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Still The Hindu Divided Family?

Siddharth Varadarajan, the first non-dynastic professional Editor of The Hindu newspaper, publicly announced his resignation after nearly two years in office, as he posted on Twitter:

Soon thereafter came a full formal announcement by the Hindu on its website: Changes at the Helm: Editorial and Business:

N. Ravi has taken over as Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, and Malini Parthasarathy as Editor of The Hindu. Arun Anant is no longer the Chief Executive Officer of Kasturi & Sons Limited, the company that owns and publishes The Hindu Group of publications. N. Ram has become Chairman of KSL and Publisher of The Hindu and Group publications; and N. Murali, Co-Chairman of the company. These decisions were taken by the Board of Directors of the Company at its meeting on Monday.

In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, who was made Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist, The Hindu, has submitted his resignation.

The Board also decided to allocate specific responsibilities to other Directors.

The decision to make deep-going changes was made chiefly on the ground that there were recurrent violations and defiance of the framework of the institution’s longstanding values on the business side, and recurrent violations and defiance of ‘Living Our Values’, the mandatory Code of Editorial Values applicable to The Hindu. The whole effort is to restore employee morale, good industrial relations, and the trust of this newspaper’s more than two million readers.

The existing editorial arrangements for Business Line, Frontline, Sportstar, and The Hindu (Tamil) will continue unchanged and the process of professionalisation, now involving a mix of shareholder-Directors and other professionals, will continue.

The 135-year-old institution reaffirms its commitment to its core editorial and business values, and excellence in journalism.

- N. Ram, Chairman, Kasturi & Sons Limited

'Casting vote invalid'

The board decision, however, was anything but unanimous, as it was the chairman N.Ram's casting vote which apparently clinched the decision. The dissenting directors have already stated that they wish to contest the decision through an appropriate mechanism:

The Mint quotes N.Ram as saying:

Ram said “no difference was maintained between news stories and editorial pieces.”

He denied that the move was prompted by the case filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Subramanian Swamy on Varadarajan’s ineligibility to be editor of the paper because he is a US citizen, but admitted that it “was hanging like a sword over our heads.”

The case is scheduled for hearing before the Delhi High Court on Wednesday.

'We took a wrong turn two years back'

T.E. Narasimhan quotes N. Ram in the Business Standard: Kasturi and Sons patch up, get back to top positions

...On today's development, Ram said that he was the prime initiator of this new development and said it is a "big change" for the institution.

"We realised we took a wrong turn two years back and we found that we went off the rails on the business and editorial side. There are continuous violations of the frame work of the values, while handling industrial relation on the business side and on the Editorial side, reportedly recurrent violation of the code of Editorial values of the Hindu," said Ram

He went on to say, several attempts were made to correct, "we also found the Editor was hardly in Chennai and he was unable to focus on Chennai, which is our head quarter from the commercial and journalistically", said Ram.

"Chennai and Tamil Nadu editions are very important, since they are number one and bulk of the circulation, readership and revenue are coming from these editions," said Ram.

When asked for a response to the Hindu's formal announcement on its website, and also to N. Ram's remarks as reported by the Mint and the Business Standard, Siddharth Varadarajan replied in an email:

If indeed policies or editorial values were flouted, the solution would have been to get another professional editor. The fact that the owners have come back into editorial itself provides the answer to this question.

Of course, there were occasional instances of editorialising that slipped in, just as they did when Mr. Ram or Mr Ravi edited The Hindu earlier. But I fear this is merely an excuse to reverse the earlier decision to professionalise the newspaper. Under me, The Hindu became more feisty and readable than before, had better local coverage in the cities it publishes from than before, regularly broke major stories and investigations, fearlessly took on powerful corporate interests that the rest of the media chose to ignore, refused to mindlessly join media bandwagons whether on Modi or Pakistan or dumbing down news, ran powerful, trend-setting national and international reportage and had emerged as a major trendsetter in the public sphere.

Two years back
 
Varadarajan's appointment had been effected on July 20, 2011 in a KSL board meeting by a majority of 7 to 5, over the objections of the the brothers of the then editor in chief Mr N. Ram, Mr N. Murali and Mr N. Ravi, and their cousins, sisters Ms Malini Parthasarathy, Ms Nirmala Lakshman and Ms Nalini Krishnan. Today, N. Ram basically threw his lot in with the five he had earlier opposed. Not only did he vote with these five to tie the board's decision 6-6, but then also voted again as the tie-breaker.

The meeting had then taken place in the background of the Supreme Court choosing to steer clear of the Hindu’s internal family tussle for control, and directing the Company Law Board (CLB) to hear the case of the dispute over control on a day to day basis.

Mr Varadarajan was the first non-dynastic professional to be appointed Editor of the paper but his appointment instead of being celebrated as a new landmark in the paper's history had led to resignations from Mr N. Ravi as Editor, Ms Malini Parthasarathy as Executive Editor, and Ms Nirmala Lakshman as Joint Editor who had objected to his appointment. K Balaji had stepped down as managing director of KSL

In the same board meeting which took the decision to appoint him as editor, it was also decided, in accordance with changed succession norms, that Mr Ram would step down from his responsibilities, along with four others on the board.  

The Hindu used to be edited by G. Kasturi from 1965 to 1991. The power-struggle in the extended family is said to go back to this period. On his retirement, the then Deputy Editor N. Ravi, N. Ram's younger brother, replaced G. Kasturi as Editor. N. Ram was given independent charge of Sportstar and Frontline. Nirmala Lakshman, Kasturi Srinivasan's granddaughter, became Joint Editor of The Hindu and her sister, Malini Parthasarathy, Executive Editor. There was a change at the helm once again in 2003 when N. Ram took over the editorship of The Hindu on June 27, 2003.

The Kasturi board of directors has 12 members, descending from four cousins -- sons of the two second generation owners, Kasturi Srinivasan and Kasturi Gopalan -- who hold 25% equity each: G Narasimhan (father of N Ram, N Ravi, N Murali); S Parthasarathy (father of Malini Parthasarathy, Nirmala Lakshman and Nalini Krishnan); S Rangarajan (father of Ramesh Rangarajan, Vijaya Arun and Akila Iyengar) and G Kasturi (father of K Balaji, K Venugopal and Lakshmi Srinath).

Background blogs:

Some of the reactions on Twitter:

 

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