The mortality rate of newspapers is high worldwide. In India the rate is still higher. Consider this: in India there are only about 50 newspapers which have been published before independence in 1947 still surviving. In this situation a newspaper completing 100 years of existence is in itself a cause for celebration. And if the newspaper happens to be published from a place located about 200 km away from the capital and happens to have a rich legacy and contribution in the social history of the state- it is cause for double celebration. But for some strange reasons Dainik Asha, the first Odia daily is low key about the celebration. Asha was established by Shashi Bhusan Rath, a great freedom fighter in the undivided Ganjam district (which was under the Madras Presidency then) in 13 April, 1913. It was Odia New Year’s day. It became a daily in 1928 (on 13 April, again) and was titled Daink Asha.
As a media historian says: “If Gouri Shankar Ray was credited to have printed Odisha’s first newspaper Utkal Dipika in 1866, it was only in early 20th century that journalism got wider acceptance in Odisha following the publication of Asha”.
Early history of Dainik Asha
In ancient times the region of Odisha was the center of the Kalinga kingdom, although it was temporarily conquered (c.250 B.C.) by Asoka and held for almost a century by the Mauryas. With the gradual decline of Kalinga, several Hindu dynasties arose and built temples at Bhubaneswar, Puri, and Konarak. After long resistance to the Muslims, the region was overcome (1568) by Afghan invaders and passed to the Mughal empire. After the fall of the Mughals, Odisha was divided between the Nawabs of Bengal and the Marathas. In 1803 it was conquered by the British1.
The Odia-speaking areas were then divided and tagged to the neighboring provinces of Bengal, Central Provinces and Madras. The Madras Presidency consisted of a large conglomeration of linguistic groups including Odias (of Ganjam) and the Telegus. The Odias were intrigued by the administrative dismemberment of the Odia-speaking territories. Gradually a movement to amalgamate the dismembered portions and to form a separate state on linguistic basis started.
The Utkal Union Conference (UUC, popularly known as Utkal Sammilani) was set up in December 1903 under the leadership of Madhusudhan Das to bring unity among the entire Odia population distributed over different provinces and safeguard the interests of the Odia people living outside Odisha. The first session of the conference took place in Cuttack in 1903.
In 1911, the Bihar- Odisha Province was carved out of the Bengal Presidency without the amalgamation of the Ganjam. There were big demonstrations in the district demanding inclusion of Odia-speaking tracts of Madras with Odisha.
In early 20th century, the quest for regional and linguistic identity was the primary agenda of the indigenous press in Odisha. Though small in number the periodicals were vociferous in demanding a separate province. Sri Nilamani Vidyaratna, a prominent Oriya nationalist and journalist advised Sashibhusan Rath of Ganjam to publish an Oriya Weekly2.
Asha made its maiden appearance on 13 April 1913. It was named after Shashi Bhusan Rath’s daughter Ashalata. It became the most important weekly after Utkal Dipika. Published from Ganjam it acted as a successful communication link between southern Odisha and the rest part of the province. Asha emerged as a powerful Odia nationalist paper and supported the UUC activities. It acted as a mouthpiece of Ganjam in particular, and of the Odias in general. The newspaper was extremely blunt in criticizing the British government. In one of its editorials on 5 January 1914, it wrote, ‘In every British District, there is always a non-indigenous element of about ten per cent, but that has never influenced the consideration of the language question by government which as a matter of fact recognized the prevailing language of each District as the official vernacular form the very commencement of the British Administration, but the hapless Odias of Ganjam have been treated as poor Cinderella in the Madras Presidency’.
Asha received articles from the Satyavadi stalwarts like Pandit Gopabandhu Das, Pandit Nilakantha Das, Pandit Godavarish Mishra, the great freedom fighters and scholars, who later became editors of powerful newspapers. However, later on, the paper failed to subscribe to the views of Satyavadi group when the school set up by Gopabandhu Das was converted into a national school. Utkala Dipika, Samaj and Asha were the three important newspapers championing the cause of Odia nationalism.
After 1920, Samaj become the voice of the Congress organization in Orissa and criticized the so-called ‘moderates’, who would still maintain a soft, conciliatory policy towards the British government. ‘Asha’ was pro-moderate for a long time and later on expressed a desire for a rapport between the two groups. Utkala Dipika, the oldest the group, maintained an even tone with a pragmatic approach in the context of Odia nationalism.
Pandit Gopabandhu, the founder of Orissa’s influential Oriya newspaper, the Samaj published his first monthly magazine “Satyavadi” from Asha Press of Berhampur. The other prominent writers of ‘Asha’ were late Gopal Chandra Praharaj (author of Oriya Encyclopaedia-Bhasakosh), the great social reformer Ananta Mishra, Appanna Panigrahi of Paralakhemidi, Gadadhar Vidya Bhusan and Sadasiva Vidya Bhusan of South Ganjam, the great Oriya novelist and writer Fakir Mohan Senapati, the poet and writer Ramchandra Acharjya and many others.
Asha became Dainik Asha
In 1928 Shashi Bhusan Rath converted Asha into a daily newspaper. It was then known as ‘Dainik (Daily)Asha’. It was the first Oriya daily newspaper of Orissa. Some researchers believe that ‘Gandhi
Samachar’ edited by Niranjan Pattanik which was published in 1927 was the first Odia daily. But content wise it was Gandhi-centric. Dainik Asha, on the other hand was a complete newspaper. Publication of Dainik Asha was a turning point in the history of Odia journalism as it had helped the people of Odisha to launch their struggle more effectively and vigorously to secure the unification of the outlying Odia areas under one administration. It also spread the message of freedom movement. With the publication of Dainik Asha, many public-spirited young men got the opportunity to receive practical training in journalism in general and in publication of daily newspaper in particular. Credit must be given to Dainik Asha for commencing training in newspaper production and publication. In a way, it also started the professionalization process in journalism in Odisha. Many people, who got training in Dainik Asha as subeditors or reporters later helped production of other daily newspapers in the state. Thus Dainik Asha acted as the harbinger of Odia journalism.
Dainik Asha after independence
After formation of separate province, Shashi Bhusan Rath gave up the editorship of Dainik Asha on 18th April 1936. During the time of Second World War in 1942, Dainik Asha and its sister publication the English daily ‘New Orissa’ changed hands. These two papers were purchased by a businessman of Calcutta, Mr. M.L. Jajodia, who later settled down at Cuttack. Under a different ownership, these two papers provided effective support to war efforts of the British Government and were also recipients of Government’s aid. However, both the papers closed down in 1951 marking the end of a great chapter of the pre-independence era journalism in Orissa.
However, Dainik Asha was revived in the seventies by a Trust set up by the noted social activist politician Brundaban Nayak. It was published again on 10 February 1982 under the editorship of Sriharsha Mishra, a veteran journalist, who was earlier associated with Prajantra for long years. After the demise of Sriharsha Mishra in 1984, Chandrasekhar Mohapatra became the editor. Mohapatra was earlier associated with Prajatantra and Matrubhumi. After his death Pramod Panda became the editor.
Current status of Dainik Asha
Dainik Asha at its glorious years enjoyed wider recognition throughout the state. The newspaper used to be called as journalists’ newspaper because of its creditability as an authentic source of news and views. However, it gradually lost its popularity. There were many factors for the decline: from its inability to keep pace with the changing taste and reading habit of the readers to mal-management.
By early 2013 the status of Dainik Asha is: it is just about surviving. It is surviving because of its legacy and a handful of committed readers mostly in South Odisha. The four-page daily is still published from Berhampur. It is occasionally published in 8 pages. It is said to have a circulation of 20,000. It is mostly circulated in South Odisha, primarily in Ganjam district. The newspaper largely banks on government advertisements for its survival, though it occasionally gets private advertisements.
The present editor, Pramad Panda has ambitious expansion plans to revive the glory. The expansion plans include multiple editions to reach out to different parts of Odisha. Dainik Asha has also plans to start its Vishakhapatna edition. It has plans to adopt latest printing technology and to make its presence in the web sphere.