The capitulation of the Congress-led government at the Centre in the Ambedkar cartoon controversy was welcomed with the thumping of desks by parliamentarians who seemed to have little appreciation of the legendary Shankar‘s work and even less of what its inclusion in a school textbook meant.
From Congress president Sonia Gandhi (whose mother-in-law Indira Gandhi ushered in press censorship in 1975 and whose husband Rajiv Gandhi tried to pass the defamation bill in 1987) to the BJP which opposed both; from the supposedly “liberal” Left to the young MPs who represent the “future”, no one (bar one) raised a voice.
But back in 1975, when the legendary cartoonist P. Shankar Pillai decided to close down Shankar’s Weekly, there was a flurry of letters from politicians in the final issue. At least five Congress chief ministers mourned its imminent closure, including the Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra, who would later become synonymous with the Bihar press bill.
Here’s a mirror of India circa 2012 vis-a-a-vis 1975:
It is indeed sad and unfortunate that the only letter you chose to address to me personally should convey to me your intention to bow out. It is going to be a painful ordeal for thousands of your readers including myself, to go without the Weekly. I must believe you when you say that advancing age and ill-health have compelled you to close down Weekly, but I see neither of them reflected in your magazine. Indeed a tribute to your spirit – so young despite age! I am sure the Souvenir you propose to bring out will be an adorning piece on your lovers’ and admirers’ book-shelves! It will also serve as a lesson and guide to the new generation of cartoonists and journalists, convincingly telling them what an individual can achieve single-handedly.
Chief Minster, Maharashtra
I was rather distressed to hear that the great journal is closing down after twenty-seven years of yeomen service to the nation and significant contribution to journalism in India. I really wish I could compel you not to close down Shankar’s Weekly, but I quite understand the reasons that have forced you to take this painful decision.
Chief Minister, Rajasthan
I have received your letter with mixed feelings. That a journalist of your eminence has excellently finished his innings in this harsh world in a tribute to your sobre manners, accommodating spirits, and the immense sense of humour which you have been exhibiting for the last quarter of a century. You have shone on the horizon of Indian journalism in a manner which is difficult to imbibe. You are an institution in yourself and the younger generation in the journalistic field will feel proud to emulate your example in all spheres of life.
H N Bahuguna
Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh
Sorry too learn that you are not keeping well, but I am impressed to find that your sentiments remain the same. Your effort to publish a souvenir of Shankar’s Weekly are praiseworthy.
Chief Minister, Bihar
I am really sorry that you are closing down Shankar’s Weekly.
D. Devaraj Urs
Chief Minister, Karnataka
I read the contents of your letter with deep concern. I know how the Shankar’s Weekly was started with your efforts and made a name of itself and continuous devotion and dedication. I am sure you have taken the decision after deep thinking and for the good of your health and for other reasons. You always had my admiration and regards, and it will grow whether you are with the Shankar’s Weekly or not.
Chief Executive Councillor, Delhi
Shankar’s Weekly has served a very good purpose for over 25 years and could rank as one of the best cartoon journals in the world.
Member of Parliament, New Delhi
(Published in the 31 August 1975 issue of Shankar’s Weekly)
Photograph: courtesy National Book Trust
Research: courtesy D.D. Gupta
Also read: Shankar‘s Weekly: the final editorial