Tag Archives: Shobana Bharatiya

Vir Sanghvi “suspends” Hindustan Times column

Vir Sanghvi‘s weekly Hindustan Times column Counterpoint will not appear from next Sunday, after tapes of his alleged conversations with the lobbyist Niira Radia surfaced in Outlook* and Open magazines last week.

The column which will appear tomorrow, 28 November 2010, will be his last, although Sanghvi claims on his website, a) that he is merely taking a break and will be back soon, and b) that his other work for HT will appear as usual.

“The whole episode has left me feeling battered. Perhaps it will drag on. Perhaps more muck will fly around. I have no desire to subject Counterpoint to this filth. It deserves better. So, Counterpoint will be taking a break. When life returns to normal, so will Counterpoint.

“As for me, I must say in all humility, that I will use the break to do some thinking. Of course, I’ll still be around, both here at the HT and in Brunch and in all the other places your normally find me (TV, books, live events, etc.). Counterpoint has taken a break before (six months in 2000). It returned rested and refreshed. This time around, perhaps a rest will lead to renewal.”

The rumour is that the New Indian Express which, too, runs an exclusive column by Sanghvi has decided to drop him after the tapes’ scandal.

Sanghvi, who happily drops the names of Congress bigwigs Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in his conversations, suffers further public opprobrium in the letters column of Outlook* magazine, where a “clarification” reads thus:

“After Outlook’s disclosure of the 2G scam tapes, sources close to the Congress leadership have said journalist Vir Sanghvi’s references to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in his conversation with Niira Radia were a figment of his imagination. He was neither consulted during the cabinet formation post-2009 election nor given the opportunity to speak to the Congress leadership on the allocation of portfolios.”

Oxford-educated Sanghvi was editor of Bombay magazine of the India Today group, Sunday of Ananda Bazaar Patrika group, and Hindustan Times before being named “advisory editorial director of HT“.

One of the few print journalists to graduate to television with ease, Sanghvi has hosted shows on a number of networks Star and Discovery Travel & Living, and writes a popular food column.

Counterpoint has appeared for over two decades in both Sunday and HT.

* Disclosures apply

Update: An earlier headline for this piece suggested that Hindustan Times had “suspended” the column.

Read the full column: Setting the record straight

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts


B.G. VERGHESE: The declaration of Emergency

The former Indian Express and Hindustan Times editor B.G. Verghese has just released his memoirs, First Draft (Tranquebar). This excerpt, carried by HT last week, captures the declaration of Emergency and the introduction of press censorship by Indira Gandhi‘s regime in 1975.



A little before 2 am on June 26 [1975], the phone rang in my bedroom. It was Abhay Chajjlani, editor of Nai Dunia from Indore. Was anything happening in Delhi, he asked anxiously? I asked why he thought so. He said his premises, like those of other newspapers in Indore, had been raided, the presses stopped and all newspaper bundles seized. Political leaders had been arrested.

I said I would find out and call back if I could.

Another call followed immediately thereafter from Romesh Chandra of The Hind Samachar, Jullundur, sounding a similar alarm. I rang Romesh Thapar, who exclaimed, “My God, so it’s happened!”

I called the HT. The city edition was still in the midst of its first run. I asked the news editor to summon the bureau chief, chief reporter, photographers and all possible hands to scour the city and to alert our state correspondents and be prepared to run a new late edition or a special supplement. I would be coming over immediately.

…I got to the HT by 2.30 am by when one or two others had trickled in. We added a ‘stop press’ insertion to the late city edition under printing. We also prepared to bring out an early-morning supplement, to hit the streets as soon as possible with whatever news we could gather, and with whatever staff was available, as many sub-editors, compositors and press workers had gone off the night shift.

A reporter rang to say the Cabinet had been summoned for an urgent meeting at 6 am at the prime minister’s residence…. The promulgation of the internal Emergency was conveyed to a subdued Cabinet on the 26th morning with only Swaran Singh raising a mildly questioning voice.

Meanwhile, the first posters went up in the HT press noticeboards stating that the editor and a clique of anti-people journalists could not put the livelihood of the press workers and staff in jeopardy. By now the management was astir and had summoned the watch and ward to bar us from entry to the press, and shut it off.

With great difficulty we managed to get, maybe, a couple of hundred copies of our June 26 Emergency Supplement printed before the rotary ground to a halt. We collected those precious copies and carried them out for selective private distribution by journalist staff.

I retained a copy. It is probably now a collector’s item.

Photograph: Femina editor Vimla Patil interviews Indira Gandhi, with H.Y. Sharada Prasad, then the prime minister’s press secretary, in the background, in 1974 (courtesy Vimla Patil)

Also read: A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975

H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India

A deep mind with a straight spine who stands tall

B.G. Verghese, the Magsaysay Award-winning editor, author and columnist, has penned his memoirs, First Draft, “a worm’s eye-view of history as an individual saw it“.

“George”, as Mr Verghese is better known, did a stint as media advisor to then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Appointed editor of the Congress-friendly Hindustan Times in 1969, he grew critical of her actions. When he suggested that “her annexation of Sikkim was less than proper”, the K.K. Birla-owned paper sacked him.

The veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George pays tribute to a gentle giant who stands tall.



Out of the blue, as it were, a new and wholly unexpected voice broke above the newspaper din in India in 1959.

In a politics-obsessed world, this voice began talking about development projects—Bhakra Nangal, Damodar valley, Hirakund, Nagarjunasagar—and then about “brand names of distinction” like HAL, HMT, BHEL, ONGC etc.

These were all new terms at that time and the overall picture that came through was that of a massive change under way in the thinking as well as structural composition of India.

It was as good as a scoop.

That was B.G. Verghese’s entry into public attention. He had entered journalism ten years earlier, unplanned and unprepared, and spent time writing editorial notes until he got himself transferred to reporting. His ground-breaking reportage on “the temples of Modern India” was a departure for journalism itself.

Verghese’s editors in the Times of India recognised this and published his series on the front page. (Those were days when the ToI was a NEWSpaper led by some of the finest journalists India has known.)

The freshness of his “Bharat Darshan” tours and the importance of the message his reports conveyed remained the trademarks of Verghese’s journalism ever since. It made him a unique institution not comparable to anybody else in the vast galaxy of Indian journalism.

It gave his career a historical edge.

Hence the relevance of his just-published autobiography, a big-ticket 573-page tome called First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India (Tranquebar).

Frank Moraes, once Verghese’s editor, titled his political autobiography Witness to an Era. Both men were witnesses to great events and both were professionals to the core. But there the comparison ends. Moraes was ideologically partisan: Pro-American, pro-big business, anti-communist.

Verghese has strong views, but no ideological hangups.

Verghese crammed several lives into one. He was a reporter, an editor, a traveller, a bureaucrat as information adviser to the Prime Minister, visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, fellow of the Administrative Staff College of India, Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission and of course author.

The journalist prevails over all others in the writing of this autobiography. So his account of events, his references to the dramatis personae and his summing-up observations have the appeal of honesty, not the evasiveness of diplomacy.

His stint as adviser to Indira Gandhi allows him to speak frankly about the reality of high-level activities—how drafts for after-dinner speeches are finalised only after the dinner has started, how the Government does not work out a world view and relies instead on tired slogans, “the haphazard manner in which government functioned and the Prime Minister’s inexperience in so many matters”.

Verghese’ assessment of Indira Gandhi is a highlight of the book. He pays tribute to her qualities of leadership, the dignity of her deportment, her pride in India. But he is unsparing in his condemnation of the Emergency, the “savage and thoroughly illegal demolition orgy” of Sanjay Gandhi and of Indira’s own “split personality”.

B.G.Verghese is a serious person, concerned with serious, “un-sexy” topics like water resources. That makes his humour more appealing. The quality of his mind is reflected in the lightness with which he describes his introduction to the Prime Minister’s secretariat.

“There was no airconditioner in the room as the previous incumbent was a mere deputy secretary who ‘as per rules’ was not entitled to feel overly hot. The official theory was that the blood grew thinner with ascending seniority, entitling the officer to one, two or more airconditioners. The same theory worked for arm rests, back rests and foot rests….. Nor did I allow my chaprassi to hover around the car park in the morning to relieve me of my briefcase the moment I arrived. Official research had established that senior officers carry so much responsibility that the weight of a briefcase could do incalculable damage to their spine.”

His briefcase tightly held in his own hand, Verghese kept his spine straight and walked tall.

Photograph: B.G. Verghese with grand-daughters Naina and Diya at the launch of his memoirs, First Draft, in New Delhi on Wednesday (courtesy Oinam Anand/ The Indian Express)

Also read: As the year ends, a lament for the media

How Arun Shourie slighted B.G. Verghese et al

The greatgrandmother of all newspaper battles

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: “Unprecedented” is the most misused and abused word in Indian journalism. Anything—almost everything—that the desk couldn’t check if it had happened before, is effortlessly slapped with the label “unprecedented”.

But 14 April 2008 will truly be an “unprecedented” day in the annals of Indian print media when the first bundle of The Times of India is shrunkwrap in its Madras presses and loaded on to a waiting truck.
It will be unprecedented for at least five reasons:

# It will establish The Times of India as India’s first truly national newspaper brand.

# It will breach the unwritten no-compete “arrangements” between print media behemoths.

# It will test if Madras is really an orthodox, conservative City as the world thinks it is.

# It will pit “serious journalism” versus anything-goes, chalta-hai, page 3 pap.

# It will be a battle that will establish if content is king, or if reader loyalty is hogwash.

Each of those claims are worthy of attention.

The Hindu advertises below its masthead that it has been “India’s national newspaper since 1878”, but the national there only refers to its role in the freedom movement, not its geographical spread. The undivided Indian Express, with 23 editions, claimed that it was “India’s only national newspaper” although it did not print in the East. But ToI‘s Madras edition, on top of editions in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta makes it “The Masthead of India” (as its TV commercials claim), with editions in all four metro centres of the country.

For the Jains, Samir and Vineet, whose bhagwad gita is the advertising rate-card, that is of enormous signficance, especially if it can take their mother Indu Jain a few notches higher on the Forbes‘ list of Indian women-billionaires.

Second, the buzz, for a long time, was that there was a mutual agreement between the nation’s English media moguls that they would not enter each other’s “profit-centres”. It was first broken when the Hindustan Times went to Bombay three years ago. But Madras had remained a turf of The Hindu through and through. That stranglehold was slightly broken when Deccan Chronicle launched an edition a couple of years ago. But it is only ToI‘s entry on Monday, after several promised launches, that will break the monopoly fully, formally and finally.

However, these “unprecedented” feats are nothing compared to the real thing, which is the battle for the soul of Madras between two centenarians. In that sense not only is the ToI launch unprecedented, it is also historic.

Unlike bindaas Bangalore, Madras prides itself on being a literate City that values the word—or at least The Hindu paints its reader as a literate one who values the word and drinks buttermilk and goes to bed every night after attending a katcheri at the Academy in the evening.

Grim and correct, the “loyal” Hindu reader is said to be a serious, substantive character, not given to frivolous, titillating stuff that captivates the rest of us.

Kosovo more than Kodambakkam; abstract not tactile.

The arcane details of a bilateral contract between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, the full text of the CPI(M) resolution on the 123 agreement, an MP3 of an anti-globalisation Nobel laureate’s speech, report of the expert group on agricultural indebtedness, a (preferably TamBrahm) bureaucrat’s defence of red tape… this is the kind of stuff that The Hindu, as the “paper of record” thinks its readers are dying to read every morning, and this is what its reporters and editors purvey with pride.

V.R. Krishna Iyer‘s fulmination, howsoever mediocre, M.S. Swaminathan‘s latest “note”, howsoever silly, Subramaniam Swamy‘s latest diatribe, howsoever mad, all get full play in the name of seriousness. Its reporters take down notes from railway, election, electricity, forest, and other officials as if they are receiving The Word from God herself.

The more boring the output, the more gray the presentation, the more serious the content, and therefore the more credible the newspaper was the inherent assumption.

Whether the reader really wanted such stuff, we don’t know because he was a hostage; he had no choice. Whether this was all Madras (and India) had to offer no one knew, because there was no other way to know. Whether this was how it was to be presented, in turgid unreadable prose, no one could argue.

The Hindu landed at his doorstep as regularly, and with the same consistency of his sachet of milk. You couldn’t argue with the milkman, you couldn’t argue with the hawker.

That comfort zone gets altered with the arrival of The Times of India.


The Hindu has had plenty of time and examples to prepare for this, the greatgrandmother of all newspaper battles. On the one hand, it has seen how ToI entered other established centres and tried to break the existing reader habit.

In Bangalore, Deccan Herald let ToI run all over it. In Delhi, Hindustan Times tried to compete but gave up after a while (after which Shobana Bharatiya was decorated with the ET Businesswoman of the Year). In Hyderabad, Deccan Chronicle played ToI‘s own game better. In Calcutta, The Telegraph has put up a stiff fight.

If The Hindu has learnt anything from these jousts, will be known shortly. But it has certain shown that it is up for a fight.

It got Mario Garcia to put its very old wine in a spanking new bottle. It has launched new supplements like “nxG” for the next generation, and a free tabloid called “Ergo” along the IT corridor. It is even tying up with NDTV to launch a Madras-centric channel called “Metro Nation”. Last week, its staff got generous hikes ranging from 60 per cent to 100 per cent.

Will all that help The Hindu to stave off the challenge?

If history is anything to go by, it has a good chance. Deccan Chronicle, a paper which copied The Times‘ editorial and marketing strategy and kept the ToI challenge at bay in Hyderabad, entered Madras with the same grandiose notion of upsetting The Hindu.

On paper, it clocked a circulation of well over a couple of lakh on a one-rupee cover price which was two full rupees less that of The Hindu, but The Hindu has lost none of its numbers even at the full cover price.

So, a price differential which ToI might offer through an invitation price (Rs 170 for six months, Rs 299 for a year) might not necessarily work wonders, especially in a year when ToI cannot afford to “dump” copies as it usual does, as the group has taken a Rs 400 crore hit on its bottomline because of soaring newsprint prices.

But where ToI differs from DC is in its content. Although its marketing men pride themselves on making the editor irrelevant, ToI is like a chameleon, which can tailor the kind of “serious” coverage that might suit a supposedly serious readership like Madras’.

Plus, it can offer reams and reams of job advertisements and “news you can use” classifieds through all its many partnership deals, which in a consumptive age is not to be sniffed at.

And then there is its marketing muscle. Having firmly embraced the advertising model, ToI sells its thick papers like toothpaste or soap. Its hoardings, its sales executives all dressed in newsprint attire with the line “Next Change” have been the talk of the town, peering from every building and apartment.

Will orthodox, conservative readers who claim to adore serious stuff be able to avoid the temptation of peering into an almost-free publication with plenty of colour, glitz and glamour? Or will only “outsiders” in Madras—the young and unconnected who have come here to work—shift to a paper which they are used to seeing in their hometowns?

The Times‘ executive president Ravi Dhariwal has told a fellow publisher that the paper is aiming at a print order of between 175,000 and 200,000 on day one. That will straightaway establish it as a No. 2 in a market where the revamped Indian Express sells in the low thousands, and DC‘s numbers few believe or care for. But ToI is not coming here to be No. 2, it’s aiming to be No.1.

Through its contemptuous disregard for reader interest in the coverage of Nandigram and Tibet, in particular, The Hindu has shown that it is stuck in an ideological Cooum. Through its disconnect with a changing India, a changing Madras, and changing reader profile, it has taken the high moral ground.

Yet, readers have stuck to it through it because they had no other choice.

And on top of all that have been the increasingly shrill accusations of bias. First an anti-right, anti-BJP bias under Malini Parthasarathy (which was supposed to be alienating the core readership), and then a full scale pro-left bias under N. Ram (whose reinstallation was supposed to provide the course-correction).

But a battle with The Times of India is not about morals; it’s about money and muscle.

In Madras, from Monday, it’s the battle of two worldviews between two centenarians.

In one corner is a left-of-centre 128-year-old which silently says we are right, this is what the official/minister told us; which says the world is falling apart, take our word for it; which says the movie to watch this Friday is a long-lost Francois Truffaut , and have you heard the Subramanyam Bharati number which M.S. Subbulakshmi didn’t record?

In the other corner is a 170-year-old will o’ the wisp which says screw farmers, the world is a great place if you just keep buying the stuff our advertisers sell; corruption is here to stay yaar, why bother, I’m OK you’re OK; which says the individual is bigger than society; which says Munnabhai MBBS was great but Lage Raho should have got the Oscar.

In its own ways, The Hindu has shown it won’t change, will its readers oblige?

Also read: When my newspaper is no longer my newspaper

Blogger Views: How will The Hindu react?

The Hindu versus The Times of India

Yuck, ToI is coming to Madras

The Hindu is afraid of The Times of India

Image: courtesy AgencyFAQs

Cross-posted on churumuri