Posts Tagged ‘G. Kasturi’

When ‘Indian Express’ gave ‘The Hindu’ a story

18 June 2013

N. Ram (left) with Shekhar Gupta at a meeting in 2011 with Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan (right)

In October 1989, when The Hindu‘s then associate editor, N. Ram, was stopped in his tracks by his uncle and editor, G. Kasturi, from publishing the third part of an investigation into the Bofors gun deal, Ram found a novel method of getting the story out.

He called a press conference and handed out the story—done in collaboration with the paper’s Geneva correspondent Chitra Subramaniam—to any newspaper interested in carrying it.

In much the same manner, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has revealed how, in 2006, he found a way of getting out a story related to the elevation of a Delhi high court to the Punjab and Haryana high court, by giving the third part of the story to The Hindu.

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In a Walk the Talk interview with Gupta on NDTV 24×7 last week, the serial letter-writer Subhash Agarwal revealed how a family dispute led to his becoming a right to information (RTI) activist.

Agarwal’s uncle, Hari Ram, had filed a case against his father in 1991.

Hari Ram’s son-in-law was, at the time, a judge in the Delhi High Court (Justice Arun Kumar). The case was heard by Justice Vijendra Jain. The two judges knew each other well enough for Justice Jain to lend his official residence to be used by the petitioner Hari Ram, for his grand-daughter’s wedding.

This was in violation of one of the elements of the Code of Conduct or “Restatement of Judicial Values”, adopted by the Full court in 1997 which said no judge shall hear and decide a case of his relative or friend.

The wedding invitation card, with the judge’s residence printed on it, became the evidence for Subash Agarwal to approach both the Supreme Court and the President of India in 2005.  The chief information commissioner’s verdict showed the power of RTI.

Justice Vijendra Jain was later made chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court, but his elevation to the Supreme Court as a judge was stalled, despite the then chief justice Y.K. Sabharwal reportedly overruling the recommendation of the President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Shekhar Gupta: So you discovered then the power of RTI which nobody had figured until then?

Subash Agarwal: Yes. The media made me strong. The media highlighted the CIC verdict and that shook the whole of the judiciary.

What happened to these judges then?

After the CIC verdict was published in the media, there was pressure on my uncle from his son-in-law and his associates in the higher judiciary, which also included the Chief Justice of India. And then he had to compromise though we had to pay a price much higher than the value of (the disputed) property at that time.

But the fact also is that one particular judge who later rose to be Chief Justice in a High Court could not ultimately come to the Supreme Court because of your activism.

Right. Mr Kalam held the file of promotion of that judge for elevation to the Supreme Court.

Even though the Chief Justice nearly overruled [the then President], Dr A.P.J. Kalam.

Yes.

You remember that The Indian Express was in the forefront of following that story from Rashtrapati Bhavan. It’s a story I cannot yet tell on camera but we paid gravely for that, but we were willing to pay.

Yes. Your paper has always been the pioneer in highlighting such malpractices.

I made this disclosure public that our third story on that issue, I had to then, with great respect and understanding, give to The Hindu, to Mr N Ram, who played a great editor and published it instead because circumstances were such that the Express could not have carried it…So, this was the first time that an RTI activist actually prevented a judge who had risen to the level of High Court Chief Justice from coming to the Supreme Court.

He had almost reached the Supreme Court.

Coincidentally, in November 2006, the Indian Express‘ new editorial headquarters in the Qutub institutional area was “sealed”  following a Supreme Court judgement.

Ironically, in 2011, The Indian Express and The Hindu were involved in a noisy battle, after N. Ram threatened “defamation proceedings” against the Express for reporting on the internecine war within the Hindu family.

Photograph: courtesy in.com

Read the full interview: Jan Andolan activism has failed’

Also read: Letter-writer secures win against top judge

When an owner passes, nothing else is news

20 April 2013

The front page of the Tamil newspaper, Dina Thanthi (The Daily Telegraph), once India’s largest-read newspaper, the day after its proprietor, B. Sivanthi Adithyan, passed away in Madras at the age of 76.

On the bottom-half of the page is a picture of Adithyan being decorated by the then President of India, Pratibha Patil. with the Padma Sri in 2008.

Like so many compatriot-South Indian newspaper owners of his generation (think S. Rangarajan of The Hindu, think K.A. Nettakallappa of Deccan Herald), Adithyan was a passionate sports enthusiast and a major domo in sports administration.

Friends say Adithyan, a longtime functionary of the Indian Olympic Association, was a no mean trap-shooter himself.

Adithyan’s family sold the Dinakaran newspaper title to the Marans of the Sun TV group.

Also the owner of a paper mill and an evening newspaper (Malai Malar), Adithyan had recently acquired NDTV-Hindu, the hyper-local newschannel started by NDTV and The Hindu, and turned it into Thanthi TV.

On Thanthi TV (channel no. 723 on Tata Sky), the funeral procession had near-blanket coverage, in the way, say, Doordarshan covered the deaths of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in the pre-satellite TV era.

The cortege was followed live by Thanthi TV cameras all the way to the crematorium, while every visitor was accommodated on the screen through multiple windows.

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Hindu’s longest serving editor G. Kasturi: RIP

21 September 2012

sans serif records the demise of Gopalan Kasturi aka G. Kasturi, the longest-serving editor of The Hindu in Madras, early today. He was 87.

Although he was the helmsman of a supposedly “orthodox, conservative” newspaper, Kasturi was renowned in the industry as a torchbearer, showing the way with his knowledge of fonts, photography and printing technology, and using aeroplanes and satellites to make copies available from multiple centres.

N. Ram, the former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, who noisily squabbled with his uncle before the two joined hands in the Hindu boardroom, paid a glowing tribute on the paper’s website:

“Earlier and more clearly and determinedly than most of his media contemporaries and fellow Editors, he saw the need for the newspaper industry and journalism to embrace new and state-of-the-art technology and adapt it to our conditions while preserving the core values of journalism.

“Many a leap in newspaper technology – offset printing, facsimile transmission of whole newspaper pages, photocomposition, full-page pagination, colour scanning – found its first Indian champion in my uncle, who was always hands-on, side by side with the technical experts.

“He was enthusiastic about internet journalism and digital technology and almost till the end was regularly on his iMac working on page design and photographs and savouring the best of international newspaper websites. He believed that Indian newspapers had to raise their game in terms of production values and must not take their readers for granted.”

***

A low-profile editor of the old school, Kasturi also, sadly, suffered from the perception of being seen as an “establishment” man through much of his tenure, especially during the darkest phase of the Indian media, the Emergency.

In a 2010 article, Kuldip Nayar, the veteran editor and author, wrote that The Hindu under Kasturi (alongside The Hindustan Times) was the worst offender under Indira Gandhi‘s censorious regime:

“Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.”

***

In 1989, when the Bofors scandal was at its peak, Kasturi got into a public spat with his nephew and then associate editor, N. Ram, as the shadow of the scam lengthened.

In October that year, The Hindu published the first part of a three-page article (authored by Ram and Chitra Subramanian) with the promise “To be continued”. However, Kasturi blocked the second instalment and published a front-page note explaining the discontinuation.

It read:

“Enough has been written supported by extensive documentation in The Hindu to establish the face of the cover-up and the non-serious pursuit of the investigation by the official agenies and give the lie to the government’s latest assertions.”

Miffed, Ram went public and issued a statement against his uncle (G.Kasturi is Ram’s father, G. Narasimhan‘s brother) for acting “arbitrarily, capriciously and in a manner highly derogatory of the traditions, norms and values of independent, ethical journalism,” and calling the editor’s note “a conspicuous insult to the traditions of independent, intellectually and socially serious, and ethical journalism.”

***

In 2003, Kasturi backed Ram in overthrowing his brother N. Ravi and their cousin Malini Parthasarathy as editor and executive editor, respectively, of The Hindu.

And in 2010 and 2011, Kasturi again backed Ram in a messy board-room battle for “professionalising” the paper that resulted in the exit of his brothers N. Murali and N. Ravi from their positions in the family-owned newspaper—and stalled Malini Parthasarathy’s bid to become the paper’s first woman editor.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Graphic: courtesy Forbes India

***

Also read: The four great wars of N. Ram on Hindu soil

Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

5 July 2012

Kuldip Nayar, 89, the grand old lion of Indian journalism—former editor of the Statesman in Delhi, former managing editor of the United News of India news agency, former correspondent of the London Times, former media advisor to the late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, former high commissioner of India to the United Kingdom, and above all a secular, liberal peace monger—has just published his memoirs.

Titled Beyond the Lines (Roli Books, Rs 495), the book brings home a man who can legitimately claim to have seen Mahatma Gandhi at prayer, quizzed Jawaharlal Nehru, watched Mohammed Ali Jinnah closely, worked with Shastri and Govind Ballabh Pant, all figures who are part of history books to whole generations.

The book also throws light on Nayar, the lionhearted journalist who opposed the Emergency and rubbed shoulders with generations of journalists and proprietors:

***

SHANTI PRASAD JAIN, The Times of India: T.T. Krishmachari was still in the cabinet when Shastri assigned to me the task of findings out from Shanti Prasad Jain whether he would be willing to sell Bennett Coleman, which published the Times of India, Nav Bharat Times and other publications. They were being run by a board that the government had appointed when TTK told Nehru that the owners had been found indulging in malpractices.

Shanti Prasad and his talented wife, Rama Jain, were known to me as we played bridge together. Shanti Prasad had told me to start a Hindi UNI service which he promised to subsidize. I was embarrassed to have to carry Shastri’s message to him. He was upset. He told me that even if he had to sell all his business, including the house in which he was living, he would never sell the Times of India. Shastri returned Bennett Coleman to him.

***

C.R. IRANI, The Statesman: I was unhappy in the Statesman. Irani had reduced me to the position of consulting editor from resident editor. He then wanted me to vacate my room as well, and asked me to sit somewhere else. Subsequently, he withdrew my peon and telephone too.

What hurt me most was that a colleague and a friend S. Nihal Singh, tried to effect the changes. It was in fact he who conveyed Irani’s decision to me. Nihal’s attitude exuded authority which was humiliating. I could understand Irani’s action but not those of Nihal who himself subsequently suffered at Irani’s hands and had to leave the Statesman.

The only person who stood by me during those days was my secretary, G. Barret. She refused to work with Nihal and preferred to stay on with me. I was reduced to writing only my weekly column, ‘Between the Lines’. Irani tried to stop that too but did not succeed because the editor N.J. Nanporia refused to permit that.

***

SHEKHAR GUPTA, The Indian Express: I hired many journalists but two of the recruits, Shekhar Gupta and Madhu Kishwar, became celebrities. Shekhar Gupta called me his ‘guru’ but showed no respect when he stopped my fortnightly column. By then he had become all in all in the Express, circumstances having helped him to occupy the position of editor-in-chief. He also became abnormally affluent as well as arrogant.

I liked him when he was a simple straightforward journalist at Chandigarh. Now, Shekhar Gupta was infatuated with himself. His personal views and other considerations shaped the Indian Express which was once India’s most anti-establishment newspaper.

(Update: On its website, Roli Books has issued this clarification: “The new edition of Kuldip Nayar’s widely popular autobiography, Beyond the Lines, now comes with several changes including his remarks relating to Shekhar Gupta, Editor, the Express Group, and his reference to a former president of Sikh Student’s Union, both of which he retracted and regretted for at the launch. All subsequent editions of the book come with these changes.”)

***

RAMNATH GOENKA, The Indian Express: What shocked me was that RNG removed V.K. Narasimhan, who as editor-in-chief had kept the defiant stance of the Indian Express intact, a couple of days after Indira Gandhi lost power. His name was removed from the print line and substituted by S. Mulgaonkar’s, without Narasimhan’s knowledge.

He resigned to register his protest. The entire senior editorial staff signed a petition against Goenka’s action. I was approached to sign it. I told them that I would not do so but after speaking to Goenka who was in the guest-house. I asked if the news about Narasimhan’s removal was correct.

He said he had to restore Mulgaonkar to his position to correct the wrong done to him. ‘Was it necessary to do so in the manner you have,’ I asked. He said that he should have reverted Narasimha to his original position at the Financial Express and seemed regretful.

When I told him about the revolt in the office he said they should not forget what he has gone through during the Emergency. I could see repentance on his face. He wanted me to go to Narasimhan’s house and bring him back. I went there and found him sitting in the floor having a cup of coffee his wife had prepared. I requested him to rejoin as editor of the Financial Express and assured him that RNG was apologetic.

For Narasimhan, the question of joining the Express group again did not arise. He asked me how long had I known RNG. Before I could reply, he said: ‘Kuldeep, I have known him for 30 years. Goenka has not changed. He is as selfish as ever.’

How courageous and noble a man was Narasimhan, I thought. He had no job to go to and yet took a stand whenever there was attack on his dignity. I had close relations with the Deccan Herald family and got him posted as editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

***

AVEEK SARKAR, Ananda Bazaar Patrika: I resumed my syndicated weekly column, ‘Between the Lines’ after my return from the UK. Even within the brief period of a year when I was in London, Indian journalism had changed dramatically and become owner-driven.

For instance, Anand Bazar Patrika reflected Aveek Sarkar’s views. His father, Asok Sarkar, was a friend of mine so I treated Aveek like a member of the family. He once told me that he was the second most important person in West Bengal after Jyoti Basu, who was then alive.

Much earlier the Rajasthan Patrika had stopped publishing my column. The owner, R.C. Kulish, was a personal friend but could not tolerate my criticism of the BJP position. ‘I am not against Muslims and I have one servant from the community but they have to be kept in their place,’ he told me once. Never did I suspect that he would go so far as to stop the publication of the column. I vainly tried to meet him in Jaipur. Once when in the city, I learnt he was critically ill, so I went to his house and waited to see him but he refused to meet me.

In the case of Dainik Bhaskar, I stopped my columns because it refused to publish my piece on ‘paid news’. Although I did not name anyone the newspaper still refused to publish the column. I wrote a letter of protest to the owner and received no response.

***

N. RAM, The Hindu: My experience with N. Ram, the editor of the Hindu was disappointing. I used to write an opinion piece for the newspaper twice a week and a human rights column once a month. He stopped them because I was a friend of Malini Parthasarthy who, along with N. Ravi, was pushed out of editorial control when they were reduced to a minority in the public limited company that the Hindu is.

Ram joined G. Kasturi and a few others to constitute a majority. Ravi, modest and unassuming, and Malini, a talented journalist, suffered the most but stoically bore the humiliation. When newspapers turn themselves into companies and the majority begins to prevail, the newspaper becomes a purely commercial proposition like any corporate house.

***

SAMIR JAIN, The Times of India: Sham Lal once told me that he as the editor of the Times of India, was never rung up by Shanti Prasad Jain, the then owner of the newspaper, and that the latter did not even remotely suggest to him which line he should adopt on any particular subject. Throughout Shamlal’s long tenure, Shanti Prasad never expressed his disapproval of anything the editor wrote.

By contrast, the attitude of his son, Ashok Jain, who inherited Bennett Coleman & Co, was quite different. He was committed to commercial success and would ensure that the newspaper did not come into conflict with his business interests or those he promoted.

Girilal Jain, the then editor of the Times of India, rang me up one day to ask whether I could speak to Ashokj Jain, whom I knew well, to get Samir Jain, his son, off his back. Giri said that Ashok Jain, whatever his preferences, treated him well but Samir’s attitude was humiliating.

Inder Malhotra once recounted to me how senior journalists were made by Samir to sit on the floor in his room to write out the names of invitees on cards sent by the organization.

I flew to Bombay and spoke to Ashok who frankly said he would have no hesitation in supporting his son because the latter had increased the revenue tenfold, from Rs 8 lakhs to 80 lakhs. ‘I can hire many Giri Lal Jains if I pay more but not a Samir,’ said Ashok. I conveyed this to Giri who did not last long with the newspaper.

Photograph: courtesy Jitender Gupta/ Outlook

N. RAM: caustic, opinionated, humane & sensitive

14 January 2012

Thursday, 19 January 2012, is a red-letter day in The Hindu calendar. After an eight-year tenure as its helmsman, Narasimhan Ram will step down as editor-in-chief of South India’s largest English newspaper; a tenure pockmarked by several professional highs and as many personal lows.

While N. Ram can justly claim to have played a role in making The Hindu top-of-the-mind reading by his stewardship of the WikiLeaks India cables among other stories, there can be little doubt that the paper’s openly partisan coverage of the Left parties, China and Sri Lanka have not quite cast the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” in great light.

Above all, while Ram was merely the custodian for eight years of the 133-year-old newspaper, his actions in undercutting his brothers and cousins under the alibi of “professionalising” the family-owned media house have the potential to have long-term implications on the family-owned Hindu in a competitive market.

What cannot be doubted is that while the former Tamil Nadu wicket-keeper invites intense dislike among his baiters, and there are many, the dog-breeder is also intensely loved by his admirers, and there are many of them too. Here, a former Bangalore correspondent of Frontline, the fortnightly owned by The Hindu, pens a panegyric to his former boss.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

In the early 1990s, as eager students pursuing journalism studies in Mysore’s historic Maharaja’s College, our class was vertically split in its choice of the two main heroes who were blazing a new trail in India’s lively media arena.

While one bunch supported Arun Shourie, who, among other things, in the late 1980s had launched a campaign against the introduction of the defamation bill, an instrument introduced by the then Rajiv Gandhi government to curtail a free media, especially the Indian Express of which he was the editor.

The other-half idolized N. Ram.

Ram, we believed, was the true anti-establishment hero who, through his trenchant and hard-hitting writings had exposed the Bofors scandal. For us ‘hungry cubs’ fed on antediluvian and archaic theories, this was a potent manifestation of the true power of independent and ethical journalism, of impactful journalism.

Further underlining his fiery credentials was his defiant rebellion, in October 1989, against his own editor-uncle G. Kasturi of The Hindu.

Ram, who was then associate editor of the paper and second in command in the editorial structure, rather disillusionedly, wrote of The Hindu’s editor:

… Every time the question of publishing something major and original on the Bofors scandal arose, he [Kasturi] countered the idea of publication with the question. ‘What is really new about this? Isn’t what we have already published enough to make clear to everyone who is involved?’ He also repeatedly stated that while he personally was convinced of the guilt of the government in the Bofors affair, he was afraid that “the institution is in great danger.” This was his perspective on The Hindu which was founded in 1878 and has seen many trials and challenges in its history. (I repeatedly pointed out to the editor the failure to understand the significance of history which underlay his statement.) Kasturi also expressed serious concern over the impact of the fall-out from the Bofors expose on the interests of the “family” behind the newspaper.”

Ram took the extraordinary step of venturing out of the “four walls of The Hindu” to explain the situation to the public at large.

I decided to speak to my colleagues in the profession and ask for the hospitality of their columns to throw light on this vital national and ethical issue. I wonder whether this expose of what has happened within one major journalistic institution would be kept away from the readers of The Hindu through editorial censorship…,” Ram added.

In college, we conducted seminars on Indian journalism’s reigning deity and in our own, sometimes half-baked way attempted to analyze his brand of journalism.

Despite the ideological slant, his writings were direct and factual. It was strident and appealed to our activistic fervour.

***

Fortunately, during the course of my studies, I had established an indirect connection with Ram through the writer R.K. Narayan (my grand-uncle and mentor) who had moved from Mysore to Madras by then, and at whose Eldams Road residence Ram was a “welcome intrusion” almost every evening.

RKN diligently read through all the articles that I had written for Mysore’s local newspaper Star of Mysore and would occasionally give me Ram’s positive feedback with whom he obviously shared my clippings sometimes.

Needless to say, I was thrilled and motivated me to stay the course.

After securing my degree and encouraged by a gold medal and the Sampemane Krishnamurthy award for “excellence in journalism”, I went to Madras for an interview with the then deputy editor of Frontline K. Narayanan, a venerable journalist in his own right.

“KN” spoke to me for some time and on learning that I was just 22 years old, said that I should come back after a few more years of academic rigour. He said I was “underaged and underqualified”.  Frontline did have a reputation of hiring erudite scholars and seasoned journalists, and I didn’t quite fit the profile.

Later, KN conferred with Ram, and on the condition that I pursue my post graduate studies simultaneously was given the job. At that time, I was probably the youngest reporter on the rolls of the magazine.

***

The magazine had demanding standards and I was put through the paces.  However, my first assignment for the magazine came directly from Ram and was relayed to me by KN: it was to be a detailed article on the renowned artist S.G. Vasudev.

I went about it with the single minded dedication of a hardworking debutant and gave it all I had. For me, it was a fulfilling first, and Frontline gave it solid coverage.

A few more months into my job and I got my first cover story for the magazine. The feeling was heady:  Ram was very inspiring, and kept regular tabs on how I was coping with my job and on one occasion even wanted to know whether I had procured a two-wheeler to cover my beat.

Ram’s journalistic principles were exacting. For instance, a reporter could not take chances while spelling names of people and had to prefix even the initials correctly. You were expected to be accurate when you put down statistics. No guess work, no approximation.

Once, I was anchoring a special supplement on KSFC or the Karnataka State Financial Corporation. All through the supplement I had inadvertently called it Karnataka State Finance Corporation. The desk had apparently overlooked this ‘minor’ aspect and the pages were sent for printing. However, in due course this error was noticed and the pages had to be recalled at the last minute.

For my shoddiness, I was issued a written reprimand by the then deputy editor V.K. Ramachandran.

In Ram’s scheme of things fastidiousness had to be a habit not a virtue.

During his visits to Bangalore, I would meet him at The Hindu guesthouse for a few minutes, when he would enquire about the prevailing political equations, and give me a passing perspective of his thinking on the issues.

***

In another instance, I was chasing a ‘scoop’ involving the then Union food minister Kalpnath Rai. Sources intimate to the then cabinet secretary Zafar Saifullah had promised to provide me with incriminating documents that clearly indicted Rai in a scam involving the import of sugar at a price higher than that of the market, apparently causing a loss of Rs 650 crore to the exchequer.

The minute I got whiff of the scandal, I discussed it with RKN over the phone.

“Why do you want to get into all these fancy issues? You will only get into trouble and nothing will come out of it. Look at Bofors, even after so many years nothing has happend,” he cautioned me with concern.

That night, as was his habit, Ram dropped into RKN’s Madras house for their routine chat, which usually covered a range of subjects and extended late into the night. RKN informed him about this overzealous young chap who had called him earlier in the day.

I guess, Ram gave in to his journalistic instincts and immediately spoke to me on the lead that I had picked up. He flew me down to Madras the very next day and encouraged me to work on the story from there. As luck would have it, my source who was supposed to deliver the documents by a flight from New Delhi backtracked even as I was waiting at the airport.

I was completely devastated.

Moreover, the embarrassment of facing Ram, who was waiting patiently at his residence, to study the documents was even more unnerving. Before leaving to the airport, I had boasted in all my youthful enthusiasm that the scale of the scam was bigger than that of the Bofors.

Ram had also given me permission to travel to Delhi if the story warranted it.

When I mumbled an apology to Ram that evening, he immediately understood the situation, gave me a quick pep talk, and ensured that I didn’t feel low or disheartened.

That same fortnight, a rival magazine carried the full story with the documents reproduced in print. It was obvious that my source had provided it to the rival magazine at the very last minute. Minister Kalpanath Rai was arrested in 1994 jailed in connection with the swindle but was later acquitted by the courts.

***

On another occasion, on the last day of a grand Madras vacation, I decided to visit The Hindu office and meet all my colleagues on the desk. Towards evening, just before heading out to catch my train, I gathered courage to pay an unscheduled visit to Ram’s office hoping to brief him about my work.

On learning that he was busy in meetings, and as time was running out, I decided to leave. Just then, he called me into his cabin.

At the end of our discussions, Ram queried how I was returning to Bangalore. I told him that I was originally scheduled to leave by the train but it would have long left and I would instead depart by the night bus now.

Ram looked at me almost guilty that he had made me miss the train. “Night buses can be quite tedious and unsafe,” he told me. He directed his secretary to lead me to the finance department and disburse money required for an air ticket. “We have had discussions related to your work. Your trip is official now, ‘’ he told me before packing me off.

I have never been able to forget that generous gesture.

My aunt Rajni still talks about how Ram went about mobilizing blood donors for my cousin Sudarshan, who was recuperating from a bad scooter accident that I had caused during that time.  Ram ensured that Madras’s leading orthopedic surgeon Mohandas attended on him.

Ram could be overweening, sometimes caustic and opinionated but deep down, he came across as being humane–and sensitive.

***

There is one last anecdote that I should probably narrate. After I did a piece on Mysore’s famous motorcycle manufacturer Ideal Jawa,  Ram contemplated moving me to Bombay as a business correspondent. Once I got to hear this, I was confused and excited.

I called my other famous grand-uncle, the cartoonist R.K. Laxman, with the intention of requesting him to get me a PG dig, and naively told him about Ram’s proposed plans to transfer me to Mumbai.

To my surprise,  Laxman reacted rather sharply and said Bombay was no place for youngsters. He hyperbolically ventilated that people were dying of plague and pestilence and Ram shouldn’t be sending me into this city.

That evening when I spoke to RKN all hell had broken loose. Laxman in his inimitable way had called Ram and restated all the things he had told me. Narayan mentioned that this had irritated Ram as he thought that I had  deliberately cribbed to Laxman.

In hindsight, I feel quite amused that I took out all my frustrations in a long letter that I wrote to Ram. I told him how the distinction between my personal and professional lives seemed to have progressively blurred.  I had mentioned something in good faith, and quite unintentionally to a family member and it had triggered of a professional crisis for me, I indicated in my letter.

Probably, Narayan and Ram would have had a good laugh over my letter. I don’t know what happened. I was forgiven, and stayed on in Bangalore.

In 1997, I quit to join The Week magazine from the stables of the Malayala Manorama.

***

As a journalist who enjoyed and value my tenure at Kasturi & Sons, I genuinely wish that its stakeholders sink their differences and surface as one strong family.

If not for anything at least for the future of good journalism in this country.

The family, as I have known, would still be among the more decent and fair minded employers.

These are rare attributes in the Indian media industry.

File photograph: N. Ram, the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Hindu, at a lecture in New Delhi in April 2011 (courtesy Kanekal Kuppesh)

Also read: N. Ram to quit as The Hindu editor-in-chief on Jan 19

Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

N. Murali: ‘Hindu’ is run like a ‘banana republic’

10 August 2011

N. Murali, the managing director of The Hindu, has retired after a 40-year career in the Madras-based, family owned newspaper.

Below is the full text of his farewell letter to employees of the paper, in which he minces no words in describing the current phase of the paper, under the current editor-in-chief N. Ram, as a blot, second only to that during the Emergency under Ram’s mentor and uncle, G. Kasturi.

***

10 August 2011

Dear Colleagues

Sub: Farewell communication

As the curtain comes down on my forty-year-old career at this institution, it is time to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the affection, support and goodwill extended to me.

Our committed and loyal employees are our 132-year newspaper’s most valuable assets.  They have stood by the institution through all the ups and downs, taking immense pride in a newspaper that over a century has become a way of life with successive generations of loyal readers.

The Hindu has acquired the status of a public trust in which tens of thousands of its  readers have placed their utmost faith, looking up to it as a moral force against wrong doing and an authentic voice of reason,  objectivity, truth and fairness.

These are the core values on which The Hindu was founded and which constitute the kernel of its soul and philosophy.

Looking back over the last 40 years that I have been fortunate and privileged to have served this great institution, it is indeed heartening to see our iconic newspaper and the organization grow from strength to strength, while maintaining the unwavering trust and loyalty of its employees and its readers.

My long career has been one of satisfaction and fulfillment but has also seen extremely challenging times with some ups and downs.

I have always stayed focused and brought a lot of intensity and passion to my job.

I have pursued unwaveringly what I strongly believed in and stayed true to my core values and beliefs and core competency.

I always strove to pursue ethical business practices.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been an integral part of the impressive growth and development story of The Hindu during these decades along with its dedicated employees.

***

In accordance with my intention to retire from any active role that I communicated to all the directors on September 25, 2009, I have now formally communicated to the directors of honouring that word when I complete 65 years of age on August 11, 2011.

While it sums up my feelings of the horrible happenings in our institution for the past eighteen months, I owe it to all of you to take you into confidence and elaborate on them in this farewell communication.

I strongly believe that as a matter of good corporate governance there should be institutional mechanisms and norms like entry norms, qualifications, career progression and retirement norms, applicable to all shareholding family members in this organization just as all other employees are subjected to these rules and norms.

When I had proposed 65 as the age of retirement for a Director from any active role, it was with a view to ensuring a smooth succession at the top leadership of the company and of the newspaper while giving professionally qualified younger family members an opportunity to move to the top most echeleons.

That suggestion was accepted by all concerned including the Editor-in-Chief who convened an informal meeting of all the five editorial directors on the same day i.e., 25 September 2009.  An editorial succession plan was also agreed upon as follows: N. Ram to step down from any active role on May 4, 2010 and N. Ravi who had been the Editor between 1991-2003 would take over as Editor-in-Chief; Malini Parthasarathy would become Editor of The Hindu, Nirmala Lakshman would become Editor of the Sunday Magazine, features and Frontline, and K.Venugopal, the Editor of Businessline.

Ram confirmed his commitment to retire and also this succession plan to me not once but twice shortly after.  When everyone took his word at face value and in good faith, in the month of February 2010, he reneged on his commitment to retire to my utter shock and dismay.

That act of breach of faith triggered a whole series of unsavoury events which have taken an ugly turn and which are all now in the public domain.

In these 18 months matters have reached a very low point indeed—with a brazen and crude display of factionalism, opportunistic and vote-bank politics, quid-pro-quo deals, bad faith, vindictive acts, selective targeting of individuals and pursuing personal agendas by some board members all combining  into a messy ‘slugfest’ among the Board members.

There is no question that these anti-institution actions by a coterie of the Board have seriously eroded the quality, reputation and credibility of The Hindu and have also severely impaired the competitive ability and profitability of the whole enterprise.

***

It is indeed unfortunate that editorial primacy has been sacrificed at the altar of excessive commercialism and vested interests to pander to the wishes of some of the directors who have a crass disregard of the values The Hindu has always stood for.

The overcentralised and autocratic management of the editorial side sharply contrasts with the chaotic fragmentation of the non-editorial side.

While conditions have been created by this faction of the Board to ease out professionally qualified and senior editorial directors, all the directors on the non-editorial side, an overwhelming majority of whom, are not adequately qualified and also lack the necessary experience, continue to hang on to their positions that were earlier dished out as part of exchange of favours.

Shockingly, N. Ram, the Editor-in-Chief continues in his all powerful post for an indefinite period.  There is again no word yet on K. Venugopal’s stepping back.

The Editorial side is run like a ‘banana republic’ with cronyism and vested interests ruling the roost and finding space in the editorial columns.

Murdochism’ with some of its most undesirable and sinister features has taken firm hold of the newspaper.

***

Quite apart from the blatantly pro-CPI(M) and pro-China tilt in coverage, Ram’s abuse of his position in The Hindu and influence peddling has been unrestrained by any ideology.

Two recent events have brought this to the fore.

The first is the coverage or non coverage of the 2G scam and turning The Hindu into a mouthpiece of accused A.Raja, going out of the way to organize an interview with him and  publishing it on the day of his resignation.

The second and most recent incident has been brought out by the Gujarat police officer Sanjeev Bhatt in his affidavit filed in the Supreme Court which shows Ram as being the recipient of an e-mail on a matter as sensitive and serious as the investigation and related matters of post Godhra 2002 riots in Gujarat.

Sanjeev Bhatt has annexed an email to his affidavit which is very revealing.  In that email that S. Gurumurthy sent to Ram on February 17, 2010, he had annexed a note on the investigations into the Gujarat riots case. “Here is the note, I would like you to go through it that you understand the issues before you talk to the person concerned,” goes the email.  We all know who the “person concerned” that Ram was supposed to talk to is.

The periodic and extensive friendly interviews of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha done by N. Ram and carried in full op-ed pages served only as a smokescreen to hide the alleged war crimes that the UN committee indicted the Srilankan government on.

In my book, the two major blots on the journalistic record of The Hindu over the last forty years relate to its stand on the Emergency that was in force between June 1975 and March 1977 and on the largest scam in the history of independent India, the 2G scam.

Under its then Editor, G.Kasturi, The Hindu disgracefully extended tacit support to and even collaborated with the Emergency regime.  On the 2G scam, under the Editor-in-Chief N. Ram, The Hindu shamefully acted as an apologist and mouthpiece of the prime accused A.Raja.  It had only muted coverage of the 2G scam.

While The Hindu editorially asked for the resignations of Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi and B.S.Yeddyyurappa, there was not even a whisper about A.Raja’s resignation.

On the other hand, two obliging interviews of A.Raja were specially arranged to be done, not by the correspondent covering telecom, but shockingly by R.K.Radhakrishnan who used to cover matters relating to DMK.  After A.Raja’s resignation and arrest, a change in stance reflecting a shameless and seamless U-turn is all too obvious even for a school kid to miss.

***

When media is used as a means to achieve private ends it undoubtedly becomes a calamity.

Primacy of editorial on which The Hindu has always prided itself has been sacrificed at the altar of vested interests and crass commercialism pushed by some directors who have scant regard for the legacy and larger calling and ideals of The Hindu.

Any claim of professionalisation in the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor of The Hindu is a sham as professionally qualified and experienced family members on the editorial side — N.Ravi, Editor, Malini Parthasarathy, Executive Editor and Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor — have been selectively targeted for removal.

Double standards of the worst kind are at play.

The unfairness of it all is evident from the fact that some next generation family members, with little or no experience have been fast tracked into plum senior foreign postings with huge financial outgo, that normally only very senior journalists aspire to.

The so-called theory of separation of ownership from management was suddenly sprung only to vindictively and selectively target a few individuals. As stated earlier, N. Ram and K.Venugopal continue in their positions even as the so-called principle is not applicable to a few next generation family members and even as the business side directors continue in their positions for an indefinite period.

***

I am happy to recall that I stood vindicated by the Company Law Board order of December 22, 2010, which indicted the board faction that removed my responsibilities, as lacking in probity and good faith.  I am thus stepping down with my head held high and with my self-respect and dignity intact.

I am also extremely happy and proud that I have been able to keep my word of honour, which unfortunately has not been the case with N. Ram who ought to have stepped down on May 4, 2010.

I am deeply pained that The Hindu that I grew up with and which I was proud to be an inseparable part of during the last four decades is not The Hindu that we see today.  The Board faction that has perpetrated the gross injustice and vindictive acts must bear the cross for the current sorry state of affairs.

It has only succeeded in pushing The Hindu deep into an abyss.  It requires the combined efforts of those sections of family members who are still yearning for its return to former glory and all its dedicated employees to pull the newspaper out of this abyss.

It is now time to bid adieu to all by wishing you the very best in your life and saying how fondly I cherish my long association with you.  My thoughts will always be with everyone of you and your well being and with the great institution I am proud to have been an active part of.

Yours sincerely

N. MURALI

***

Also read: Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

The Hindu, Hindustan Times were worst offenders in ’75

‘Hindu Business Line’ to get a non-family editor

25 April 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Less than a week after the board of directors of The Hindu “decided” to appoint a professional from outside the family as the editor of the 132-year-old newspaper, the group’s business daily, The Hindu Business Line, is also slated to go the same way.

The paper’s joint editor, K. Venugopal—son of former Hindu editor G. Kasturi, a key player in the current round of the great HINDU mahayudh—who is in charge of Business Line, told a meeting of the paper’s reporters in Bombay today that Business Line would be getting a professional as editor in the next three months.

Venugopal is also reported to have indicated that, instead of looking for a name from outside the paper, a current staffer could don the role. Among the front-runners are D. Sampath Kumar, senior associate editor, and T.C.A. Srinivasa-Raghavan, associate editor.

Hindu Business Line is in the midst of a management and editorial restructuring exercise being conducted by the global consultancy firm, McKinsey. Code-named “Project Kamadhenu”, the exercise has already seen Venugopal, a director in the company, play less of a role in the daily’s editorial operations.

As per published news reports, it was Venugopal’s brother, K. Balaji, who proposed the move to keep family members away from editorial positions at last week’s board meeting, where the name of The Hindu‘s Delhi bureau chief, Siddharth Varadarajan, was proposed as the next editor of the paper.

Also read: The four great wars of N. Ram on ‘Hindu‘ soil

The four great wars of N. Ram on ‘Hindu’ soil

23 April 2011

G. Kasturi (left), with editor-in-chief N. Ram (centre) and his younger brother, managing director N. Murali, at the 125th anniversary celebrations of The Hindu, in September 2003

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: As if to prove the old adage that blood is thicker than water, there have been four rounds of internecine strife in the last 22 years in the undivided Hindu family that owns and runs India’s “most respected” newspaper.

To no one’s surprise, Narasimhan Ram aka N. Ram, the card-carrying Marxist who drove CPI (M) strongman E.M.S. Namboodiripad around town, and was a college mate of current CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, has been the central figure in all four of them.

Equally unsurprisingly, the warring parties in the first round have found themselves on the same side of the war in the next three skirmishes.

***

The first great HINDU mahayudh of 1989

At war: Editor G. Kasturi and associate editor N. Ram

The issue: Discontinuation of Bofors investigation

The war: Uncharacteristically, The Hindu which prides itself as a “newspaper of record”, goes ballistic about the Bofors scandal, thanks to Chitra Subramaniam, who has hopped over to the paper from The Indian Express, carrying the Bofors legacy. Chitra and N. Ram, then no.2 in the editorial hierarchy, do a number of jointly bylined stories. In October 1989, The Hindu publishes the first part of a three-page article with the promise “To be continued”.

However, Kasturi blocks the second instalment and publishes a front-page note explaining the discontinuation. It reads, “Enough has been written supported by extensive documentation in The Hindu to establish the face of the cover-up and the non-serious pursuit of the investigation by the official agenies and give the lie to the government’s latest assertions.”

Miffed, Ram goes public and issues a statement against his uncle (G.Kasturi is Ram’s father, G. Narasimhan‘s brother) for acting “arbitrarily, capriciously and in a manner highly derogatory of the traditions, norms and values of independent, ethical journalism,” and calling the editor’s note “a conspicuous insult to the traditions of independent, intellectually and socially serious, and ethical journalism.”

At a press conference, Ram also freely distributes the unpublished second-part of the Bofors investigation, with all the relevant documents, and invites newspapers to carry it. Ram also approaches the Press Council of India with a 15-page complaint against G. Kasturi.

The fallout: Ram is divested of his responsibilities at The Hindu, and sinecured to take charge of the group’s fortnightly, Frontline, and the sports weekly, Sportstar. G. Kasturi makes way for N. Ram’s youngest brother N. Ravi, who takes over as editor in 1991. From the other side of the family tree, Ram’s cousin Nirmala Lakshman becomes joint editor, and her sister Malini Parthasarathy becomes executive editor under Ravi. Chitra Subramaniam exits The Hindu and has “many harsh things to say about Ram.”

***

The second great HINDU mahayudh of 2003

At war: Editor N. Ravi and executive editor Malini Parthasarathy, versus N. Ram (backed by G. Kasturi)

The issue: The editorial direction of The Hindu

The war: Against the backdrop of complaints that the paper was veering far too much to the left and alienating “loyal” readers with its anti-Jayalalitha and anti-Hindu stance, the board of directors of Kasturi & Sons passes a resolution appointing whole-time director N. Ram (till then editor of Frontline and Sportstar) as editor-in-chief of The Hindu, placing him over editor N. Ravi.

The change of guard comes just three months before the 125h anniversary celebrations of the “Mount Road Mahavishnu.

“It is true that our readers have been complaining that some of our reports are partial and lack objectivity. But it also depends on reader beliefs,” joint managing director N. Murali, the brother of N. Ram and N. Ravi, is quoted as saying. Ram takes charge, promising to keep news and opinion separate.

The fallout: Ram presides over the 125th anniversary, with neither Ravi nor Malini in the frame. In November 2003, the Tamil Nadu government turns The Hindu into a cause celebre by ordering the arrest of the publisher of The Hindu, S. Rangarajan, journalists V. Jayanth and Radha Venkatesan, and N. Ravi and Malini Parthasarathy for breach of privilege of the assembly for articles that had appeared in April of that year. Although they continued to be editor and executive editor respectively, neither Ravi nor Malini write for several years.

Tamil Nadu police enter the cubicle of editor-in-chief N. Ram at The Hindu offices, in November 2003

***

The third great HINDU mahayudh of 2010

At war: N. Ram (backed by G. Kasturi) versus N. Murali  and N. Ravi

The issues: Retirement norms for family member-directors; entry norms into the business for younger members of the family; overall corporate governance issues

The war: The two aggrieved brothers of N. Ram say he reneged on a September 2009 promise to retire by May 2010 upon turning 65, thus paving the way for N. Ravi to take over as editor-in-chief.

By a 9-3 vote, the Hindu board kicks N. Murali upstairs by making him senior managing director confining his powers to only the circulation department; simultaneously G. Kasturi’s son K. Balaji is made managing director with overarching powers. Ram tells Business Standard that Murali had been redesignated “with his consent at the board meeting” and that Balaji had been appointed MD “as part of succession planning, which has been actively advocated by Murali to his credit.”

But it is the appointment of family members—N. Ram’s daughter Vidya Ram, Nirmala Lakshman’s son Narayan Lakshman, and Nirmala’s (and Malini’s) sister Nalini Krishnan‘s son Ananth Krishnan—as foreign correspondents that has most tongues wagging.

Malini Parthasarathy, who is not married, is most aggrieved by this turn of events. The Indian Express reports that Ravi and Malini objected to the manner in which “Kasturi’s resources, financial as well as editorial, were used to further the interests of some board members.”

The fallout: Ram makes public the decisions taken by the board in a front-page announcement. The issue goes to the company law board (CLB), which in December 2010 orders the reinstatement of N. Murali as managing director but declines to interfere with new appointments made, including that of K. Balaji as managing director, or to implement a retirement age for family members on the company’s board.

Narayan Lakshman, Vidya Ram and Ananth Krishnan

***

The fourth great HINDU mahayudh of 2011

At war: Editor-in-chief N. Ram, versus N. Ravi, Nirmala Lakshman and Malini Parthasarathy

The issue: Separation of management from editorial

The war: Less than a month before he is to demit office upon turning 65, Ram breaks with tradition and announces that the board has decided to appoint a “professional editor” who will be responsible for selection of news under the PRB act. This, he adds, is to happen when N. Ram steps down as editor-in- chief and N. Ravi steps down as editor.

“The other directors working on the editorial side would also step down from their current editorial designations in such time as the board may decide and become part of a committee of the board of directors known as the editorial board,” the board decides in a 7-5 decision.

N. Ravi, who joined the company in 1972 and was waiting to take over as editor-in-chief from Ram, shoots off a mail to all employees against the “shocking display of bad faith” by his brother. “Ram seems bent on taking all the editorial directors — most are in their 50s — into retirement with him, with a scorched earth policy to ensure that no one in the family succeeds him…. In a sudden change of rules and under the specious plea of separating ownership from management, along with my removal as editor, Nirmala Lakshman is to be forced to “step down” as joint editor and Malini Parthasarathy as executive editor.”

Ravi also accuses Ram of going soft on 2G scam accused A. Raja, of hogging the limelight in an “unceasing self-glorification campaign”, and a pronounced pro-China tilt.  Ravi’s contention that there was quid pro quo amounting to paid news in an interview with A. Raja in exchange for an advertisment is shot down by Ram at a press conference in Delhi, where he calls the charge “egregariously defamatory“.

The fallout: The dispute is likely to go to court. Malini Parthasarathy tweets: “After me the deluge”! Real story at The Hindu is the removal of a sitting Editor and continuing backdoor control of editorial by proxies.” N. Murali, who is away in the United States, says that the attempt to alter the basic structure of the business should be passed with a three-fourths majority by the EGM on May 20.

Also read: Indian Express vs The Hindu; N. Ram vs N. Ravi

Now it’s Malini Parthasarathy vs ‘The Stalinists’

N. Ram is stalling Malini Parthasarathy‘s ascent’

Express declares ceasefire, brothers declare war

When it’s all in the family, it is all in the family

Under N. Ram, The Hindu becomes an apology of a paper

‘Hindu and HT were worst offenders in 1975′

29 June 2010

With  nearly 60% of India reputedly being under 25 years of age—in other words, with three out of five Indians having been born after 1985—it stands to reason that the 35th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government should have come and gone without creating a ripple.

That, and the fact that the news channels and newspapers were too busy celebrating panchamda R.D. Burman‘s birthday and the World Cup to be bothered of the more serious things affecting life and democracy.

Nevertheless, the press censorship during the Emergency is one of the darkest periods in contemporary Indian media history, when promoters, proprietors, editors and journalists quietly acquiesced to the firman of the government to not publish anything that was considered antithetical to the national interest.

Censors sat over editors in newspaper offices and crossed out material (including cartoons and pictures) that didn’t conform to the official policy; criticism of the government was a strict no-no; over 250 journalists were arrested; 51 foreign correspondents were dis-accreditated, 29 were denied entry, seven were expelled.

In The Sunday Guardian, the weekly newspaper launched by M.J. Akbar, the veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts life under censorship, names the pussies and lions, and says the media today is “too niminy-piminy, too nice, too refined” if such a disaster were to strike again.

***

By KULDIP NAYAR

L.K. Advani was right when he told journalists, “You were asked to bend, but you crawled.” Even then, the courageous part was that nearly 100 journalists assembled at Delhi’s press club on 28 June 1975 and passed a resolution to condemn press censorship. But subsequently, fear took over and they caved in.

They were afraid to speak even in private.

The press council of India (PCI), the highest body to protect press freedom, became a part of the establishment. The then chairman, Justice Iyengar, stalled a resolution to criticise press censorship by local members of the PCI. Justice Iyengar informed the information minister V.C. Shukla about his achievement in not letting the resolution of condemnation passed.

Except for the Indian Express, the leading light during the Emergency, practically all papers preferred to side with the government.

The two of the worst were The Hindu and the Hindustan Times.

Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.

The Hindustan Times, owned by the Birlas, was always with the Congress. K.K. Birla, then its chairman, took over as chairman of the Indian Express and changed its editor by replacing incumbent S. Mulgaonkar with V.K. Narasimhan, who proved to be a tough nut to crack. Birla was the complete opposite of Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express. Goenka fought the government tooth and nail and staked all that he had built in his life….

The Times of India was edited by Sham Lal, who had impeccable credentials. Girilal Jain, the resident editor in Delhi, too stood by the principle of free press. Both were pro-Indira Gandhi but against press censorhip. However they felt handicapped because the management wanted to play it safe. Not that Shantilal Jain, who owned the paper, was in any way pro-Emergency, but he had burnt his fingers when the paper was taken over by the government at the instance of T.T. Krishnamachari, then the finance minister, who doubted the paper on certain matters.

Leading regional papers were against the Emergency but did not want to face government wrath. Eenadu, under Ramoji Rao, refused to toe the government line but stayed within the contours of the Emergency to avoid trouble.

Ananda Bazaar Patrika owner Ashoke Sarkar was a man of courage and gave his blessings to his principal correspondent Barun Sengupta’s fight against the emergency. The paper, however, managed to escape the wrath of the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was the author of the Emergency.

My friend K.M. Mathew, the owner of the vast empire of Malayala Manorama, stood his ground and despite the pressures on him showed where his sympathies lay when he invited to open a photo exhibition at Kottayam after my release from jail. The country was still in the middle of the Emergency. Yet, Mathew showed his annoyance in his own way.”

Text: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Express declares ceasefire; brothers declare war

29 March 2010

The tussle between The Indian Express and The Hindu following the former’s reports (Part I and Part II) on the boardroom happenings in the latter has predictably and understandably gone cold after N. Ram‘s belligerent announcement of “criminal and civil defamation proceedings”.

Express bossman Shekhar Gupta is said to have instructed staff to go easy but the Hindu‘s editor-in-chief delivers a sucker punch by way of a tweet, on the Express‘s widely speculated motive/s for doing the stories.

However, the tussle within The Hindu boardroom—chiefly among three brothers—shows little signs of abating and two business papers, Mint owned by the Hindustan Times group and Business Standard, feast on it in today’s editions, even hinting that it could result in a corporate legal wrangle.

After telephone conversations with the two aggrieved brothers of N. Ram—managing director N. Murali who has been stripped of his powers and kicked upstairs as the senior managing director, and N. Ravi, who is smarting at not getting to be editor-in-chief had Ram retired in May 2010 as per a previously agreed plan—Mint lays out the three key issues facing the family-owned paper.

1) Retirement norms for family member-directors

2) Entry norms into the business for younger members of the family

3) Overall corporate governance issues

Ravi is quoted as saying that discussions on corporate governance norms had been going on for a couple of years now and that he, along with Murali, had prepared a document on it to be circulated among board members in the February 2010 meeting.

By far, though, the Business Standard story throws more light.

Murali is quoted as saying that he…

“…has been ‘singularly targeted, utterly humiliated and sought to be disempowered by being divested of all substantial powers and responsibilities’.”

BS also quotes Murali on record as saying that the proposal for retirement of directors on reaching the age of 65 was moved by him at a September 2009 meeting, as per which Ram as to have remited office this May, Murali next year, and Ravi in 2011.

However, Ram is quoted as saying there was no written record on retirement age.

In an accompanying story, the paper quotes an unnamed member of the board of Kasturi & Sons as saying that moving the company law board (CLB) over issues about running the group was an option.

It reveals that there was a concerted move within the board to confine Murali’s powers to circulation, till the opposition of other members resulted in his getting to share two other responsibilities (accounts and industrial relations) with newly appointed MD, K. Balaji, son of Ram’s mentor and former editor, G. Kasturi.

However, BS quotes Ram as saying that key decisions at the March 20 board meeting, which resulted in the news breaking into the open, were either taken by a majority of 9-3 or unanimously. (The third dissent vote is likely to have come from former executive editor Malini Parthasarathy who stands to lose the most.)

Ram also tells BS that Murali had been redesignated as senior managing director “with his consent at the board meeting” and that Balaji had been appointed MD “as part of succession planning, which has been actively advocated by Murali to his credit.”

However, the real juice is in the issue of the appointments of Generation Next: Nirmala Lakshman‘s son Narayan Lakshman as the new correspondent of The Hindu in Washington DC, and Ram’s daughter Vidya Ram as the European correspondent based in London for The Hindu Business Line.

According to this version of the BS story, available on rediff.com:

“Under central government rules, a decision to include a family member in the organisation with a remuneration of more than Rs 50,000 a month requires the clearance of the central government. There are charges that Lakshman and Vidya were sent to their locations before the clearances came.

“Lakshman was sanctioned $10,000 and Vidya 5,000 pounds as advances from the company. However the central government sent some queries to the company asking for details on the procedures followed or whether a selection committee was set up to appoint them.

“In order to reply to these questions a board resolution was initiated by Ram which was opposed by some members on the ground that he was an interested party.

“Ram has a different version. ‘The two appointments of relatives of directors have been done meticulously in accordance with the requirements of law: Approval by the board, approval by the shareholders, and central government approval. There was no violation of any kind.’

“He says it is elementary that advances for travel expenses on editorial or business assignments are completely different from remuneration or salaries, which are contingent on employment. ‘I declared an interest in my daughter’s appointment and did not participate in any matter in which I should not have.’

Meanwhile, the fracas within The Hindu has become easy meat for those wanting to get their fork (and knife) into the paper.

The security analyst, B. Raman, former additional secretary, in his widely emailed “thoughts for the day”, poses these questions:

(a) Has the time not come for greater transparency in The Hindu group?

(b) Has the time not come for the Government to introduce, in consultation with the media houses, a right to information act relating to media houses?

(c) Is it not in public interest  for the rest of the media to have a debate through their columns on the issues raised by the controversy between The Hindu and The Indian Express?

(d) Are the media houses and journalists holy cows beyond criticism or spotlight?

Raman makes one good point though.

The inadequate information over ownership and editorial control, which the current controversy highlights, he writes, results in…

“the reading public patronising the “Hindu” not being aware of the fact that a small group of members of the same family decide what should be reported to the public and what views and opinions should be disseminated through the columns of the paper. The reading public has difficulty in knowing who is a relative and who is an independent member of the staff capable of providing an objective point of view uninfluenced by the interests of the family.”

A pro-LTTE website also sees in the tussle the premature comeuppance of an editor who dragged The Hindu into adopting an anti-Tamil Eelam line.

Writes TamilNet.com:

“Ram’s Hindu played a major role in translating the desertion of “Colonel” Karuna from the LTTE into a politico-military machination beneficial to Colombo and New Delhi.

“Even after the war ended in Vanni, Ram’s continued support to genocidal Colombo and opposition to Tamil independence signify larger agenda, commented academic circles in Chennai. Some academics have now stopped writing in The Hindu.

“Ram was also accused of playing China’s agent in India by Tibetan organizations.”

Also read: Indian Express vs The Hindu. N. Ram vs N. Ravi

Not just about the brothers, it’s the children too

Now, it’s Malini Parthasarathy vs The Stalinists

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