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Gandhi's Newspaperman: T. G. Narayanan and the quest for an independent India, 1938–46

  • SUBIN PAUL (a1) and DAVID DOWLING (a2)


The expansion of the colonial public sphere in India during the 1930s and 1940s saw the nation's English-language press increasingly serve as a key site in the struggle for freedom despite British censorship. This article examines the journalistic career of T. G. Narayanan, the first Indian war correspondent and investigative reporter, to understand the role of English-language newspapers in India's quest for independence. Narayanan reported on two major events leading to independence: the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Second World War. Drawing on Michael Walzer's concept of the ‘connected critic’, this research demonstrates that Narayanan's journalism fuelled the Indian nationalist movement by manoeuvring around British censors to publicize and expand Mahatma Gandhi's criticism of British rule, especially in light of the famine and war. His one departure from the pacifist leader, however, was his support of Indian soldiers serving in the Indian National Army and British Army.



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The authors are grateful to Ranga Narayanan, Paul Greenough, and Sashi Kumar for their support and encouragement in this project.



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1 Cripps was a government minister in the British War Cabinet. ‘British political personalities, 1936–1945’, Imperial War Museums, nd, [Accessed 15 January 2016].

2 Sen, A., Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 52. For more on the Bengal Famine, see Mukerjee, M., Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II, New York, Basic Books, 2011; Mukherjee, J., Hungry Bengal: War, Famine and the End of Empire, New York, Oxford University Press, 2015; Gráda, C. Ó, Eating People Is Wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and Its Future, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2015; and Stevenson, R., Bengal Tiger and British Lion: An Account of the Bengal famine of 1943, New York, iUniverse, 2005.

3 The operational definition of investigative journalism applicable to Narayanan is in-depth reporting about public affairs that involve wrongdoing, failure, or social problems brought to light by journalists. Gerry Lanosga employed investigative journalism as a historic genre to examine twentieth-century American journalism. Drawing on Lanosga, investigative journalism in the colonial Indian context is used as an analytical category that, among other things, provides a comparative perspective to the functioning of journalism. Lanosga, G., ‘New views of investigative reporting in the twentieth century’, American Journalism, vol. 31, no. 4, 2014, pp. 490506. Indian investigative journalist, Narasimhan Ram, asserts that T. G. Narayanan's coverage of the Bengal famine is the earliest instance of investigative journalism in India, Narasimhan Ram, T.G. Narayanan Memorial Lecture, 13 January 2012. It is possible, though, that there were predecessors of Narayanan in the Indian-language press, but none of them worked on a national or international level. For a contemporary history of investigative journalism in India, see Aggarwal, S. K., Investigative Journalism in India, New Delhi, Mittal Publications, 1990. For details of Narayanan as the first war correspondent, see Parthasarathy, R., A Hundred Years of The Hindu, Madras, Kasturi and Sons Ltd, 1978, p. 603.

4 Narayanan's populist bent is analogous to that of American Second World War correspondent, Ernie Pyle, who was dedicated to covering the anonymous soldiers in the field rather than celebrated generals and high-profile battles. Narayanan departs from his contemporary Pyle precisely in the politically subversive import of his reportage that stemmed from his pioneering work as one of the first investigative journalists in India. For more on Pyle, see Hohenberg, J., Foreign Correspondence: The Great Reporters and Their Times, New York, Columbia University Press, pp. 224–6; and Hamilton, J. M., Journalism's Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2009, p. 315. Notably, neither of the above sources treats the topic of the English-language press in colonial India during the Second World War.

5 Walzer, M., Interpretation and Social Criticism, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 40.

6 This study is the first to benefit from these private papers, which contain a collection of what are now the only extant copies of Narayanan's articles from The Hindu. Microfilm versions of the articles previously available at the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago have been removed from the holdings due to damage, and are therefore now inaccessible to researchers.

7 These include Nehru, J., Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 5, New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1987, p. 498; Mani, P. R. S., The Story of Indonesian Revolution, 1945–1950, Madras, University of Madras, 1986, p. v; Chandrasekaran, C., The Life and Works of a Demographer: An Autobiography, New Delhi, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, 1999, p. 98; Santhanam, K., The Cry of Distress: A First-hand Description and an Objective Study of the Indian Famine of 1943, New Delhi, The Hindustan Times, 1943, p. 45; Ubani, B. A., Indonesian Struggle for Independence, Aundh, Aundh Publishing Trust, 1946, p. 129; Parthasarathy, A Hundred Years, pp. 603–4, 631–2; Patnaik, U., ‘Capitalism and the production of poverty’, Social Scientist, vol. 40, no. 1/2, 2012, pp. 320. The following studies mention Narayanan as a United Nations diplomat in his later years: Fröhlich, M., Political Ethics and the United Nations: Dag Hammarskjöld as Secretary-general, New York, Routledge, 2007; Lente, D. van, The Nuclear Age in Popular Media: A Transnational History, 1945–1965, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

8 Walzer, as quoted in Forst, R., Contexts of Justice: Political Philosophy Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002, p. 130.

9 Ibid., p. 130.

10 Viswanathan, G., Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, New York, Columbia University Press, 1989. See also, Spivak, G., ‘The burden of English’, in Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, Breckenridge, C. and van der Veer, P. (eds), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, pp. 134–57.

11 The Statesman was founded by Robert Knight on 15 January 1875. In 1927, the newspaper was sold to Sir David Yule. Arthur Moore and Ian Stephens served as the editor of The Statesman in the 1930s and 1940s, respectively. Hirschmann, E., ‘The hidden roots of a great newspaper: Calcutta's “Statesman”’, Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 37, no. 2, 2004, pp. 141–60.

12 The economic success of the English-language press depended to a large extent on their close following of the Indian bourgeoisie and their interests. For more on this, see Ray, D., ‘Speculating “national”: ownership and transformation of the English-language press in India during the collapse of the British Raj’, Media History Monographs, vol. 16, no. 2, 2013, pp. 118.

13 Walzer, M., Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, New York, Basic Books, 2008, p. 9.

14 Emerson, R. W., The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 10 vols. to date, ed. Ferguson, Alfred R., Slater, Joseph, Wilson, Douglas Emory, and Bosco, Ronald A., Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 3: 154.

15 Walzer, Spheres of Justice, p. 9.

16 Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, p. 33.

17 Walzer, Interpretation of Social Criticism, p. 65.

18 Ibid., p. 39.

19 Ibid., p. 65.

20 Natarajan, S., A History of the Press in India, Bombay, Asia Publishing House, 1962, p. 171.

21 The years leading to the independence saw a steady expansion of English-language newspapers from city-based to a Pan-Indian readership, but this transformation was completed only after the independence. Nonetheless, The Hindu was an influential newspaper beyond Madras and even used as a ‘model’ by other publications. For example, Madan Mohan Malaviya, the owner of Hindustan Times, directed his editor in the 1930s to keep The Hindu and The Leader as models for editorial commentary. Sahni, J. N., Truth about the Indian Press, Bombay, Calcutta, and New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1974, p. 37; Ray, ‘Speculating “national”’, pp. 10–11.

22 Natarajan, A History of the Press in India, p. 16.

23 Ibid., p. 18.

24 Ibid., p. 19.

25 Menon, V. P., The Transfer of Power in India, Vol. 2, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1957, p. 153.

26 In July 1933, The Pioneer was sold to a syndicate and moved from Allahabad to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Natarajan, A History of the Press in India, p. 223.

27 Greenough, P. R., ‘Political mobilization and the underground literature of the Quit India Movement, 1942–44’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, 1983, pp. 353–86. Other notable newspapers included Dyan Prakash, The Quarterly Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, The Maratha, The Nababibhakar, The Indian Mirror, The Nassim, The Hindustani, The Indian Union, The Spectator, The Indu Prakash, The Crescent, The Madras Mail and The Madras Times. Cited from How India Wrought for Freedom (1915) in Sitaramayya, B. Pattabhi, The History of the Indian National Congress, Madras, Working Committee of the Congress, 1935, 1:26–7.

28 Freitag, S. B., Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1989. See also Chatterjee, P., Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse?, London, Zed Books, 1986; Chatterjee, P., The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1993; Belair-Gagnon, V., Mishra, S., and Agur, C., ‘Reconstructing the Indian public sphere: newswork and social media in the Delhi gang rape case’, Journalism, vol. 15, no. 8, 2014, pp. 1059–75.

29 Panikkar, K. N., ‘Imperatives of a left public sphere’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 50, no. 44, 2015, p. 15.

30 R. Guha, ‘The independent journal of opinion’, Seminar 481, September 1999, [Accessed 28 March 2017].

31 Israel, M., Communications and Power: Propaganda and the Press in the Indian National Struggle, 1920–1947, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 52.

32 Ibid., p. 52.

33 ‘Mr. T.G. Narayanan’, The Times, 27 March 1962.

34 ‘Berlin Talks Deadlocked’, The Guardian, 27 March 1962.

35 Narayanan, T. G., Famine over Bengal, Calcutta, The Book Company, 1944, p. viii.

36 Banik, D., ‘India's freedom from famine: The case of Kalahandi’, Contemporary South Asia, vol. 7, no. 3, 1998, pp. 265–81; Ram, N., ‘An independent press and anti-hunger strategies: the Indian experience’, in The Political Economy of Hunger, Vol. 1: Entitlement and Well-being, Drèze, Jean and Sen, Amartya (eds), Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 146–90.

37 Sims, N., ‘The evolutionary future of American and international literary journalism’, in Literary Journalism Across the Globe: Journalistic Traditions and Transnational Influences, Bak, John S. and Reynolds, Bill (eds), Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 2011, p. 90.

38 Hartsock, J., A History of American Literary Journalism: The Emergence of a Modern Form, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 2000, p. 186.

39 Ibid., p. 90.

40 Sims, N., ‘The art of literary journalism’, in Literary Journalism: A New Collection of the Best American Nonfiction, Sims, Norman and Kramer, Mark (eds), New York, Ballantine Books, 1995, p. 9.

41 Walzer, Interpretation and Social Criticism, p. 4.

42 Quoted in Worley, S. M., Emerson, Thoreau, and the Role of the Cultural Critic, Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, 2001, pp. 27–8.

43 In fact, it was The Statesman that first defied the government to acknowledge the impact of the famine in print. Ray, ‘Speculating “national”’, p. 10; Narayanan, Famine, p. 208; Santhanam, Cry of Distress, p. 45. See also Mitra, R., ‘The famine in British India: the quantification rhetoric and colonial disaster management’, Journal of Creative Communications, vol. 7, no. 1–2, 2012, p. 167.

44 Narayanan, Famine, p. 105.

45 Ibid., p. 106.

46 There was a steady departure in news-writing style from that of earlier decades. Date-driven news stories were becoming important in newspapers and the arrangement of news had set in. There was a commercial page and a sports page, and general news pressed heavily on these columns. Natarajan, A History of the Press in India, p. 224.

47 Narayanan, Famine, p. 102.

48 Instances of hoarding were common during the famine; Narayanan, Famine, p. 110.

49 Although Narayanan's coverage of the Bengal famine has an imprint of Gandhi's voice in Indian Opinion, there is a lack of archival evidence on whether Narayanan had read that newspaper.

50 Bhattacharyya, S. N., ‘Mahatma Gandhi: the journalist’, Indian Literature, vol. 9, no. 2, 1966, p. 93.

51 Shirer, W. L., Gandhi: A Memoir, New York, Pocket Books, 1986, p. 62.

52 Ibid., p. 67.

53 Narayanan, Famine, p. 231.

54 Ibid., p. 152.

55 Shirer, Gandhi, p. 67.

56 See, for example, Nair, G., ‘The bitter aftertaste of beef ban: “choice,” caste and consumption’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 51, no. 10, 2016, pp. 14–6.

57 Narayanan, Famine, p. 106.

58 Ibid., p. 77.

59 Parthasarathy, A Hundred Years, p. 603.

60 H. Goodall, ‘Writing conflicted loyalties: an Indian journalist's perspectives on the dilemmas of Indian troops in Indonesia, 1945’, in Writing the War in Asia: A Documentary History, Mark R. Frost and Daniel Schumacher (eds), April 2014, [Accessed 9 November 2015].

61 Parthasarathy, A Hundred Years, p. 603.

63 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Maj.-Gen. Lentaigne—new commander of the Chindits’, The Hindu, 20 April 1944. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan. T. G. Narayanan's articles from The Hindu were previously available in microfilm at the Center for Research Libraries, Chicago. The microfilm, however, is damaged and is no longer accessible.

64 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Activity in Bishenpore area’, The Hindu, 4 May 1944. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

65 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Jap objectives in India fail’, The Hindu, 12 June 1944. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

66 Goodall, ‘Writing conflicted loyalties’, p. 6.

67 For a detailed discussion of rumour, see Guha, R., ‘Transmission’, in The Indian Public Sphere: Readings in Media History, Rajagopal, A. (ed), New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 3148. For a case study of the transfer of news and information from ‘elites’ to ‘masses’, see Pandey, G., ‘Mobilization in a mass movement: congress “propaganda” in the United Provinces (India), 1930–34’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1975, pp. 205–26.

68 Woods, P., ‘“Chapattis by parachute”: the use of newsreels in British propaganda in India in the Second World War’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 2000, pp. 89100.

69 Goodall, ‘Writing conflicted loyalties’, p. 7.

70 Watt, L., When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2010.

71 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Myitkyina’, The Hindu, 29 October 1944. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

73 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Battle-scarred Rangoon’, The Hindu, 22 May 1945. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

74 Toye, H., The Springing Tiger: A Study of a Revolutionary, London, Cassell and Company Ltd., 1959. See also Toye, H., ‘The first Indian National Army, 1941–42’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, September 1984, p. 365; Lebra, J. C., Jungle Alliance: Japan and the Indian National Army, Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008; Belle, C. V., Tragic Orphans: Indians in Malaysia, Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015.

75 Goodall, ‘Writing conflicted loyalties’, p. 1.

76 Narayanan, ‘Battle-scarred Rangoon’. These Burmese ruffians obtained weapons left behind by the Allies and robbed and murdered several Indians until the Japanese Military Administration took control; Ghosh, K. K., The Indian National Army: Second Front of the Indian Independence Movement, Meerut, Meenakshi Prakashan, 1969, p. 191.

77 Narayanan, ‘Battle-scarred Rangoon’.

78 Ghosh, Indian National Army, p. 191.

79 Narayanan's first news report on the INA was published in The Hindu on 22 May 1945.

80 Ghosh, Indian National Army, p. 191.

81 ‘“Government” formed by Indian quisling’, The Times, 22 October 1943.

82 Goodall, ‘Writing conflicted loyalties’, p. 2.

84 Ibid., p. 4.

85 The preliminary search was conducted by a librarian at the India Office upon the authors’ request.

86 A search in the historical archives of The Times (London), The New York Times, The Guardian, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, and The Statesman confirms Parthasarathy's assertion that ‘He [Narayanan] was probably the first correspondent to unveil the mystery surrounding the Indian National Army (I.N.A.)’. Parthasarathy, A Hundred Years, p. 603.

87 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Indian National Army in Burma’, The Hindu, 29 May 1945. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

89 He also notes that ‘In its ranks it also counts a small regiment completely composed and officered by women, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment’, named after the queen of Jhansi in Central India who was one of the leading fighters against the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857; Narayanan, ‘Indian National Army in Burma’. For more on Rani of Jhansi Regiment, see Hildebrand, V., Women at War: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, New Delhi, Harper Collins, 2016; Lebra, J. C., Women against the Raj: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008; Hills, C. and Silverman, D. C., ‘Nationalism and feminism in late colonial India: the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, 1943–1945’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, 1993, pp. 741–60.

90 More specifically, Bose died of third-degree burns that he suffered in the plane crash on 18 August 1945; Lebra, Jungle Alliance, p. 197. See also Sengupta, N., A Gentleman's Word: The Legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose in Southeast Asia, Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012; Bose, M., Raj, Secrets, Revolution: A Life of Subhas Chandra Bose, London, Grice Chapman Publishing, 2004.

91 Fay, P. W., The Forgotten Army: India's Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942–1945, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1993, p. 1.

92 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Indian detenus in Malaya’, The Hindu, 18 January 1946. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

93 T. G. Narayanan, ‘Civilians members of I.N.A. from Siam’, The Hindu, 17 February 1946. From the Papers of T.G. Narayanan, courtesy of Ranga Narayanan.

94 Gordon, L. A., Brothers against the Raj, New York, Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 552.

95 Gandhi, M., The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi 81 [n.e.], New York, Read Books, 2008 [Letter to Amrit Kaur, 24 August 1945], p. 67.

96 More compelling to Mani were the struggles led by Guiseppe Girabaldi and Simon Bolivar—the charismatic leaders of the nineteenth-century Italian and Venezuelan populist revolutions; Mani, The Story, p. v.

97 Pandey, Gyanendra, ‘The revolt of August 1942 in Eastern UP and Bihar’, in The Indian Nation in 1942, Calcutta, K.P. Bagchi, 1988, p. 159.

98 Fay, Forgotten Army, p. 520.

99 Ibid., p. 522.

100 Ibid., p. 1.

101 The INA trials were conducted between November 1945 and May 1946 in Delhi. Narayanan did not cover these trials, as he was in Malay during that period; ibid., pp. 496–9.

102 Mudgal, V., ‘Rural coverage in the Hindi and English dailies’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 35, 2011, pp. 92–7; Sosale, S., ‘Envisioning a new world order through journalism lessons from recent history’, Journalism, vol. 4, no. 3, 2003, pp. 377–92; Sainath, P., Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts, New Delhi, Penguin Books India, 1996.

103 Narayanan's scholarly articles appeared in journals such as the India Quarterly. See, for example, Narayanan, T. G., ‘Some problems of reconstruction in Burma’, India Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 3, 1945, pp. 210–7.

104 ‘T.G. Narayanan of India dies; UN Representative in Geneva’, The New York Times, 27 March 1962.

105 ‘Mr. T.G. Narayanan’, The Times; Fröhlich, Political Ethics, p. 45.

The authors are grateful to Ranga Narayanan, Paul Greenough, and Sashi Kumar for their support and encouragement in this project.


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