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A Report on Political Cartoons in India

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Introduction

The difference between the public image and the harsh reality is functioned through a visual tool known as political cartoons. This static form of caricature is an exaggeration of physiognomic features that displays a strong critical drawing with a political context. Creating fact bound news interesting by using elements of satire, distortion and symbolism defines a political cartoon. Politics, media and news are the three main power structures of a political cartoon. These three structures are interdependent on each other in order to function as an individual unit. Manipulation of events by the media forms a corrupt source of information for the citizens whereas a cartoon re-contextualizes events without any additional refinement to it. (Humour at a Price) With its attribute of freedom of expression it can be understood as a medium to debunk people and organizations that are engaged in power struggles in the society. That further challenges a nation’s governmental power and policies. Featuring in newspapers and other comic publications, political cartoons have emerged as editorial illustrations that sparks an argumentative discourse. These editorial cartoons are covered by the humorous representation that acts as a socio-political change among the citizens.

In this paper, a modest attempt has been made to chronicle the significant influences created by cartoonists K. Shankar Pillai and R.K. Laxman in India. Not only in Indian culture sphere (political and social) but also influences crossing borders of the country. With the influence of digital age political cartoons in India have taken a setback. The relation between political cartoons and the digital world have been studied through certain case studies in Sub-Saharan Africa, United States and Australia, highlighting the positive and negative aspects of it. This research paper is drafted by acquiring basic concept of political illustrations that include political cartoons/ caricatures and propaganda art. Further in-depth study was done by analyzing the evolution of this genre in Europe further evolving to the United States of America and United Kingdom. The study relies on secondary sources of information such as officially published newspaper and journal articles. The data was cross checked and compared through different newspaper articles to ensure the authenticity and reliability of it.

Political Cartooning in India

Indian Journalism was finely revolutionized by the political cartoons made through the period. The emergence of cartooning in India was during the colonial rule through a periodical London based comic Punch (1842-1992). Inspired by the political scenario in India certain “Vernacular Punches” were carried out that was based on different languages for a full coverage of the home ground. The longest and the most successful of all were Bombays’s weekly “Hindi Punch” (1889-1931) and Lucknow’s weekly Avadh Punch (1877-1936) written in Anglo-Gujarati and Urdu language respectively. These publications survived through the exaggerated means of cartoon voicing ineffectiveness caused by tax policies and famine. Cartoonists back then found themselves toggling between expression of their creativity and the risk of being censored. The early British Newspapers that carried cartoons owned Bengal Hurkaru and the Indian Gazette in 1850s. Delhi Sketch Book (1850-1857) was the first journal establishing the satirical concept of a cartoon. (Sarma,2014) Further Indian nationalist’s newspaper like Amrita Bazaar Partika started introducing cartoons from 1872. Looking at India, people are quite closely associated with the traditional newspapers since the British rule till date. Newspapers was the main source of news parchment to the citizens in Post-Independence period. Most of the political cartoons were drawn to uphold democratic values, to raise developmental issues, and stir socio-political morality including all other issues pertaining to the common people of the society. Since then, political cartoons are not just insights of the political issues in the country but also an insight about the public life and its effects. (0) Famous political cartoonists like K. Shankar Pillai and R.K. Laxman have a huge part in the emergence of political cartooning in India giving a voice to the general public to react and get influenced by.

Commonly known as the “Father of political cartooning” in India K. Shankar Pillai was one of the most celebrated cartoonist in India. He started cartooning as a hobby but eventually his cartoons of political personalities and national events attracted the newspapers. Shankar was hired as the first editorial cartoonist of an English newspaper, Hindustan Times, in 1932 by editor Pothen Joseph. Working as a staff cartoonist in Hindustan Times (1932-1946) made him familiar with the effects of editorial cartoons on the citizens of India. He also started his own newspaper “The Indian News Chronical” with an industrialist but the venture didn’t really function well. (Purie) After returning from his visit from famous art schools in London, India’s Freedom struggle had reached its zenith. His contribution at this period of struggle made a huge contribution to the history of Indian Journalism. This gave him an opportunity to draw cartoons that had a key interest in campaigns. These cartoons expressed the truth of the hardships the Indians face. Throughout his lifetime, Shankar’s cartoons dealt with the concern for the poor and the distressed.

He was honored by the Indian Post Service on issuing a set of two commemorative postage stamps on 31st July, 1991. Two of Shankar’s famous cartoons were composed by designers Shri Sank Samant (“The First Day Cover”) and Ms. Alka Sharma (“Cancellation”) on the postage stamp. (Ainy) Not only that he has received awards of the highest prestige that included Padma Shri (1956), Padma Bhushan (1966), Padma Vibhushan (1976). He is also an inspiration to the foreign lands where he was awarded the “Order of Smile” by the Committee of Polish Children (1977), a Citation from the Hamilton Branch of the United Nations Association of Canada (1979), a commemorative medal received from the Hungarian Institute of Culture Reaktions (1980) and Order de Saint Fortunat from Federal Republic of Germany. A silver plaque was presented to Shankar by the Arab Culture Centre for his cartoons and publishing that revolved around the theme of children. (Children’s Book Trust)

Influences of K. Shankar Pillai

His healthy and sparkling humor was expressed in his own publication named “Shankar’s Weekly” (1948- 1975). The motive of the publication was to take away the sinister overtones that shadowed the country and add laughter in their lives by mocking those who were in power. Shankar’s Weekly was branded of satire that wasn’t just a source of entertainment and influence to the readers but also to the ones who were targeted by his harsh cartoons. Supported by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the publication had a personality of an incurable optimist that acted as a far-sighted perception that is ought to be true eventually. The publication offered a platform for not only Shankar but also other top cartoonists and writers of India such as Kutty (Puthukkody Kottuthody Sankaran Kutty Narain), NK Ranga, Abu Abraham, J. Vasanthan, C.P. Ramachandran and O.V. Vijayan. (Teltumbde,2016) The publication had to shut due to the Emergency Rule of Prime Minister Indra Gandhi as she was not fond of being characterized by Shankar’s satirical cartoons.

Political Leaders

With his cartoons in Shankar’s Weekly, famous Indian leaders were brought to light with his satirical language.

The first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the main target of Shankar’s mockery. He covered both national and international policies commenting on the prime minister’s rule who was leading the new independent nation. Fond of Shankar’s work, Nehru exclaimed “Shankar has a rare gift, rarer in India than elsewhere, and without the least bit of malice or ill-will, he points out with an artist skill, the weakness and foibles of those who display themselves on the public stage. It is good to have a veil of our conceit torn occasionally.” (Humour at a Price) Shankar’s cartoons when put together chronologically would clearly demonstrate Nehru’s progressive plans and programmers he worked on throughout his life. This recording of Nehru’s political life is published in the book “Don’t Spare Me Shankar”. Criticizing a powerful personality and his state of affairs Shankar never had to deal with any legal action or questioning that other muzzling voices did. (Indian Culture Forum)

In 2011, a furious debate generated by Shankar’s cartoon that was printed in the NCERT school textbook mocking Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s slow “snail’s pace” for the building up the Indian Constitution. The public argument emphasized on the stereotype of Dalits being lazy and inefficient rather than understanding the context behind the cartoon. Ironically this radical uplift of Shankar’s cartoon brought attention to the politician, strengthening his persona that overwhelms even the revolutionary politics. (Teltumbde,2016)

Education

Shankar was brutal with his satirical cartoons and spared no political identity though he had a soft spot of children of India. Different facets of the “Children Book Trust” that was founded by Shankar in 1957 that aimed at sourcing well written and illustrated books for the children at affordable prices. Alongside he is also a partaker in organizations such as Dr. B.C. Roy Memorial Children Library, Childrens World Magazine, Indrapratha Pressand the International Dolls Museum. A movement decision of establishing the “International Children’s Competition” by Shankar in 1949 included competitions that dealt with topics related to visual arts and writing. Over 130 countries still participate from all over the world annually. (Stevenson, Christine, 1995)

An ardent believer of pen being a friend and not a sword, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman brought a different perspective in Indian politics by finding diversity in caricatures and bringing them together. His black and white cartoons animated the access of equal modernization to the citizens that was talked by successful Indian leaders. Renowned cartoonist David Low was an early influence to young Laxman that made him start illustrate in magazines such as “Punch”, “Strand” and “Bystander”.

Being a graduate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics it piquantly complimented his ability to mold context into satire. His cartoons helped digest the news that addressed national as well as international politics. His political cartoons highlighted the pitfalls of development and the social inequality that has been a constant factor till date in the outline of Indian Politics. The cartoons that were illustrated with the national context were a complete reflection of the sight, smell and sound of the particular village or city that was drawn. The nature of the cartoons was appropriate to the Indian public’s rampant zest for politics. Laxman’s cartoons have been considered as a significant part in various studies of Indian Politics. One of the field notes done by Anthropologist G.S. Ghurye stated “The cartoonist saw deeper and put up the true import more correctly” explaining how political cartoons are not just raw materials but an agent that commodifies the newspaper. (The Time of R.K. Laxman: Acche Din) Shankar was honored by awards such as B.D. Goenka Award- Indian Express, Durga Ratan Gold medal- Hindustan Times, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan – Second and the Third highest civilian award of the Republic of India and the Magsaysay Award Laxman has left a significant imprint in India’s Political History. He was dignified by the Indian Postal Service where the most recognized feature of Times of India, The Common Man, was printed on a commemorative postage stamp noting the newspapers 150th anniversary and was repeated for its 175th anniversary in the year 2013. (Bhatia)

Thriving off the ambiguities of a democracy the Common Man was distinguished by a 16 ft bronze statue sculpted by Vivek Khatavkar in the Symbiosis Institute on December 19, 2001. Not only the the tall piece if art stood for an eternal tribute to R.K. Lanxman but also it was signified as a landmark. (R.K. Laxman Immortalized Passive, Hapless Common Man) A pair of statues were then erected by Suresh Sakpal in 2007 along the Worli Seaface in Mumbai where the Common Man observes the state of affairs silently. (Bhatia) Not only covering national borders, cartoons of R.K. Laxman have been published in the New York Times as a critical insight of the events that took place in India showing the rough and tumble between international democracies. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi released a book on December 18, 2018 where he stated “Laxmans cartoons can be studied in order to gain an insight into the upheavals in society and its various hues, viewed through the eyes of his framed creation.” (Book on Laxman, Penned by Cartoonists Daughter-in-Law, Released)

According to Laxman a political cartoon proves to be an effective one when it has an active mass appeal even though the message through it is not that powerful. His mass appealing cartoons including the Common Man influenced the Societal, Entertainment and the Commercial sectors of India.

Influences of R.K. Laxman

The Common Man

Post-Independence Laxman was busy doing many cartoons for newspapers such as Hindi Punch, The Hindu, The Free Press Journal that further gave him an opportunity to work in the largest English newspaper in India, Times of India. To model a satirical character for the newspaper, he went through different alterations to establish the “Common Man”. Laxman had to eliminate his own crowd figures that represented different religions of India, like Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi and many more, to come up with a fair representation of the common people. “Babuji”, an office clerk inaugurated the concept of Common Man that was created by his peer Thomas Samuel but it didn’t last for long against the Common Man. Laxman’s pocket cartoon survived as it inherited the beginning of the epidemic of political cartoons. In 1951 the daily one column pocket cartoon “You Said It” by R.K. Laxman was a hit that heroes the Common Man. The purpose of the influential character was never for changing the political outcomes, whereas it merely did chronologically record the Indian politics of the first six decades of post-colonial India. “Laxman’s cartoons gently revealed the paradox of democracy and development agendas” said by Ritu Gairola Khanduri a famous cultural anthropologist and historian. (Khanduri,2012) Collectively, the silent observer (common man) wanted the skimmers to witness the corrupted business of democracy through the illustrations of government offices and political candidates.

Personalities and Landmarks

Altering of personalities and habits were some social influences that Laxman brought to the people of India. For Laxman it was quite tough to caricature Rajiv Gandhi as there was nothing for him to exploit and exaggerate visually. For his benefit, he identified certain functioning styles that could be translated visually. Distortion of his features made him look larger and his nose was shortened with a slight upward tilt. His eye brows were thickened to make him nearly bald. Looking through Laxman’s lens, people of India started accepting the appearance of the cartoon rather than the original good looks of Rajiv Gandhi. (RK Laxman: Honoured by Indire, Banned by Morarji- Times of India) His cartoons opened up a gambling opportunity for people. Gamblers would collect a number from the cartoon by observing specific number of people, cars and cows in a particular frame. The most popular bet was done on how many squares would be shown in the jacket wearing by the Common Man. This morning news decided the fate of many gamblers. The famous landmark of Mumbai that is the Gateway of India was personified and recognized effectively in Laxman’s cartoons rather than the tall monument itself.

Entertainment

Touching the entertainment sector, a subtle humor television serial was conceptualized and written by R.K. Laxman in 1988 based on the journey of the Common Man. Wagle Ke Duniya engaged the viewers by his small triumphs, achievements and tragedies. He was also captured in an Indian Television Sitcom (November 2011), “R.K. Laxman Ki Duniya”, that was drawn from the books and works of Laxman. The 353 episodes on SAB TV explores the incidents involving the life of the Common Man accounting his day-to-day troubles, aspirations and weaknesses. Classic rom-com’s such as Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955) and Kamaraj (2004) contained sketches of Laxman’s cartoons that were showed in the film as well as the credit scene. Common Man Works (a partnership between Assemblage Entertainment and RK IPR Management), an animation company is bringing back R.K. Laxmans Common Man back to life with a series of cartoons in 2019. (Tripathi)

Commercial

Commercially The small Indian business, Asian Paints, battling international paint giants got its breakthrough by introducing a consumer-friendly mascot “Gattu” created by R.K. Laxman (1950-2002). The mascot personified Denice the Menice that was accompanied by a tag line “Any surface that’s needs paint needs Asian Paints”. Gattu had become an identity of the company and was depicted holding a paint brush in every possible ad. The Common Man found ground with the low-cost affordable airline Air Deccan. It’s captain G.R. Gopinath took the Common Man as the airlines ambassador as he saw the commonality in both. The airlines approach of an affordable flight irrespective of their social and economic status matched the Common Man’s perspective towards the citizens of India. One of the cartoon mocked pretentious elites fearful of rubbing shoulders with their lesser co- passengers in low budget airlines. Such snobby in the air inspired Gopinath’s choice of brand.

Digitalization of Political Cartoons

With a growing readership in India, newspapers are among the “most important mechanism in public culture for the circulation of discourses of corruption”. (Khanduri,2012) There has been a decline in the demand for editorial cartoons in India due to the inadequate space given to the cartoons by modern day editors and the global trend of graphic reportage. According to the famous political cartoonist E.P. Unni who was a part of Shankar’s Weekly commented “The comic medium is poised for an explosive growth as books, e-books, web comics and videos could have political content. So, if newspapers trifle with the cartoonist, the loss will be theirs.” (In Age of Memes, Political cartoons Die a Silent Death) With this global trend certain measures of censorship and publishing have been turned down. Drawing a parallel with certain measure with respect to India, in urban areas social networking sites and blogs are sharing the same importance as newspapers whereas technological advancements have not reached all boundaries, especially in rural areas. Studying R.K. Laxman’s cartoons, Anthropologist Ritu Gairola Khanduri, political cartoons digitally produces an emotional response with an ephemeral context. A positive influence of the digital age on Sub-Saharn African countries, United States of America and Australia have been explored with respect to new techniques and availability.

Animation

Seeing other genres of digital setting, Australian political cartoons have separated from the editorial concept by the new media of animation. There has been a decline in newspaper circulation in Australia with the engagement of digital media. Animation and Political caricatures have similar modes of contextualizing the content. Manipulation of photographic elements are applied in multiple panels that represent space and time or portrayed actions and events. “Julia and Obama: True Love” is a famous political animation made by Fazzari depicting the tryst between the Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and US president Obama in 2012. Though the rhetorical impact of a stagnant image and an animation is the same in this motion piece but the contextualizing of political and social constructs defeats the purpose of a metaphor. According to art philosopher and media theorist Noel Carroll “any art form has its own distinctive medium, a medium that distinguishes it from other forms” but an art form can be employed to adapt technological advancements. (Leon,2018) The audio-visual adaptation and the print media will function in both forms as a political cartoon.

Censorship

With extra judicial measures and reforms the African cartoonists have restriction over their political cartoons. Defeating the sole purpose of a political cartoon, the reality has been enacted through the criticism by the African government. The political bodies have succeeded in taking down mocking gestures and political reality. Cyberspace has become the only solution where cartoonists can function their satirical press without suffering repercussions. Through this act Sub-Saharn African countries are stripped off social, political and cultural practices but it is the last resort of action that could possibly work. The Internet avoids the censorious actions of the rulers at maintaining their power in the state (Eko,2015). Similarly, political cartoonists in United States of America have expanded their readership through electronic communication in the rise of corporate media. In 2004, Economic affordability and the flexibility in censorship on a digital platform has been popularized by cartoonists that were rejected by the editorial publishers. Transitioning from a print medium to a digital medium will bring economic risk, reduction of employment opportunities will give a whole range of cheaper market to the newspaper publishers. As Plante states that, “cartoonists have never enjoyed more readership” (Danjoux,2007) the digital alternative is booming in the States.

Conclusion

The digital era has brought both advantages and disadvantages to the style of political cartooning. Current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in 2019 stated “A cartoon conveys a message of a 500-1000-word article in just a minute”. Where Modi is battling against the opposition party for re-elections with a help of a series of digital cartoons sketched by a political cartoonist Ganesh Bhalerao. (Jadhav) Political cartoons in India have immense national significance when it comes to visual commentaries. Satire and politics are the two unarmed weapons that is modifying public’s perception. Political cartoons are less developed in open spaces, especially when it come to the digital influence. This space allows questioning the context itself that is crutial for the citizens of the country.   

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A Report On Political Cartoons In India. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-report-on-political-cartoons-in-india/
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A Report On Political Cartoons In India. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-report-on-political-cartoons-in-india/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2021].
A Report On Political Cartoons In India [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Oct 25 [cited 2021 Nov 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-report-on-political-cartoons-in-india/
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