Veteran Journalist, S.M. Gopalaratnam, popularly known as Gopu and known by his initials as SMG, is no more. Gopalaratnam passed away at the age of 87 on Wednesday (15) at his residence in Batticaloa.
Beginning his career in journalism in the early fifties in Virakesari he later joined Jaffna’s regional daily Eelanadu as its News Editor under the iconic Editorship of late
K. P. Haran. In the early seventies Gopu became the Editor of Eelanadu which was founded in 1959 by the late K. C. Thangaraja who had been a highly acclaimed Chairman of the now defunct Eastern Paper Mills Corporation in Valaichchenai.
For nearly twenty years Gopu remained as a pillar of strength in bringing out Eelanadu, Jaffna and making it a popular tabloid daily covering national as well as the regional issues comprehensively.
Gopu’s tenure as Editor of the Eelanadu newspaper came to an end with hooligans setting on fire the newspaper building the same night the Jaffna Public Library was set on fire on 1 June 1981.
It was during Gopu’s period that the popular Tamil national dailies found it difficult to make inroads into the North and the East and the Eelanadu Jaffna became popular even in Colombo and other parts of the Island.
Gopu had trained several young journalists and they presently serve with the tag as the disciples of Gopu in various media institutions locally as well as abroad.
Tough but the amiable qualities of Gopu made him popular with leading political figures on the Tamil political scene and he remained popular even in the Southern media circles in the Island.
At the early stages of Eelanadu, to promote the newspaper Gopu and his editorial colleagues had even carried the newspaper bundles and distributed them in the Jaffna town.
Being a very popular journalist among the Jaffna readers, Gopu’s humble lifestyle was very much similar to the renowned Kerala writer Thagali Sivasangarapillai’s whose novel ‘Chemmeen’ had turned into a popular movie in Malayalam.
On a bicycle wearing dark glasses
Gopu moved around on a bicycle wearing his dark glasses and he was seen talking to people of all walks of life sitting on a bench outside a tea kiosk or enjoying a drink in a pub.
When the Tamil militancy was emerging gradually with several militant outfits competing with each other for supremacy, Gopu once said that he had found it very difficult as an editor to deal with the militants who had come to his newspaper office and insisting on him to give prominence to their stories on the attacks they carried out.
So Gopu had to be extremely cautious and tactful in dealing with the gun toting militants and he once even said that because they were young and immature handling them was a ‘tight rope walk’.
Gopu was the Editor of Eelamurasu when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) arrived in the North.
The IPKF which was deployed to implement the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord first targeted the newspapers which took a stand against the Accord.
The IPKF identifying itself as peacemakers and from a democratic country went on destroying the newspaper offices which criticized the IPKF presence and the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Two newspapers Murasoli and Eelamurasu were destroyed by the IPKF soldiers, with the help of the paramilitary groups, with high calibre explosives.
Gopu as the Editor of Eelamurasu with his editorial staff were taken into custody and detained behind bars inside the Jaffna Dutch Fortress.
He was detained at Jaffna fortress by the IPKF for two months. On his release from detention he wrote a book titled ‘An Indian Prison on Eelam Soil’ detailing the experience he had with the IPKF and dealing extensively on the Indian Army’s presence in the North.
As present day Jaffna could be very well described as a media hub in the Island with nearly four newspapers published in the city, one of Gopu’s favourite disciples S.S. Kuhanathan, operating the country’s first regional television DAN (Dish Asia Net Work) in the city.
While Gopu was an iconic figure instrumental in strengthening ‘the Fourth Estate’ in the North, the Tamil moderates and hardliners from the time Gopu entered journalism have failed badly in giving leadership in fulfilling the political aspirations of Tamils in the North and the East.
So while Gopu’s life and times highlight the changes that had occurred in the socio-political atmosphere in the North, his legacy leaves an imprint of the nature of the Jaffna society.