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Will judgement be delivered in National Herald case?

People on social media and political rivals are waiting for the day to hear some verdict against Gandhi’s, but there is no progress in this case. The Delhi High Court termed as “infructuous” the applications moved by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul and some other party leaders alleging a “different treatment” was meted out to a challenge filed by them in the National Herald case. The Gandhis’ in their application had said their petition challenging a trial court order in the case was transferred in violation of the procedures and practice being followed by the court. The application also said that their challenge petition ought to have been listed before the bench of Justice Gaur before whom the matter was pending for over eight months and was heard by him at length on several occasions.

The National Herald, the Congress party newspaper was the voice of India’s independence movement. Veteran journalist Suman Dubey, a close friend of the Gandhi family, is being consulted on the project. National Herald is a newspaper founded and edited by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in Lucknow on September 9, 1938. The paper carried on its masthead the words ‘Freedom is in Peril, Defend it with All You Might’ taken from a cartoon by Gabriel from Brentford, Middlesex that Indira Gandhi had forwarded to Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru was an early editor of the newspaper and until his appointment as Prime Minister was the Chairman of the Herald’s Board of Directors. In 1938, K. Rama Rao was appointed as the paper’s first editor. Following the Quit India Resolution of August 1942, the British Raj clamped down on the Indian press and the paper was shut between 1942 and 1945. The Herald reopened in 1945 and from 1946 to 1950, Feroze Gandhi served as the paper’s Managing Director, helping restore its financial health. From 1946 to 1978, Manikonda Chalapathi Rau served as its editor. The paper had editions from Lucknow and New Delhi, the latter begun in 1968. In Delhi, the paper was based out of Herald House on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, known as Delhi’s Fleet Street while in Lucknow it was based out of the Nehru Bhawan and Nehru Manzil buildings. The National Herald also had Hindi and Urdu editions named Navjeevan and Quami Awaz.

The paper’s fortunes were closely tied with those of the Indian National Congress. Post-Independence, it was shut down for two years from 1977 following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the 1977 General Elections that followed the Emergency. By 1986, the paper again faced the prospect of closure but was revived a year later following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention. The Lucknow operations of the paper were shut down in 1998 and much of its property was auctioned off under court orders to settle outstanding debts. In January 2008 discussions about closure began. On 1 April 2008, the paper’s editorial (of its sole remaining edition, New Delhi) announced that it was temporarily suspending operations. The paper had failed to modernise its print technology and had not computerised at the time of suspending operations and had been making losses for several years owing to lack of advertising revenues and overstaffing. At the time of its closure T V Venkitachalam was its editor-in-chief.

In the recent past Subramaniyam Swamy, in his complaint, alleged that The Associated Journals Ltd.(AJL) was formally closed in 2008 as it was under a huge unpaid debt of around Rs.90 crore. He alleged that on November 23, 2010 under the Companies Act Young Indian Pvt Ltd company was incorporated in which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi owned 38 per cent shares each. In December 2010, Swamy claimed, YI’s board of directors passed a resolution to “own” AJL’s outstanding debt and “admittedly obtained an unsecured zero interest loan from the Congress party” for an equivalent amount to liquidate the debt. The Congress denies that allegation and says it gave Associated Journals a Rs. 90 crore loan because it was in dire straits.

The court, in its earlier order, said, “From the complaint and the evidence led so far, it appears that YI was in fact created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use or as a special purpose vehicle for acquiring control over Rs.2000 crore worth of assets of The Associated Journals Ltd.(AJL). It said the accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Moti Lal Vohra, Oscar Fernandes were the office bearers and trustees of the funds of the Congress party and the funds of the party were not the personal property of the accused. The funds entrusted to them by the party were to be utilised to advance the purposes for which the Congress party was formed. These funds could not have been advanced in the form of an interest-free loan to AJL, as no provisions exists in the Representation of the People Acts or the constitution of the party permitting grant of any such loan to a company engaged in commercial activities. In the past two years since the Gandhi-family-led private company called Young Indian took over Associated Journals, four floors of the five-storey building have been let out at market rates.

The ground floor and the first floor are let out to the Passport Seva Kendra of the Ministry of External Affairs and the second and the third floor to IT major Tata Consultancy Services or TCS. While Passport Seva Kendra pays a market rent of about 60 lakh rupees per month, TCS pays 27 lakh rupees. On the top floor is the office of Young Indian, registered under section 25 of the Companies Act, which lists Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as majority stakeholders with 76 per cent stake in total. The rest is divided between Congress veterans Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes. The Congress claims Young Indian is a non-profit company, but questions are being asked about who benefits from Associated Journal’s properties. Like Herald House, Young Indian has also acquired other major properties across the country worth Rs. 5,000 crore, the complaint in court alleges. I doubt this case will ever come to the conclusion.

Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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