National Herald revived on Indira Gandhi’s request

first_img“You know how it is,” said Yashpal Kapur, the tubby, bespectacled new managing director of the National Herald, “I cannot say no to Indiraji. There is no wish of hers that I would not like to fulfil. She called me the other day and said, ‘You must do something about,”You know how it is,” said Yashpal Kapur, the tubby, bespectacled new managing director of the National Herald, “I cannot say no to Indiraji. There is no wish of hers that I would not like to fulfil. She called me the other day and said, ‘You must do something about the National Herald. So I did it. I took it over.”For the 48-year-old MP it was a simple exercise in keeping the mentor happy. For the 300-odd employees of the New Delhi edition of the paper that had suspended publication on December 18 it was a question of regaining their source of livelihood. For Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Pandit Nehru who had founded the paper, it was a question of reviving an official mouthpiece when she needed it the most.For her faction of the Congress Party it was a shot in the arm. But for most newspaper readers, the life, death and resurrection of the National Herald meant little, if anything at all. But behind the closure and revival of the newspaper is a strange and sinister story that reflects the politics of Nehru’s daughter and her coterie.The new management of the Herald was officially announced on January 7. Charanjit Singh, managing director of Pure Drinks Ltd and former Coca-Cola boss, was appointed chairman in place of Col. B. H. Zaidi; Yashpal Kapur replaced Mohammad Yunus as managing director; and Vimal Malhotra, a trade union leader was appointed director of the board and resident director of the paper’s Lucknow edition.advertisementBut the Delhi edition of the paper, closed on December 18, was revived on New Year’s day to coincide with Mrs Gandhi’s Congress Convention with a front page message from her entitled “New Role of Herald”. In her message the newspaper’s fairy godmother termed the reappearance of the paper a “New Year’s gift”, and labelled it “the main opposition paper in the country”.In a way, there was something prophetic about what M. Chalapathi Rau, former editor-in-chief of the Herald had told India Today a day before the management announced the suspension of its New Delhi edition. “It is hard for a paper to survive,” he had said, “but it is equally hard for it to die.”Rau’s claim, at that point could be dismissed as a famous editor’s famous last words were it not for the fact that he had seen the Herald die many deaths in the past. He had also seen it revive each time, if only with substantial losses in both reputation and circulation.Who then killed the Herald? And whose magic wand brought it back to life? In his statement announcing the suspension of the paper, former chairman of Associated Journals Ltd, the company that publishes the paper and its Hindi and Urdu editions from Lucknow, alleged that the new “Government’s discriminatory policy” was directly responsible for “burdening” the company in the last eight months.The new interim relief announced “had increased the wage burden on the company by Rs 8.5 lakhs per annum” and another Rs 14 lakhs had been lost because of cuts in the Government advertising revenue. To this added Col. Zaidi, the Delhi Herald “was always a deficit establishment”.That was one side of the story. The newspaper employees’ union alleged that the Delhi edition of National Herald, according to the financial figures available, was a profit-making institution and darkly hinted at the management’s motives behind closure of the paper.Sinister Stories: The charges were grim. Stories circulating at the National Herald offices, after its closure on December 18, accused the paper’s managers of misusing funds, and its directors indulging in political feuds that practically resulted in the paper being taken over by the Congress caucus during the Emergency.More sinister were accounts, endorsed by most members of the editorial staff, of briefcases of cash arriving in the middle of the month to pay off staff salaries. These were allegedly brought from R. K. Dhawan, or Yashpal Kapur, or very often from 1, Safdarjung Road.Even in pre-Emergency days, the staff were rarely paid on time. After the Emergency, when Mohammad Yunus took over as managing director of the company, and the board was stuffed with Mrs Gandhi’s cronies, the National Herald went through an advertisement boom. Apart from bringing out lavish supplements on Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Gobind Vallabh Pant, the advertising revenue alone shot up from Rs 69,52,103 in 1974-75 to Rs 92,06,790 in 1975-76.The money came in the form of “donations”. Most of it appeared in cash through the managers; the question remains whether it was all accounted for. It has been alleged in Parliament by Jyotirmoy Basu that this was a standard method of converting black money into white by members of the caucus.advertisementDuring the 19 months of the Emergency, the paper’s post-Nehru connection reaped huge harvests. And Nehru’s original contribution of Rs 100 to the paper’s kitty at the time of its inception in 1938 was multiplied several thousand times over.Forced Circulation: The New Delhi edition of the National Herald had never been able to build a circulation of more than 15,000. The Lucknow edition did better (cir. 30,000) but the onset of the Emergency saw the paper boom not only in advertising revenue but also in circulation.At its highest point during the Emergency the circulation of the New Delhi edition touched nearly 40,000 copies a day. A member of the advertisement department explained how this happened: “As soon as Yunus took over, the circulation graph began to rise. Local schools and colleges, business concerns associated with the caucus and state governments became regular subscribers. In Punjab and Haryana it was almost made mandatory for schools and colleges to buy the National Herald; and a lot of it went abroad, to our missions and to Indian residents.”While the paper stuck to its contract advertising rate of Rs 4.30 per column per centimetre till almost the end of the Emergency (the DAVP only raised the rates to Rs 8.75 per column per centimetre in February 1977, a month before the elections) it made its fortune through the special supplements which it began to issue every other week.The 72-page special supplement on Jawaharlal Nehru brought out on his birth anniversary in 1976 contained nearly 60 per cent advertising by the DAVP. Besides the special supplements on national leaders, supplements on states brought in sizeable revenue. Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan brought out supplements with lavish advertising.During the Emergency also, it is alleged, the caucus was responsible for shifting all the cinema advertising from The Patriot to the National Herald. “Suddenly from 5-6 columns of cinema ads. we shot up to printing 18-20 columns on films alone,” said a member of the advertising department. “But most of the money came from the supplements,” he added.Party Mouthpiece: The inflow of money to the National Herald, through government channels or otherwise, could hardly raise the paper’s reputation. The National Herald had never been taken seriously for its editorial opinion or quality of writing.With the exception of readers who perused editor-in-chief Rau’s column faithfully, National Herald’s dwindling audience comprised an odd mixture of freedom fighters, Congress Party politicians and observers, and foreign missions keen to keep tabs on the thinking of the former ruling party. In other words, the National Herald had come to occupy the position of an unofficial Congress Party handout.What is interesting, however, more than a decade after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death is the newspaper’s Indira connection. Why is it that each time the paper passed through difficult times, Mrs Gandhi was called in for help? And why do its unions, as well as its management, return again and again to Mrs Gandhi for advice and instructions? In short, what is Mrs Gandhi’s stake in the running of National Herald?advertisementIndira Connection: An investigation into the ownership of Associated Journals Ltd reveals that the majority of the shares are held by a trust known as the Janhit Nidhi Trust. Former editor Chalapatni Rau confirms that this trust holds an “overwhelming majority” of the company’s shares.Yashpal Kapur, managing director – commercialism and propagandaJawaharlal Nehru himself is on record saying that a number of original shareholders of the company, including the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee, transferred their shares to this Trust formed in 1955.Mrs Indira Gandhi was one of the trustees, but it is not known whether she is still a member. There is no doubt however that the newspaper boomed during her regime. If the Emergency saw it making huge profits by way of advertising revenue, it also saw a new breed of men taking the paper over.The reconstituted board of directors was entirely made up of Mrs Gandhi’s staunch supporters, among them Rajni Patel and Mohammad Yunus, or industrialists with equally unshakable loyalties to Mrs Gandhi like Kuldip Raj Narang and M. R. Shervani.Once they entered the scene in 1975, matters began to go from bad to worse. On the one hand, money was poured into the company (the National Herald building in Lucknow was completed last year) and extensive redecoration plans were set into motion for the Delhi building. On the other hand, working conditions began to deteriorate.A new set of managers brought in by the directors “redesigned” the finances, and members of the editorial staff saw the emergence of a new caste system. “There was no doubt that the paper was Mrs Gandhi’s show when I first joined the sports desk in 1971,” said a reporter, “but by 1975, it seemed that the caucus had taken over. From Yunus to Yashpal Kapur, they all had a new interest in the paper. Naturally, employees closest to them got the plums.”Soon after the Emergency ended, the new look conferred upon the National Herald began to fade rapidly. Yunus resigned as managing director, though the decision was pending till last fortnight. Suddenly editorial warfare broke out in the form of an employees’ union agitation to oust the news editor Vishnu Dutt and the editor-in-chief Chalapathi Rau. Rau resigned of his own accord in June last year.Closure: Members of the Associated Journals Workers’ Union first came to Delhi in July 1977 to announce that the management wished to close down the Delhi establishment. This divided the factions further. Constant walk overs by members of the union to the side of the management and back, were only made worse by the management’s growing political insecurity.Rebirth: Then began a desperate wrangle to keep the show going. A meeting of the board of directors on December 12 failed to come up with any feasible solutions. Again the union president went to see Mrs Gandhi whom he found in an irritable mood when he asked for an inquiry into the functioning of the management, “This is hardly the time for an inquiry,” she snapped back. She also said that she had tried to obtain aid from Dixit, Shah and Rajni Patel but none was forthcoming.After the paper’s closure, the employees took up the issue firmly. Pushed into a corner they began to fight back – legally, politically and through the media. “We tried every channel. We sought legal help, approached Janata leaders and mobilized public opinion because we were determind that the paper should revive,” said Bhushan Raina, the president of the newspaper’s employees union.One last bid made by some of the employees was to approach Dr Karan Singh. According to some members of the editorial staff, Dr Karan Singh proposed either to take over the paper lock, stock and barrel or to lend his name and support to a workers’ cooperative which would manage the paper.”But in one way or another he wanted control of the paper.” Dr Karan Singh denies these claims. He told India Today last week that when approached by some Herald employees, he offered to support and participate in the cooperative but he made it clear that he would not put any money into the paper under any circumstances.New Management: According to Kapur, Mrs Gandhi summoned him on December 29 and asked him to take the paper over. Kapur admits that he had been involved in the paper earlier, “but it was only for Dixitji, who was managing director till 1972. After that he became a minister, so I just used to help as a friend by getting advertisements and so on.”Charanjit Singh, chairman – old associationKapur also said that he had put no money in the paper. Charanjit Singh, the new chairman told india today: “Except for the statutory number of shares worth Rs 1,000 which the chairman is expected to buy, I have put in no money. My association with the paper goes back to the time of Pandit Nehru – we were the contractors for the Herald building in New Delhi. So naturally when I was appointed chairman by the outgoing board of directors I could not refuse.”Both Singh and Kapur claim that because they have recently taken over, they know little about the company’s accounts and would make no comment about misapplication of funds by the previous management. While Singh discreetly said that he did not think “Yunus had much time for the paper,” Kapur vehemently denied claims by some of the paper’s employees that the new management had invested an initial sum of Rs 10 lakhs in the company.All the staff have been paid their salaries for the last month, several of the arrears have been cleared, and within a week of taking over the new management is showing signs of reviving the paper’s fortunes. “This paper was never run as a commercial proposition,” said Kapur, “but now with a few changes, let us see what happens. …” Kapur intends to make it a “popular” paper.”The basic policies will not change,” he said implying that the paper would intensify the views of Mrs Gandhi’s camp. “After all,” added Kapur, “there are not many who have the guts to attack the present Government.” Asked if he would call the Herald a party paper, Kapur said: “Not wholly so… because the Congress has been associated with the paper, Congressmen tend to take it as a Congress paper.”Kapur further said that although he has been appointed managing director on a salary of Rs 2,500 a month, he was not going to accept it while he remained an MP. He also claims that the finance mobilized by the paper so far to pay off salaries and arrears has been either through advertisement revenue that continues to trickle in or through his personal efforts in collecting subscriptions. “During the convention we got about 500 annual subscriptions,” said Kapur, “and we are getting about 50 a day on an average since.”But newspapers do not run through subscriptions. Particularly dailies like the Herald, which possess neither editorial appeal nor shrewd management. “The Herald was first Nehru’s paper, and now it is his daughter’s,” said a member of the editorial staff, “but I’m grateful for getting my job back.” “The battle for control over the paper,” said another employee, “ran parellel to the Congress divide.Mrs Gandhi only called upon her old manager, Kapur’s services as a last resort. She tried every source before that. When there was no help forthcoming, and she was heading a crack-up in the Congress, then she had to revert to the caucus for help. The paper is her platform now. And necessity is the mother of invention.last_img