Site Map
   Commemorative Issues       History and Significance   
  The Official Mahatma Gandhi eArchive & Reference Library,    Mahatma Gandhi Foundation - India.

Genealogy of the Mahatma

Audio CD

"Ishwar Allah Tere Naam". An album of prayers Buy 

Contact Us

Get in touch with the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation.
Click here for our postal address

  History and Significance of Indian Opionion
          <Prev Next >
I start deliberately with Nazar, the first editor, and Madanjit the actual owner, to illustrate the point that there were many dedicated workers who made Indian Opinion a possibility. It was Nazar, in fact, who would set a high standard for those who would succeed him in the editor's chair. There was no question of taking money for his work, it was all for a `cause'. However there is no doubt that the main figure in the production of the paper was the thirty-four year old lawyer whose office was based in Rissik Street in Johannesburg. Nazar would suggest various lead articles but lest Gandhi should not understand he clarified the position. He expected these to be written by Gandhi. Over the years, Gandhi would direct the policy of Indian Opinion from Johannesburg, write articles, give direction and above all divert his earnings from his prospering practice to help sustain the paper. And over the years there were many dedicated workers and editors.
My task this evening is to explain what is the significance of this journal which by its second year had 887 subscribers. Over its entire 58 years existence its subscribers averaged at about 2000. The highest number in any one year was 3500. Compare this with the Guardian which in the 1930s began with a circulation of 1000 but grew rapidly over the years to top 50 000 by the mid-1940s. When Indian Opinion was reaching its dying days in 1961, the Guardian now published as New Age had a circulation of 20 000. The significance of Indian Opinion lies not in its size (which may be explained only partly in terms of the size of the Indian population) but in its content.
Indian Opinion was also not the first Indian newspaper in Natal. It had been preceded by a short-lived Indian World in 1898 and in May 1901 P.S Aiyar a Tamil journalist began a Tamil-English weekly Colonial Indian News. Aiyar's ventures reflected the precariousness of such undertakings as this too lasted for just a few years. Africans in colonial Natal had also been publishing newspapers for some time. There had been Inkanyiso yase Natal, Ipepa lo Hlanga and in April 1903 John Dube began his Ilanga lase Natal. In the eastern Cape where black journalism had an even longer history there was Imvo Zabantsundu run by John Tengo Jabavu and the more radical paper Izwi Labantu published by Walter Rubusana and Alan Soga from East London. Indian Opinion was launched at a time when just after the South African War all blacks felt disappointed with British rule and were concerned about the failure of the new order to bring about improvements in their political, social and economic status. The years after the war were marked by a proliferation of papers. Sol Plaatje. One of our most talented elites of the time began a Tswana-English weekly that served the northern Cape and Free State. Later, in 1909, in Cape Town Dr Abduraham would start the APO. These were just a few of the many papers emerging. The important point I would like to make is that Gandhi belongs to this generation of rising black journalists and editors who were all committed to improving the position of black people especially at a time when whites were moving towards forming a Union of South Africa within which blacks had such limited rights. Indian Opinion marked Gandhi's apprenticeship as a journalist. In India he would go on to publishing many other journals, Young India, Navjivan, Harijan and his experience with Indian Opinion would prove crucial.
Indian Opinion began its life by adopting a very moderate tone. The editor proclaimed `we have unfailing faith in British justice'. It was by `well-sustained continuous and temperate constitutional effort that Indians would seek redress'. That is how the paper