over as the chief editor. M Govindankutty was the printer and publisher during 1951-67. In 1973, P Kannan Nair took over as the printer, publisher and general manager. After his death in 1990, P Karunakaran is the printer, publisher and general manager.

Since its beginning, the paperís proprietorship had been vested with EMS. Late Chadayan Govindan became the proprietor in 1998, and after his death Pinarayi Vijayan took it over.

EMS has been the friend, philosopher and guide to the paper till the end of his life. One of the two articles he wrote on the very day of his demise, that is on March 19, 1998, was part of a series on contemporary politics, captioned "Congress, BJP and Left Parties." The paper carried it along with his obituary. The other article was for the first anniversary supplement of the Kottayam edition.

Even though maintaining its basic character as an eloquent mouthpiece of the progressive forces, with a clear political vision on national and international issues, Deshabhimani has changed a lot in form and content in recent times. It comes out regularly with the special pullouts on socio-economic, industrial and business issues, agriculture, sports, tourism, etc, thus serving as a complete newspaper. Magazine Thathamma for children, a sister publication, is widely circulated. Deshabhimani weekly maintains its qualitative standard. It was Deshabhimani that brought out Kalikkalam, the first sports magazine in Malayalam. It has also demonstrated its capacity to cope with the changing times. Even those who once laughed at Deshabhimani as a party gazette, now accept these sea-changes and laud its professionalism.

But the paper is conscious of its multifarious objectives that are yet to be attained and the shortcomings still to be rectified. EMS had a desire and vision to make it the largest circulated daily. Concerted striving is needed to fulfil his dream in a not very distant future.