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Not Just Cyril Almeida’s Goan Roots, Pakistan's Dawn Has Kerala Connection

Dawn journalist Cyril Almedia  (TV grab)

Dawn journalist Cyril Almedia (TV grab)

“As with many of us he was merely born in Kerala, but spent his life elsewhere, in this case Bombay, Madras, Delhi and Hyderabad,” George told News18.

New Delhi: Dawn, the reputed Pakistani daily, has been making news in India for its bold support to its reporter who has been grounded by the government for an expose on cracks between the country’s civil and military leaderships. But how many of us know that its founding editor is a Malayali?

Pothan Joseph, a legendary editor whose career spanned 40 years and 26 newspapers before and after Independence, was roped in by Mohammed Ali Jinnah when he decided to start a paper for his party the Muslim League.

Dawn started as a weekly edited by Jinnah himself in the bylanes of Daryaganj, Delhi, in 1941. A year later he decided to make it a daily and started scouting for a new editor.

Joseph had worked in the Bombay Chronicle where Jinnah was the chairman. He had admired Jinnah’s dealings with the staff of the newspaper, which was in sharp contrast to how other proprietors used to treat their employees.

“When Jinnah started a paper for the Muslim League, his obvious choice was Pothan Joseph,” his biographer and veteran journalist TJS George told News18.

Dawn as a daily under Joseph strived to counter the pro-Congress coverage of the prominent Indian newspapers in years leading up to Independence. However, when it became evident that Jinnah was serious about Partition, Joseph resigned.

Pothan Joseph, or “PJ” as he was known, was born in Chengannur, Kerala in 1892 and graduated with a degree in Physics from Presidency College in Madras and did law from Bombay. He shifted to journalism and joined the Hyderabad Bulletin and then the Bombay Chronicle.

“As with many of us he was merely born in Kerala, but spent his life elsewhere, in this case Bombay, Madras, Delhi and Hyderabad,” George told News18.

Joseph was the editor who made the Hindustan Times the market leader with his erudite column “Over a Cup of Tea”. He was also the first editor Ramnath Goenka chose to edit The Indian Express after he took over. His “independent” and “scholarly” journalism was a big draw with proprietors, according to George and he could recite Shakespeare from memory.

PJ mentored cartoonist Shankar, considered the father of political cartooning in India. In the 1930’s Shankar worked with the Free Press Journal and Bombay Chronicle. PJ brought him to Delhi in 1932 when he was at the Hindustan Times.

Meanwhile, after parting ways with Joseph, Dawn appointed Altaf Hussain as the editor in 1945. The paper became a vocal champion of the cause of Partition and in 1947 Dawn staff relocated to Karachi from Delhi, and started afresh there.

Since then the paper has been the most respected publication in Pakistan. It reported some of the most tumultuous events in the nation’s history, including the imposition of martial law by Zia ul Haque in 1977, the Shimla talks between India and Pakistan, and the Afghanistan peace process.

On October 6, 2016 Cyril Almeida, a senior staffer with the paper broke the story about the purported rift between Pakistan’s civilian leadership and the military. The Prime Minister’s Office has so far issued three denials and Almeida’s was added to the Exit Control List, preventing his travel abroad.

In an editorial Dawn said that it stood by the reporter and the story which had been “verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”. PJ would have been proud.

first published:October 13, 2016, 20:42 IST