When we look at the role of the media during the freedom struggle, we generally forget to count the role of radio. Its main reason is that most people, even in the media, believe that since the radio was under the British control in those days, airing any word about the freedom movement through radio was impossible. But the fact is that radio played an important role in the Bharatiya Independence movement, particularly during the Quit India Movement of 1942. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose also successfully used radio from Germany, Singapore and Burma. How all that happened needs to be told to the young generation repeatedly.
Changing the Course of History
The Quit India Movement began on August 9, 1942 from Mumbai and most of the prominent leaders of the movement had been arrested on the night of August 8 itself. But the way the country reacted to the arrest of the leaders, changed the history. It proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the British Government. At that crucial point, clandestine radio broadcasts played an important role in awakening the masses across the country. That experiment was named Congress Radio.
Lohia’s Call for Dissemination of News about Freedom Movement
When prominent leaders of the freedom movement were arrested on the night of August 8, 1942, some leaders assembled at Gowalia Tank Ground of Bombay on August 9, 1942 at the stipulated time. Kasturba Gandhi addressed them and soon they all were arrested. Later, the people returning from the rally were arrested at Nasik, Pune and Nagpur railway stations. But somehow Rammanohar Lohia escaped the arrest. Since, it was very risky to travel through trains or any other vehicle at that time, Dr Lohia decided to stay underground in Mumbai to steer the movement. He clicked on the idea of disseminating news of the freedom movement, as the big section of the mainstream media was not portraying the correct picture.
Lohiaji received the support of some enthusiastic youth including Vitthaldas aka Babubhai Madhavi Khakhar (20), Vitthaldas Kanthabhai Jhaveri (28), Chandrakant Babubhai Jhaveri (23), Usha Mehta (22), Nariman Abrabad Printer (40), and Jagannath Raghunath Thakur (27) in materialising his idea of disseminating news about the freedom movement. Some of these people sat together on the night of August 9, 1942 to discuss how the idea could be implemented. Somebody floated the idea of starting a newspaper, but soon it was realised that it would not be practical because of the restrictions imposed by the British Government. The important point that emerged during the discussion was that it is the voice of the Congress leaders that stirs people. This is where the idea of starting a clandestine radio clicked.
Since it was very risky to travel through trains or any other vehicle at that time, Dr Lohia decided to stay underground in Mumbai to steer the movement. He clicked on the idea of disseminating news of the freedom movement, as the big section of the mainstream media was not portraying the correct picture
When the implementation of the idea was discussed, it was found that Nariman Abrabad Printer already had a transmitter licence. All India Radio was already working at the national level. But all other licences were either withdrawn or cancelled following World War-II. Then Lohiaji and others decided to assemble a radio transmitter. Since Nariman had prior experience of doing it, he prepared a transmitter. In the beginning it was named Radio Free Voice. But in the first transmission the word that was used was Congress Radio. Finally, the first broadcast from this clandestine radio station went on air on August 27, 1942 on 41.78 metre wavelength. The transmitter was installed at a rented building, Sea View Building, in Chupati, Bombay. The first news was presented by Usha Mehta thus: “This is the Congress Radio somewhere from India calling on 42.34 metres”. The initial broadcast was in English, but on October 27, 1942 broadcast in Hindi was also started. This radio covered news from NWFP to Baluchistan, from Karachi to Vrindavan, from Allahabad to Bengal, from Bihar to Madras, from Coimbatore to Trivandrum, and from Gujarat to Maharashtra. Usha Mehta gave her voice with intellectual input for the 71 days of broadcast hiding at various places in Bombay.
Mehta’s Seminal Role
Soon the transmitter was shifted to Ratan Mahal Building on Baleshwar Road. Since Usha Mehta was the main anchor, she became an eye sore in the eyes of the British. She belonged to a Gujarati family and her father had been a judge in the British Government. He did not like that anybody from his family joined the freedom movement. But Usha Mehta did not stop joining the agitations. As the broadcast through clandestine radio began, the Police started searching the place from where the broadcast was being done. Initially, the Government thought that somebody from Japan or Germany was doing it, because Japan and Germany were against the British in the World War. The clandestine radio not only broadcast the voices of Mahatma Gandhi, Pt Nehru and Sardar Patel but also stories based on the speeches of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were aired. The producer and presenter of all these programmes was Usha Mehta. This radio broadcast became so popular that a good number of people used to tune their radio even before the broadcast began.
Since British intelligence was active, the transmitter was shifted to different locations in Bombay. It was also installed at Ajit Villa on Laburnum Road, Lakshmi Bhavan near Sandhurst Road, Parikh Vadi Building on Girgaon Bank Road, and Paradise Building near Mahalakshmi Mandir. When the police pressure mounted, it was decided that the transmitter be shifted out of Mumbai. When the transmitter was being shifted to Nasik by Vitthal Rao Patvardhan on November 12, 1942, it was seized. Finally, all people associated with the clandestine radio, including Usha Mehta, were nabbed. The British Government was disturbed so much over this radio broadcast that the arrested persons were interrogated for six months.
Did Not Succumb To Temptations
Since Usha Mehta’s father had been a judge, the British Government felt that she would support them. She was even offered different allurements, including scholarship for foreign study. But she declined. Finally, three persons were sentenced on May 14, 1943 by Special judge NS Lokur, Vithaldas Khakhar was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment and Usha Mehta was sentenced to four years rigorous jail. Chandrakant Babubhai was sentenced to one-year rigorous imprisonment.
Azad Hindi Radio
When clandestine Radio was started in Mumbai, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had established Azad Hind Radio in Berlin. The broadcast from this radio had begun much earlier on January 7, 1942. Later the headquarters of this radio was shifted to Singapore and Burma. After the disappearance of Netaji, this broadcast was handled by CAN Nambiar. Netaji wanted to connect to the whole of India through this radio. Therefore, he made arrangements to broadcast news in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Pashto, Tamil, Persian and Telugu. Through radio only Netaji had declared war against the British on October 23, 1942.
The stories of Azad Hind Radio need to be retold to the young generation during the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. They should see the commitment of the people behind this experiment. They did not bother about the resources and infrastructure, they did it with limited resources. This is the story of our freedom movement, which every countryman must know. There are many people involved in this clandestine broadcast. The stories of their sacrifices should come to the light.