Posts Tagged ‘Narayan Lakshman’

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

21 July 2011

This is the full text of Nirmala Lakshman‘s July 20 letter to the board of directors of Kasturi & Sons, the holding company of The Hindu, on why she can no longer continue as the joint editor of the paper, following the elevation of Delhi bureau chief Siddharth Varadarajan as the next editor of the paper.

Unlike her cousin N. Ravi and her sister Malini Parthasarathy, who have consistently opposed the decisions of N. Ram & Co, Nirmala went along with last year’s”demotion” of N. Murali, which entailed the controversial appointment of her son Narayan Lakshman as the paper’s Washington D.C. correspondent.

The nearly identical tone of the resignation letters of Ravi, Malini and Nirmala give the indication that it is part of a strategy as the company law board prepares to hear The Hindu on a daily basis, as directed by the Supreme Court. They are also, in a sense, a hint that it will not be all smooth sailing for the professionals.

***

Dear colleagues,

It is with a deep sense of disappointment and sadness that I write this letter. The present board of directors has used a tenuous majority to force me out of my position as joint editor of The Hindu.  With the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as editor it has become untenable for me to continue as joint editor of The Hindu.

I would like to state for the record that I strongly protest this manner of trying to reorganize the company; with little foresight, complete insensitivity, and a lack of grace and decency. Opportunistic factionalism has taken precedence over concern for the institution’s welfare and progress as demonstrated in recent months.

Under the guise of professionalizing, experienced and professionally trained family members who have worked conscientiously and tirelessly for this institution for decades have been jettisoned to serve the self interest, the misguided perceptions and the personal agenda of a few.

With competitors making alarming inroads into our territory, functioning in this cavalier manner and playing the numbers game does not bode well for the future of The Hindu.

I would like to also reiterate that I am not “stepping down” as per the majority propelled board diktat but resigning of my own accord as joint editor. I will however continue as whole time director of the company.

Please take this letter on record.

Nirmala Lakshman

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

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu exec editor

Malini Parthasarathy: Why I quit Hindu as executive editor

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

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

Now, it’s Malini Parthasarathy vs ‘The Stalinists’

27 March 2010

In the great undivided Hindu family, the fiery former executive editor Malini Parthasarathy, is the odd woman out after the reassignment of familial duties.

And she lets it hang all out on her Twitter account.

The board of directors of Kasturi & Sons comprises the descendants of four cousins G. Narasimhan, S. Parthasarathy, S. Rangarajan, and G. Kasturi.

Narasimhan’s descendants are N. Ram, N. Murali and N. Ravi. Parthasarathy’s descendants are Malini Parthasarathy, Nirmala Lakshman and Nalini Krishnan. Rangarajan’s descendants are Ramesh Rangarajan, Vijaya Arun and Akila Iyengar. Kasturi’s descendants are K. Balaji, K. Venugopal, and Lakshmi Srinath.

Even a cursory glance at the resolutions of the March 20 board meeting shows that Malini’s sisters have been well taken care of. Nirmala’s son Narayan Lakshman has been posted to London Washington, DC. Nalini’s son Ananth Krishnan is in Beijing. What of Malini, whose removal along with N. Ravi, paved the way for N. Ram?

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

26 March 2010

Far from being cowed down by N. Ram‘s threat to sue for the “demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions” in its report on “Ram’s role and actions in developments within the newspaper group and the company“, the Indian Express continues its coverage of the goings-on in the board room of the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” for the second day in a row.

For starters, Ram’s “decision” to sue to commence “civil and criminal defamatory proceedings” is a five-column story on the front page of  all 13 editions of The Hindu. Just what was precisely false or defamatory in the Express story is not something Ram’s statement points out, but it makes transparent the decisions, reassigning duties within the undivided Hindu family, taken by the board on March 20.

To the extent of conveying who is still in charge of The Hindu, and of sending a signal to employees and other interested parties, the statement leaves no room for doubt.

However, the phraseology of the statement indicates that it, if the case goes ahead (and Ram says on his Twitter feed that it will), it is likely that it will be personal battle of Ram and not of Kasturi & Sons, the holding company of the paper.

For its part, The Indian Express too carries Ram’s sue threat on page one, with as much prominence as it gave to the original report, but adds its own response:

“The report, ‘Battle for control breaks out in The Hindu very divided family’, (The Indian Express, The Financial Express, March 25, 2010) is based on information received from multiple and high-level credible sources.

“All facts were verified and cross-checked to the highest standards of accuracy and fairness that the Express Group holds itself to. We believe our report was neither malicious nor defamatory.

“We have great regard for The Hindu as an institution and for its editor-in-chief N. Ram as a journalist and editor for their commitment to principled journalism. We stand by our report and the reporter.”

In the process of defending itself, Express also makes public the purported transcript of the e-mail correspondence between reporter Archna Shukla and N. Ram before the story appeared.

However, The Indian Express doesn’t let matters rest at that.

On day two of its coverage, it quotes from an email sent by Ram’s aggrieved younger brother N. Murali (who has been kicked upstairs as “senior managing director”) to “colleagues”.

“At the Board meeting on 20th March, some directors subjected me to utter humiliation and attempted disempowerment. I will resist all attempts to deny me my rights, responsibilities and duties as the managing director,” Murali writes.

Murali has been stripped of his powers over the key departments of advertisements and purchase, and has now to share many of his duties (accounts, industrial relations) with newly appointed managing director K. Balaji, the well regarded son of former Hindu editor and Ram mentor, G. Kasturi.

More importantly, it is the letter written by Murali’s children Kanta and Krishna, along with youngest brother N. Ravi‘s daughter Aparna, quoted by Express on day two, that gives the clearest indication that this current round of the battle for control of 128-year-old Hindu is not just between M/s Ram, Murali and Ravi, but also about the generation that will inherit the paper from them.

“It is essential that the Board considers issues of corporate governance and the appointment of family members seriously,” write the three.

“To point out the obvious, the business cannot accommodate every member of the family, particularly when there are no institutional mechanisms in place to prevent the receipt of unjustifiably large entitlements over a long period of time.

“Each of us, whether in the previous, current or next generation, has received and continues to receive tremendous benefits from Kasturi and Sons, which far outweigh those received by non-family employees. It is high time that we recognize that our privileges are derived primarily from the contributions and loyalty of over 3500 non-family employees. Each one of us has, in some way or the other, abused their loyalty, trust and contribution.

“The inequitable and arbitrary system that currently exists is not only unfair to non-family employees but to shareholders as a class as well. If there is ever any intention of instituting sound and modern corporate governance practices and discontinuing the feudal system that exists, then issues such as the ones we have raised need to be addressed squarely, honestly and without fear or favour.”

Quite clearly, the recent appointment of children of various directors as foreign correspondents continues to rankle.

Ram’s daughter Vidya Ram (middle) was recently named as European correspondent of The Hindu‘s business paper Business LineNalini Krishnan‘s son Ananth Krishnan (right) replaced Pallavi Aiyar as The Hindu‘s Beijing correspondent; Nirmala Lakshman‘s son Narayan Lakshman (left) was hurriedly sent off as The Hindu‘s Washington correspondent filling a vacancy of nearly five years.

Speculation at The Hindu is that a couple of more “children” are also eyeing the exit sign at airports.

To be sure, both Ram and Ravi have done their stints as foreign correspondents, and sources say that one of the other directors (not N. Ram) was the prime mover behind the move to send Narayan Lakshman to Washington. So just what precisely the opposition to the recent appointments is, is unclear.

Express reporter Archna Shukla’s emailed questions to Ram mentions the “high very salaries” at which generation next had been hired which had apparently led to “unpleasantness among [board] members”. But in his reply Ram dismisses the complaint.

“To describe the relevant salaries as “very high” would be laughable; in fact, if the precise numbers were revealed, the salaries or renumerations would be characterised as “rather low”,” writes Ram.

While N. Ravi and Malini Parthasarathy have clamped up after their tweets yesterday, N. Ram continues to keep his 6,584 followers on Twitter posted with his version of the case.

He says he will do “exactly what I say”, which is sue The Indian Express for the “demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions” in its report, and even leans back on the Bard to back himself:

# “Is it not a reasonable proposition that in any democratic organisation, an isolated few must necessarily respect the will of the majority?”

# “Shakespeare (Othello, iii,3) is often cited on defamation: ‘Who steals my purse steals trash. But he that filches from me my good name….'”

# “There can be no defence, in law or intelligent discourse, for these demonstrable falsehoods that defame recklessly.”

While most other family owned English papers—The Times of India, Deccan Herald, The Telegraph, et al—have understandably remained silent on the goings-on in South India’s largest English daily newspaper, only Mint, the business paper published by the listed HT Media, carries any mention of the Express-Hindu standoff.

New Indian Express editor Aditya Sinha‘s tweet on day one that Deccan Chronicle was rumoured to be working on a story turns out to be just that: a rumour. There is no story in the Hyderabad paper, which has an edition in Madras, at least not today.

Nevertheless, Sinha tweets:

There are various theories doing the rounds on why the Indian Express has taken on The Hindu so openly and so aggressively on what is clearly an internal matter of a family-owned newspaper.

# Is this a legitimate news story without a “backstory”, an honest journalistic attempt to throw light on the opaque goings-on in “public institutions”?

# Is this a proxy battle between the left and the right in Indian politics?

# Is this an attempt to pave the way for a more investor-friendly management which might be amenable to foreign investment?

For a couple of years now, there have been rumours that The Hindu was seeking infusion of funds to expand its footprint in the face of competition. Kalanidhi (and Dayanidhi) Maran‘s Sun TV group was mentioned initially. Later, the Fairfax group of Australia came into the picture.

But those in the know point out that the Express story is a post-facto account of the March 20 board meeting.

All indications are that wicket-keeper Narasimhan Ram, who played one first-class cricket match for Madras in the 1965-66 season, is on a strong wicket. For the moment.

The tone and display of his statement in the paper make that quite clear. Also, in the middle of the melee, word is that Ram found the time to fly to Delhi and sup with Bill Gates‘ wife, Melinda Gates, on Thursday night.

Moreover, although a board meeting is said to be around the corner, a couple of key board members (both women) are said to be conveniently away from Madras, strengthening Ram’s hands, if push comes to shove.

Newspaper image: courtesy The Indian Express

Photographs: courtesy Twitter

Also read: Under N. Ram, The Hindu becomes a ‘sorry’ paper

The Hindu responds to churumuri.com. We do too.

A surprising first at employee-friendly Hindu

The great grandmother of all newspaper battles

When a newspaper is no longer a newspaper

HAROLD EVANS: ‘Families are the best custodians of newspapers’

Indian Express vs The Hindu, N. Ram vs N. Ravi

25 March 2010

***

The Indian Express, Delhi, has a front-page “exclusive” on the fracas in the family controlling The Hindu, Madras.

The main points the Express story (also simultaneouly carried in its sister-business daily Financial Express) by media correspondent Archna Shukla makes are:

a) disagreements over the “proposed retirement” of publisher and editor-in-chief N. Ram;

b) the stripping of powers of his brother N. Murali as managing director of the company; and

c) Ram’s recent appointment of family members to the paper allegedly without the board’s consent: his daughter Vidya Ram as the new European correspondent of The Hindu Business Line and Narayan Lakshman as the Hindu’s new Washington correspondent.

N. Ram hit back within hours of the Express story, stating that he would launch “civil and criminal” defamation proceedings against the Express reporter, editor-in-chief, editor and publisher.

“These reports are riddled with demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions, some of them attributed to unnamed sources, made with reckless and malicious disregard for the facts and the truth. And this despite the professional courtesy I extended to the journalist and the newspapers by responding precisely and factually to five specific questions emailed to me on March 24 by Ms Shukla.”

Ram also put out the news of his seeking legal recourse to his 6,562 followers on the micro-blogging site, Twitter.

If rumours of the family rift are true, this is the second round in the battle for control of The Hindu.

N. Ram was at the centre of the first one, too. In the early 1990s, then editor G. Kasturi had made way for Ram’s youngest brother N. Ravi and their cousin Malini Parthasarathy at The Hindu, while Ram was shafted off to edit Frontline and Sportstar.

Ten years later, Ram later teamed up with Kasturi to stage a return.

It now looks like payback time with Kasturi’s son K. Balaji being made managing director of the company at the February 20 board meeting, sharing wideranging responsibilities and supervisory powers over several departments: accounts, production, industrial relations, EDP, purchase of newsprint and other raw materials.

The Express story says Ravi and Malini Parathasarathy have now objected to the manner in which…

“Kasturi’s resources, financial as well as editorial, were used to further the interests of some board members”.

As if to underline the substance of the Express story, N. Ravi revived his Twitter acount after four months to say what he thought of N. Ram’s tweet on (and threat of) the defamation case against Express.

And as if to leave the world in no doubt about who stands where in the undivided Hindu family, Malini Parthasarathy retweeted N. Ravi’s tweet, with her own tweet on Twitter.

Internecine family battles are par for the course in the Indian media. The Deccan Herald group went through it in the mid-1990s, as has the Indian Express reporting The Hindu strife, though both have found ways and means of dividing labour within the family without further bloodshed.

More recently, the Amar Ujala group was also in the middle of a messy family battle, which hit the headlines after some worthies including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla‘s son were caught passing a bribe.

What lends The Hindu vs The Indian Express legal battle an added edge is the abrasive nature of the two people at the helm: Hindu editor-in-chief Ram and Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta. (Ram came in at No. 70 in the Express powerlist published in January this year.)

Secondly, The Indian Express and The Hindu are at opposite ends of the political and ideological spectrum. While the former is a gung-ho supporter of all things America (nuclear deal, GM foods, etc), the latter, under the CPM card-carrying Ram, is decidedly less so.

If the defamation case goes ahead, it will be interesting for more reasons than one.

The resident editor of Express in Delhi (responsible for news selection under the law) is Seema Chishti, wife of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.

N. Ram and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat have been bosom buddies since their days at Madras Christian Loyola College, where they were together with home minister P. Chidambaram, now ironically seen to be close to Shekhar Gupta.

Meanwhile, as rumours of a fresh board meeting gain ground, clearly the sudden turn of events is causing much mirth in rival publishing houses, too, even if they share the same name as the paper that broke the story.

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express—the new name given to the southern editions after the Indian Express split following the death of Ramnath Goenka—does his bit to fan the rumour mills through his Twitter account.

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