Dawn Delhi I: Genesis of a Newspaper

Dawn began as a weekly newspaper in 1941 and transformed into a daily in 1942.
Published August 27, 2017
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, owner of Dawn Delhi, and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Managing Director, with the newspaper’s staff in the early 1940s. Seated second from right is Pothan Joseph, the Editor. — The Altaf Husain Collection
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, owner of Dawn Delhi, and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Managing Director, with the newspaper’s staff in the early 1940s. Seated second from right is Pothan Joseph, the Editor. — The Altaf Husain Collection

Dawn, begun as a weekly newspaper in 1941 and transformed into a daily in 1942, was the main avenue through which Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the Quaid-i-Azam and the All-India Muslim League, advocated the creation of Pakistan when the partition of India became the party’s demand after the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940.

The newspaper became such a symbol of identification with the League that carrying it was a statement in itself and it was used, especially by students and young people, to announce to others that they supported the demand for Pakistan. Its news pages, its editorials and its invited articles were used to publicise, to advocate and to defend the demand for Pakistan from criticism from the British, the Indian National Congress and other Muslims. It was also used to establish the figure of Jinnah as the charismatic leader of the Muslims of South Asia.

The Indian press, either the British-run press or broadsheets started by Indians, has since its inauguration been a vigorous one and continues to be one of the most thriving and dynamic presses in the world today. India has long had a vital intelligence network which preceded the rise of the press in India, but the creation of the Indian press aided in the creation of a civic society in India amongst the elites.


Since the late 19th century the press has been the most important medium in the creation of national and regional identity and the most important vehicle with which the political classes, mostly affiliated with the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, mobilised support for the party, helped establish the renown and charisma of its leaders, waged a war of words against the British raj which the British monitored very carefully, and not slow to ban publications it considered seditious or detrimental to good order, and mobilised its supporters for its campaigns and its elections. Muslim opinion was less well served even after the creation of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) in 1906.

It was not until the creation of Dawn that the League had a means by which it could directly express the views of the party, elevate the image of its officials, most especially the Quaid-i-Azam, its ‘Great Leader’, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), and mobilise Muslims for political action, especially in the crucial general elections of 1945-46. This article chronicles the major events of the six-year pre-partition history of Dawn and argues for its important role in the creation of Pakistan.

Dawn was first created by Jinnah as a weekly newspaper on Sunday October 26, 1941, as he stated in the cover story, due to the constant appeals made to him to have a properly controlled and supervised English newspaper which would, “authoritatively expound the views and express the opinion and sentiments of Muslim India”. This was the ‘Muslim India’ that Jinnah, President of the League since 1936, claimed to lead.

It did not include Muslims who supported the ostensibly non-communal Indian National Congress. Nor did it include Muslims whose base of support was in the provinces and in regional political parties and not in the League, which was a national party first and foremost attempting to establish its authority in the provinces. Finally, it did not include Muslim religious figures who neither supported the League nor approved of its secular-minded leaders, Jinnah above all, although they benefited from the heightened sense of communal feeling generated by the League due to its political activities.

Dawn was created as a weekly as the first step in the creation of a daily newspaper. It had been founded at the direction of Jinnah under the supervision of the General Secretary of the AIML, Liaquat Ali Khan (1895-1951), and as a result of the expertise and financial support of the wealthy Bengali industrialist and politician, M.A.H. Ispahani (1902-81) whose Star of India, a Calcutta evening newspaper, was edited by the south Indian Christian, Pothan Joseph, and whose column, ‘Over a Cup of Tea’, was well established. The Raja of Mahmudabad (1914-73) from the United Provinces also lent his financial support.

This recent photograph captures the renovated building which once housed the offices of Dawn Delhi in Daryaganj, New Delhi.  The offices were burnt down by Jan Sangh militants on September 14, 1947, and the newspaper ceased publication shortly afterwards. —​  Krishna Pal Rathore
This recent photograph captures the renovated building which once housed the offices of Dawn Delhi in Daryaganj, New Delhi. The offices were burnt down by Jan Sangh militants on September 14, 1947, and the newspaper ceased publication shortly afterwards. —​ Krishna Pal Rathore

Dawn became an exceptionally useful vehicle for spreading the League message and for publicising the activities of its leaders. Most importantly, it accurately reflected the League’s reactions to statements and events of the Congress and the British. It faithfully recorded League meetings and activities and in its pages it carried on a debate with its political opponents.

Its articles reveal its tactics and its priorities of the moment as they shifted from verbally duelling with the British to waging its most important campaign of marshalling its support in the provinces, most notably in the Punjab, Bengal, Sindh and the United Provinces, and undermining the authority of regional leaders if they opposed the League and making the names and reputations of those who joined the League.


Liaquat Ali Khan played the central role in the creation of Dawn and in its success in its early years although the editor was an unknown Hasan Ahmed who in January, 1942, was paid Rs250 a month. He was assisted by six others paid between Rs80 and Rs14 a month. Liaquat was the Managing Director and his name appeared on the title pages under Jinnah’s as Dawn was produced, ‘Under the Supervision of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Hony. Secy. All-India Muslim League’ and this was accurate and correct.

He was the pivotal figure around which all the activities of running Dawn, and the League, revolved. He found rooms to rent, hired staff, arranged for the rental or purchase of equipment and newsprint, and negotiated with the British for government advertisements to be placed in the newspaper.

He did so in the darkest days of the Second World War when material and equipment was in short supply. He even took copies of the newspaper down to the railway station late at night in his own car so they could be put on the mail train to such provinces as Bengal, the Punjab and the United Provinces.

Dawn claimed in a promotional brochure when it was founded that it was shipped to 201 “stations” including London and Manchester in England and New York, Philadelphia and Washington in the USA, and Aden.

Liaquat was not only exceedingly successful in making Dawn a thriving concern but it also helped elevate him to a position of leadership of the AIML behind only Jinnah. In 1943 Jinnah, not known for paying anyone compliments, was, in fact, to call him his “right hand”.

For its part, Dawn became to be seen as the mouthpiece of the League and intimately associated with it, so much so that ‘just holding of Dawn in one’s hands was enough to disclose one’s identity’.


This success was noted by its editor Hasan Ahmed on June 24, 1942, when he wrote to Liaquat asking for a “very substantial” increase in salary as he could not make ends meet on the “meagre” salary paid to him. “I expect you, Sir, to double my salary for the present, as the first increment to begin with. Anything less than that will bitterly disappoint me and will naturally serve as a damper to future efforts.”

He justified this demand on the ‘meagre’ salary paid to him but also on the fact that the “ever-increasing circulation” had passed the 4,000 mark and an “assured plentiful supply of Government of India advertisements yielding an estimated revenue of at least Rs400 a month”.

Due to illness he also asked for a two-month leave of absence to repair the damage to his health caused by his work on Dawn. Liaquat replied on June 29 granting him one month’s leave with full pay even though he was not entitled to a month’s leave with full pay until he had served for one year, still about three months away, but it did reveal how successful Ahmed believed the newspaper had been.

Dawn was created as a weekly newspaper in 1941 and turned into a daily newspaper a year later. It was started as a daily, therefore, after the seminal events of the early part of the War such as the resignation of the Congress ministries in the eight provinces where it governed in 1939 had taken place.

This was a political blunder by the Congress and was compounded by the Quit India Movement beginning in August, 1942, after the arrest of Gandhi on Sunday, August 9. He and all the major leaders of the Congress were arrested and incarcerated for most of the War years, leaving a vacuum of power that the League occupied to its enormous advantage.

Dawn echoed the League view that it had not non-cooperated, and the British supported the League by making sure it received lucrative government advertising and sufficient supplies of paper at a time of shortages.


Aligarh Muslim University and its faculty and students played a major role in the Pakistan Movement. Jinnah and many of the leaders of the Muslim League had no large constituency of their own or a national constituency. They did not have the support of Muslim clerics or of many Muslim scholars. Their intellectual credentials derived from Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his modernist Muslim ideology. Aligarh, therefore, could provide the League with intellectual support in its claim for a separate nation for the Muslims of South Asia and this was a role played by a number of Aligarh’s faculty.

Aligarh could also provide a venue for League speeches and League leaders from Jinnah on down made major addresses at the University. Finally, Aligarh could provide the League with energetic campaign workers at the time of general elections expected to be held at the conclusion of the War.

The League campaign to bring Aligarh behind the League was not an easy one as the University was divided between Nationalist Muslims and those who supported the League and its demand for Pakistan. It was a major achievement that by 1945 the League was able to capture Aligarh.

One of the first uses of Aligarh was when a committee was formed by the All-India Muslim Educational Conference at its December 1939 session to oppose the Wardha Scheme of Education and to devise a comprehensive scheme of education to meet the special needs of Muslims.

Abdul Majid Saheb Qureshi of Aligarh Muslim University was its secretary and Liaquat Ali Khan sent a letter on May 14, 1940, to, among others, the presidents and secretaries of the provincial Leagues to urge them to support this effort. The League connection with Aligarh would only get more important as each month passed and Dawn would be used to cultivate the relationship and publicise its activities.

This is the first of a four-part series on Dawn Delhi.

Excerpted from ‘Dawn & the Creation of Pakistan’, Media History 2009, SOAS, London.

The writer is Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University, USA

This article is part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Read the complete first report and second report, or visit the archive for more.