Bhat’s decision was announced to his staff this afternoon after a meeting with ToI chief executive officer Ravi Dhariwal and chief marketing officer Rahul Kansal who had flown down to Bangalore.
Bhat confirmed the resignation to churumuri.com, adding that, although he had no negative feelings for the company, he had begun to feel “slightly uncomfortable” in the last few months.
“I decided to quit when things were all right,” he said.
There is no word how long his name will appear on the imprintline or who his replacement is likely to be, although there is a rumour that E. Raghavan, who retired as editor of the Economic Times editions in the south and currently edits the Kannada weekend broadsheet Vijaya Next, may fill the breach.
The charitable version for the exit is that Bhat, who took over the reins of the paper 10 years ago, wanted a three-year sabbatical to go abroad and study which the Jains, who picked up the paper from Vijay Sankeshwar of the logistics company VRL four years ago, were disclined to give.
Bhat says he intends to pursue higher education now that he has been freed of his commitments, although the buzz is he may join a soon-to-be-started Kannada news channel. The no-compete clause in Sankeshwar’s deal with Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd also ends next year opening up new possibilities on the Kannada media map.
However, the press club gossip is less than charitable. This version has it that Bhat had reached the end of the long rope that had been extended him, during which period the paper veered overtly to the right, attracting the ire of Muslims, Dalits and Christians.
In a petition earlier this year, when Bhat was nominated for an honorary doctorate, the Karnataka chapter of Transparency International dashed off a petition, accusing the editor of being “primarily responsible for instigating and fuelling communal hatred by regularly publishing extremely volatile and offensive articles and editorials.”
Recent surveys also showed that Vijaya Karnataka‘s readership and circulation were moving southwards, to the discomfiture of the bosses, necessitating the change of guard.
All things considered, to Bhat goes the credit of turning a fledgling daily into a market leader and opinion maker, overtaking the 60-year-old Praja Vani from the Deccan Herald group in next to no time with a series of innovations and reader-friendly initiatives.
The prolific Bhat churned out a weekly Sunday diary, a Saturday media column, a Thursday edit-page piece, and wrote on a range of issues each week, besides regularly publishing books, compilations and translations. There was no inkling of the coming end even in Wednesday’s paper which carries a tribute by Bhat on page 7.
Bhat’s resignation is the third reorganisation exercise undertaken by VPL president Sunil Rajshekhar after shutting down The Times of India Kannada edition and launching Vijaya Next.
Also read: Bhat in a flap over honorary doctorate
External reading: That’s Kannada.com