From dynasty to plain nasty: Satya Sagar

  Guest post by SATYA SAGAR

The shocking spectacle of Siddharth Varadarajan, the Editor of The Hindu, being forced out of his post by a cabal of its owners is a brutal reminder to journalists all over the country that however fine a professional you may be you will always remain at the mercy of media proprietors.

Just around two years ago when N. Ram, the then Editor of The Hindu, passed on the mantle to Varadarajan, a highly respected and independent journalist, he had touted the move as a radical shift away from being a family run outfit to one headed by professionals.

Ram’s motives were neither clear nor very noble, engaged as he was in a bitter struggle with his siblings over control of the newspaper. Still, for the newspaper to move away from its long tradition of tight family control was a welcome, positive departure in a land where dynasties run everything from politics and religion to cricket and cinema.

Unfortunately, this flowering of corporate democracy was not to last too long. Ultimately the family managed to strike back with a vengeance, ganging up in a Board of Director’s meeting to demote Siddharth from the post of Editor to ‘Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist’ prompting his immediate resignation.

In a statement published in The Hindu Ram justified the move as being due to ‘recurrent violations and defiance” of both the institution’s business and editorial values, without explaining what this really meant. It was also not clear at all whether Siddharth was ever given a chance to defend himself before the Board acted against him.

The key vote against Siddharth at the meeting incidentally came from N.Ram himself, for whom his former protégé’s independence may have been a bit too much to bear. Ram’s own tenure for years as Editor of The Hindu had seen the newspaper go from being a conservative but balanced newspaper to one full of glaring biases.

The Hindu’s whitewash under N.Ram, of the atrocities of the CPM government in Nandigram or the Mahinda Rajapakse regime’s genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils in Mullaivaikal, will forever go down as among the sorriest episodes in journalism anywhere. Ram’s refusal to give even a millimeter of space to anything that went against his political or business prejudices bordered on the maniacal, though one truly unsavory characters to get regular and ample coverage then was Subramaniam Swamy- with whom he apparently shared a common ‘love’ for China.

In sharp contrast Siddharth brought refreshing change to The Hindu, with some of the finest editorials on a wide range of themes to be ever written anywhere in recent times appearing on its pages in the last two years. Very courageously, he also opened it up to varying viewpoints and people – from Dalit intellectuals to anti-nuclear activists- who normally never get a say in much of the Indian media.

Thanks to Siddharth, for the first time ever, the ‘Mahavishnu of Mount Road’ got off His pedestal and became accessible to ordinary mortals. Under professional leadership.The Hindu actually became what it has always pretended to be earlier – but never was – engaging, democratic and progressive.

Within The Hindu today there are stories doing the rounds that the Board’s action was a‘pre-emptive one’ and motivated by a case filed by Ram’s friend Swamy challenging Siddharth’s eligibility to be editor of an Indian newspaper as he was a ‘foreigner’. Siddharth is supposed to be a US citizen but this was obviously known when he was appointed and besides, in a country run by people with Indian passports and hearts in Washington, does it really matter?

Another story being spread is that The Hindu in the last couple of years took too hard a line against Narendra Modi and there was no distinction between ‘editorial’ and ‘news’ anymore. The Hindu’s coverage of anti-nuclear protests, particularly the Koodankulam issue in southern Tamil Nadu, is also supposed to have spelt his doom.

N Power, N Modi or N Ram- we will never know which one of them was really the cause of Siddharth’s ouster. The fact however, remains what The Hindu has done to its former Editor is the public humiliation of a professional that should not just be condemned but challenged by journalists everywhere.

To let it go unchallenged would spell the end of the slenderest possibility that remains of the Indian media being an instrument of telling any truths and offering space to anyone of courage and integrity. The petty assertion of dynastical privileges in The Hindu goes to the heart of everything that is wrong with Indian democracy today and should be resolutely resisted by all who value its survival.

Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker based in Santiniketan, West Bengal. He can be reached at sagarnama@gmail.com

14 thoughts on “From dynasty to plain nasty: Satya Sagar”

  1. Excellent piece. The fact is that The Hindu under Sidharth Vardarajan was the last media institution withstanding the RSS/Modi attempt to overawe and browbeat the media into submission. Ram, who for all his fraudulent Leftist pretensions, promoted L K Advani in 2008, like a true businessman wanted to be on the right of Narendra Modi now.But let me tell you there is a very large anti-RSS/Modi readership in this country. The hindu is number one paper in AMU. For all the Midification Hindu will never be able to compete with The Times of India and in the process lose its existing readership as well. It will turn into another Statesman soon

    1. I Completely agree. Without Sidharth, it is matter of time Hindu falls inline with rest of the Media houses. Shame !!

  2. I thought Kafila ran away from big media – its writers are still enamoured of it, I see!

    I can understand the ‘pain’ of all these folk over the shenanigans in Chennai’s Mount Road. Of course, we will all raise a lament every time big media loses its chance to uphold and practice good journalism. But surely our grief must be tempered with some understanding of the true nature of the media?

    geeta

  3. I completely agree with this article and condemn the undemocratic and arbitrary act of Ram dynasty.

  4. Your approach is entirely biased.Ask the employees who suffered due to the “dictatorial policies and arbitrary firmans” of Mr.Varadarajan. The employees who “suffered” and even had to “resign” will tell you how `professional’ or `unprofessional’ Siddarth Varadarajan was.The careers of old-timers were “butchered” at one go by the might pen of Varadarajan without even giving them opportunity to defend themselves. The long “experience” of senior journalists was “zeroized” by Mr.Varadarajan and his cronies.

    1. Articles like these are based on personal musings and not on research. As much as the show was portrayed in the media, the author took took all of it in and made a haphazard article to write an ‘alternate’ opinion, which happens to be a result of the most banal work presented by the media.

  5. one of the last hopes of independent mainstream media surviving in india has been cynically betrayed. but this cannot humiliate siddharth. for him there are only kudos from grateful journalists across india. the humiliation is all n ram’s

  6. The editorial shift that Mr Varadarjan had brought to the newspaper itself speak of his abilities as a strategist at the helm. The Hindu proprietors should have taken care of that aspect than pursuing their family conundrum and infighting by sacking the editor. We journalists and the readers still have faith in the newspaper, thought chinks are there, and we want to see the newspaper flourish further. But when the owners , it seems, are trying their level best to annul the growth of the mouthpiece, we are left with no other choice but to wait and watch the whole lot of tamasha that is still to be staged.

  7. 1) Your hero was removed because he is not an Indian citizen on the order of the Hon SC,

    2) Brow beat the media!! you got to be kiddin man!! the media which acts as the uncaged parrot of the Congress ha ha… please have free media …I am all for it, lol

  8. Mr Ram’s hand was forced by RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani. There was a lot of consternation against the decision but things eventually mellowed after there was consensus on the futility to challenge Ambani. Sid Vardarajan was going hard at Ambani.. Under him, Hindu was leading the coverage on the CAG’s damning report on how Ambani deliberately under produced gas in KG and was hurting national interests to hold the government of India hostage to his profit mongering antics. Hondu’s aggressive stance on Ambani, I am sorry to say, was the only credible achievement under Vardarajan. His editorial blunders were proving to be an embarrassment for the family. Hindu’s Hyderabad editor was being accused of blackmailing the state DGP. Even Hindu’s famed international reporting was proving to be embarrassing.The Hindu woke up late to the Nigerian mall terror attack and despite having its own reporter in Ethiopia could not lead the coverage of the event in India. The continent’s highly anticipated coverage by a respectable newspaper turned out to be an exercise in futility as most of the coverage was almost a week late Vardarajan’s attempt to brand stories looked like Hindu had ripped the headlines off last night’s bulletin on Times Now. It is a sorry mess at Hindu.Sid loses his editorship for the best and most daring coverage of India’s untouchable corporate czar in the media

  9. Under Vardarajan, Hindu’s readership had also gone up significantly and it was closing its gap with HT (the national No. 2 behind TOI) and expandings its lead over Deccan Chronicle (the local challenger to Hindu’s South Indian Readership. Taking out Vardarajan is only justified by dynasty and not by any kind of business sense..

  10. I agree with Mr. Satya Sagar on some salient points he has raised but he wrongly equates business and politics. In a capitalist society, running a media house is a business and it is run according to the ideological leanings of the proprietor. Running a business and heading a political party in a liberal democratic society are two different things. It would be an ultimate achievement if a successful media house can be run along the principle of guild socialism or syndicalism but it is almost impossible in the present society. Mr. Siddharth Varadarajan was made editor by Mr. N. Ram to settle scores with his brother and niece and it was well known fact. Now the rival parties reached a compromise and the way out is handing over the mantle to Mr.N. Ravi who deserves it. Ravi is a liberal democrat and staunch anti-Hindutva and I don’t think he would ever support Mr. Modi or BJP. Both Siddharth Varadarajan and Ravi are highly competent and brilliant in their field. It is really sad that Siddharth Varadarajan was used as a pawn in the Hindu family feud. Don’t forget that Siddharth himself knew this fact when he was appointed editor. The Hindu handle the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict issue in the same way how The New York Times handle the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is a huge black mark for otherwise good newspaper. Particularly it is a great blot on N. Ram’s leftist credentials.

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