Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A story of the Congress Radio

Today, radio is almost a forgotten media and it had to reinvent itself in the last few years to compete with television and internet. It has been a hard decade for the radio which once was the monarch of the air waves.
India has one of the largest radio networks in the world and commercial broadcast in India began in 1923 in Bombay. Slowly the radio network took off and till the 1990s it played a vital role in fashioning news, features, songs and entertainment for the nation.
However, till 1947, the radio in India was under the control of the British. This was to ensure that no adverse publicity would accrue on the British and their actions.
However, not many people know that part from newspapers in India, radio too played its bit in the freedom movement. Indians quickly realised the reach of the radio and the effect it could have. They quickly set up clandestine radio stations across many places in the country.
One such radio station was set up near a village in Kengeri near Bangalore in 1926. The radio station broadcast freedom songs, speeches and gave c all to Bangaloreans to take to the streets to protest British occupation of India.
The British managed to locate the radio and turned it off. Another such experiment was during the Quit India movement. When Gandhi gave the call for the British to quit India in 1942, many newspapers and magazines were barred from carrying the news. Radios too was asked to censor the call.
However, the underground radio network gave Indians information about the movement and Gandhi’s speech and his message. Apart from his message, the killing of 306 soldiers in Meerut and atrocities on Indian women by Britishers was broadcast to the world only by means of a radio which then came to be known as “Congress Radio”.
This radio took up the task of  disseminating information to leaders and masses so that the many “leaderless movement” could go on. The British, as a tactic, had arrested all leaders of all parties in an effort to thwart  the call for freedom. Unfortunately, this ploy failed to work as the Congress radio and underground newspapers kept up the fire of freedom.
The Congress radio, in particular, broadcast live the first few incidents during the freedom movement. This radio troubled the British a great deal during the Quit India movement and it was finally detected on August 27, 1943. By then, the damage had been done and people came out in large numbers to face arrest.
The Congress Radio was started soon after almost its entire leadership was put behind bars on August 9, 1942. Many people joined to make the radio a success and it was ready by August 26, 1942.
Usha Mehta (1920-2000), a Congress leader from Mumbai, and her associates began earnestly working on the Congress radio from August 14, 1942.
The first words broadcast on this radio by her was: “This is the Congress radio calling on  42.34 meters from somewhere in India.” Her other associates included Vithalbhai Jhaveri, Chandrakant Jhaveri, Babubhai Thakkar and Nanka Motwani, owner of Chicago Radio, who supplied equipments and provided technicians.
Although the Secret Congress Radio functioned only for three months, it assisted the freedom movement by disseminating uncensored news and other information banned by the British-controlled government of India. It  also kept the leaders of the freedom movement in touch with the public.
The radio station was first set up in Bombay on the top floor of a building called Sea View in Chowpatty. It went on air on August 27 on 41.78 metres band and subsequently shifted to Ratan Mahal on Walkeshwar road.
The first broadcast shook the British  and they launched a comprehensive hunt to zero in on the radio. The Congress radio then shifted its base from Walkeshwar Road to Ajit Vila, Laburnum Road and again from there to Laxmi Bhuvan, Sandhurst Road, Parekh Wadi Building at Girgaum Back Road.
By the time it started broadcasting from Paradise Bungalow near Mahalaxmi Temple, the British managed to detect it and they closed it down.
The news by the Congress Radio was organized by Congress leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Vithaldas Madhavji Khakar. Later, Vitthal Rao Patvardhan bought the equipment of the Congress Radio and set up the station at Nashik.
The radio started broadcasting from the Shankaracharya matha at Nashik but when news came in that the police were searching nearby, the equipment was dumped in the Godavari river.
Taking a cue from the success of the Congress radio, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had set up Radio Azad Hind 70 years ago on March 25, 1942. The broadcast by the radio stirred the nation and gave the British sleepless nights.
The words by Netaji saying, “This is Subhas Chandra Bose speaking to you over the Azad Hind Radio. For about a year I have waited in silence and patience for the march of events and now that the hour has struck, I come forward to speak……’sent the entire nation into a frenzy and the British into a tizzy.
The Madhya Pradesh Government last year launched Radio Azad Hind in Bhopal to commemorate this event.
It is the first radio of its kind in the country, which is fully dedicated to the values of freedom struggle and self-rule. It can be heard on 90.8 megahertz daily from 7 am to 12 noon and 5 pm to 10 pm.
When India gained Independence, the Government kept radio under its ambit and this continues even today, so much so that AIR and Doordarshan are often labeled as stooges of the Government.  

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