After 1962 Indo-China war, cartoonist R K Laxman sketched Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Defence Minister Krishna Menon. That evening, he got a call from the Prime Minister’s office. Picking up the phone, he was petrified of being at the receiving end of Nehru’s ire. A gentle voice said from the other side, “Mr Laxman, I so enjoyed your cartoon this morning. Can I have a signed enlarged copy to frame?”
This small incident depicts the impact of his cartoon not only on the commons but on our leaders.R K Laxman is one of the most celebrated cartoonist of India. His work inspired a generation. Who can forget R.K.Laxman’s ‘common man’ who have become symbols for the ‘aam aadmi’.
Another legend cartoonist Abu Abraham is that principled political cartoonist who “walked tall while others crawled” during the emergency years. The Emergency brought out the best in him, and he drew sarcastic cartoons. His work during this period was later published as a book, Games of Emergency. A great strength of Abu’s cartoons and writings was their lasting impact. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Abu’s cartoon was a sign on the White House wall that read: “Richard M. Nixon lied here – 1964-1972.” In 1974, during the caste-driven elections in Uttar Pradesh, Abu’s cartoon had its two characters before a polling box, which was kept under the banner “Vote your caste here”. Any Indian newspaper could have run the cartoon again today, with as much impact, on the eve of the elections.
In India, the cartoonists have served as the harbingers of error in society. They stood against the notion to ensure that at least someone knows that we are not always acting in an appropriate way. From Shankar, Mario Miranda, Maya Kamath to Keshav and Pawan, the faces have changed. But the purpose remained the same. Their cartoons literally wake up the society and punch the current issue in face.
We only need to open a newspaper to find what the most pressing issue of the day is in the country, and chances are we will find it in the form of a political cartoon. The purpose of political cartoons is to communicate messages to even the partially literate that would otherwise be missed by them in the columns of editorial or reports. In a glimpse the cartoonist concisely captures the current issue or sentiment at hand. Sometimes its done appropriately, sometimes brutally. The concept of political cartoons, however, has been blurred by controversies, arrests and allegations against cartoonists.
Not long ago, the leaders uproared in Parliament over Ambedkar cartoon in NCERT books where the members of the House behaved as a crowd and said these cartoons denigrate political parties and democracy. Earlier, West Bengal Government arrested a Professor for circulating cartoons of some ruling Trinamool Congress leaders, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The incident has raised many questions on democracy, role of media and the freedom of a satirist.
Political cartoons in India have served as an outlet for the working folk of our country to strike back at the elite and comment on the judges, politicians and industrialists who held the power. The position of cartoon in a newspaper is very small. The impact, however, of this small piece is very huge. Cartoons are generally blatant about their stand on the issue.
As an art form, satire has existed since Antiquity . However, the origin of political cartoons is believed to date back to the 16th century, and from that time on, political satire has been used as an effective means of criticizing the establishment. Caricature is one of the main arts used in political cartoons, and it is described as “a parody of an individual, and allusion, which creates the situation or context into which the individual is placed.”
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with inventing the caricature, when he investigated “the ideal type of deformity, the grotesque”, which he used to gain a better understanding of the concept of ideal beauty. It was one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who is credited with creating, and printing the first political cartoon in America. Franklin was attempting to rally support for his plan for an inter-colonial association, in order to deal with the Iraquois Indians at the Albany Congress of 1754. Franklin’s cartoon depicts a snake, cut into pieces, with each piece representing one of the colonies. The cartoon was published in every newspaper in America, and had a major impact on the American conscience. The words “Join, or Die” eluded to the Indian threat, but much of the effectiveness of this image was due to a commonly held belief at the time, that a dead snake could come back to life if the severed pieces were placed back together.
From its inception till today cartoon has changed its form. But even today it is as relevant as it was during that time. Society has many problems and there are many issues that a common reader can’t catch at time. It is the satirists and cartoonists who point out when we, as a society, are straying from our moral high grounds. Cartoons have a way of getting through that denial, so it can appeal people at large. Cartoons appeal to a much more common denominator than a political rallying might.
The importance of being able to criticise and lampoon those in power should neither be understated nor suppressed.