After a big controversy, The National Herald, the Congress party’s newspaper that was the voice of India’s independence movement, is going to be re-launched in October after a gap of six years. Veteran journalist Suman Dubey, a close friend of the Gandhi family, is being consulted for the project. According to Motilal Vora, chairman of Associated Journals Pvt. Ltd (AJL) which publishes The National Herald, a board meeting on the matter is likely to be held in a few days. By launching this paper in such present circumstances, Congress will have voice of their own to struggle with the present day battle.
The National Herald was established in Lucknow on September 9, 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru. The paper carried on its masthead the words ‘Freedom is in Peril, Defend it with All Your 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 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 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 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 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 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 lent 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 Rs. 60 lakh per month, TCS pays Rs. 27 lakh. 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. Let’s see, how the re-launching of the paper overshadows this controversy.