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Taking Stock
The Watershed
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahIf the time around 1947-48 was a watershed for the Urdu press and the Muslim role in the West Bengal politics, another watershed came around early 1970s. But the intervening period of about a quarter of a century was full of significant developments on the national and international planes as well as in West Bengal, and those that shook the Indian Muslims in general. Presently we may have a general appraisal of the early stage.

I have already stated in my previous article titled ‘And Quiet flows the Hooghly’ (MG April 1-15) that the Congress Party had an even and open playground in West Bengal. The Urdu press having no other choice was submissively toeing the Congress line. It was like groping in darkness. However, daily Abshaar, an eveninger, came out in 1953. It represented the CPI views. Salik Lucknawi and Ibrahim Hosh were co-editors and perhaps partners. It was an interesting fellowship as the two came from diametrically opposite classes in the so-called classless society. Salik Saheb had inherited a well-established company. But both of them were free-stylers and go-as-you-like sort of persons. Hosh Saheb, having traversed the uneven course of Urdu journalism for more than a decade had joined Azad Hind as co-editor with Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi, fell apart in 1953 to join hands with Salik Saheb. Another eveninger Imroze, predated Abshaar by about there years. It was almost an extension of Asre Jadid, for it was owned and managed by the same establishment though editors inter changed from time to time. That’s another interesting story. Al Haq was another old time eveninger, which was selling better as long as Israel Ahmad was giving life blood. He had been an Urdu journalist in Rangoon. He was lucky enough to have reached Calcutta escaping the war which was engulfing Burma. After about a decade long sojourn in Calcutta he proceeded to Karachi and Al Haq passed away quietly before the eyes of its proprietor Maulana Moizuddin.

Incidentally, another gentleman Hasan Saheb also come to Calcutta from Rangoon. He traversed Burmese forests on foot in the company of the groups of fleeing Indians. He passed through the scattered skeletons of those who had fallen on the way. He was a calligrapher in Asre Jadid. But alas! Such an endurer died in harness, overworked, pitiably under paid, spitting blood. He was lost in the wilderness of a pitiless society whose business community being God-fearing prefers to invest more for the prospective paradise than for those who die working for them.

The concluding years of the decade of 1950’s saw the end of a liberal and enlightened leadership of the Congress party in West Bengal. It was the end of the polity in which Syed Badrudduja, a Bengali by birth, brought up in Aligarian tradition and a staunch Muslim Leaguer, preferred to stay in Calcutta after the division of the country. He was elected to the state assembly and the parliament, had the courage to speak unhesitatingly, was offered speakership of the West Bengal assembly by Dr BC Roy which he refused to accept. As for Muslims in general, an era of unsettled transition was drawing to a close. Muslim press in Calcutta was served by a single news agency PTI, and some features in Urdu were supplied by small time feature agencies. Reports and stories related to the widespread communal disturbances in various parts of the country and problems of the Muslim migrants from India to the Eastern and Western wings of Pakistan were elaborately covered. International developments resulting from the newly found friendship with the Soviet Union and Bhai Bhaism with China and this camaraderie leading to the discovery of an aligned brand of non-alignment found due place, especially so, for Pundit Nehru had trapped two big Muslim Bhais in the non-alignment net – President Suikarno of Indonesia and President Nasser of Egypt. Other developments in the Muslim world such as revolution in Egypt and end of monarchy there, failure of similar attempts in Iran, Arab-Israel wars and other related developments were widely covered and prominently displayed. The Muslim press was free to comment favourably on such developments. And of course a lot of cold war propaganda material freely and abundantly supplied from both sides could be generously used.

The Kashmir issue was a running sore but it boiled up in 1953 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was dismissed from the premiership and was arrested. It was shocking for the nationalist Muslims. In Calcutta KB Sheikh Mohammad Jan was ideologically close to him. He was furious with Basant Kumar Chaterji, the news editor of Asre Jadid who had quoted Pundit Nehru in a banner headline to say that Sheikh Abdullah was a traitor. Chaterji was summarily dismissed like many others preceding and following him in the Urdu press. It is a sad commentary indeed. He found his way to daily Pratap, Delhi.

Another development which stirred the Urdu press was the First Press Commission’s report in 1954 and the recommendations of the Wage Board for working journalists constituted as suggested by the Press Commission. It was the seeding of a confrontation between the profession of journalism and the business of journalism. It was for the first time that Urdu journalists realized that they too were human and as such must have some rights. But that realization could not lead them anywhere. However, the Indian Journalists Association of West Bengal, a trade union body, jumped into the fray as it was an opportunity to have a finger in the pie of the Urdu press. It also provided an opportunity for petty officials from various bureaus and government departments for occasional visits to the newspaper managements, of course for a fee. It is a long story full of internal and external strifes to be told later.

* Ibrahim Hosh received one rupee for a poem regarding Mohammadan Sporting Club in 1934 onwards.
* Salik Lucknawi received ten rupees for a column in Amrita Bazar Patrika for reports on Muslim politics in 1938 onwards.
* I received one rupee for translating the Statesman editorial for Asre Jadid in 1951 onwards for over a decade.

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