Mount Road Mahavishnu in a succession tangle. By M. C. Rajan in Chennai
IT IS open war within the The Hindu clan, running the familyowned newspaper empire. The present crisis was triggered by Editor- in- Chief N. Ram easing out his brother N. Ravi as editor and replacing him with senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan. Along with Ravi, executive editor Malini Parthasarathy was also sacked. Now this decision needs only to be ratified by shareholders of Kasturi & Sons Ltd.
Of the 12 directors, seven supported Ram’s move to bring in a non- family editor.
“ At its meeting of April 18, 2011, the Board… decided on a coherent framework of editorial succession, keeping all aspects in mind, and adopted several resolutions. It decided to appoint Siddharth Varadarajan, National Bureau Chief and an outstanding professional, as Editor of The Hindu , reporting to N. Ram, Editor- in- Chief, The Hindu , in such time as the Board of Directors of the Company may decide. It decided further that Siddharth Varadarajan would be The Hindu ’s Editor responsible for selection of news under the PRB Act when N. Ram steps down as Editorin- Chief of The Hindu and N. Ravi steps down as Editor of The Hindu . “ The other Directors working on the editorial side would also step down from their current editorial designations in such time as the Board may decide and become part of a committee of the Board of Directors known as the Editorial Board. The Editorial Board would be available for advising the Editor responsible for selection of news under the PRB Act but would not have any role in the day- to- day editorial functioning of the newspaper,” Ram wrote on Thursday to his colleagues.
Things were never the same in the 132- year- old newspaper ever since Ram became the Editorin- Chief in 2003, by ‘ stealth’ according to Ravi, reviving the battle of the brothers for the overall control of the ` 800 crore empire.
As per an earlier agreement, Ram was to have stepped down on May 4, 2010 on attaining the age of 65. No wonder, his detractors have cried foul, for Ravi was waiting to take over as Editor- in- Chief. Now he finds himself kicked out.
As a prelude to this, N. Murali, another brother of Ram and a joint- MD, was stripped of his powers in March last year.
A deeply anguished Ravi shot off a mail to the employees on Wednesday, a day after the Board meeting.
“ In a shocking display of bad faith, N. Ram and some of the directors have sought to remove me and appoint as Editor Siddharth Varadarajan who joined The Hindu in 2004,” Ravi, who joined the paper as a reporter in 1972, said.
After Ravi’s missive, Ram was forced to explain the rationale for his ‘ mission to modernise the management’. Briefing the department heads on Thursday evening, he came out with a letter listing top 10 newspapers of which only two — The Hindu and The Telegraph — have family editors. To substantiate his argument, he said: “ Separation of ownership and management is a principle many successful organisations maintain.”
BUT Ravi sees the paper entering a second but prolonged phase of conflict and turbulence. “ Almost a year past the agreed retirement date, his position having become untenable in the face of the Company Law Board order, Ram seems bent on taking all the editorial directors — most are in their 50s — into retirement with him with a scorched earth policy to ensure that no one in the family succeeds him,” Ravi argued.
For Ravi, separating ownership from management is only a camouflage to accomplish this as Nirmala Lakshman is to be forced to “ step down” as Joint Editor and Malini Parthasarathy as Executive Editor.
This, according to Ravi, is contrary to the Company Law Board order which has called for a policy of permanent succession corporate governance.
“ We are for a flexible approach of inducting qualified and meritorious people from the family with outside evaluation.
“ Even McKinsey Consultants’s have opined that there should not be any bar on qualified family members joining the management or the editorial. Moreover, when the company spends on the education of the wards by sending them abroad, why not utilise them? Separation of management from ownership per se will not bring in the desired results,” Ravi wrote.
“ Even before finalising the plans for restructuring, he has rushed through the appointments,” he maintained.
But Ram dismissed it saying that the Company Law Board has declined to intervene in the matter of editorial succession and asked the Board and the shareholders to consider it without delay.
And he was careful enough to pitchfork his claim with crediting the staff for the newspaper’s success all these years besides donning the cloak of modernity and professionalism.