April 22, 2011
Another battle has erupted among the family members of Kasturi and Sons, which owns and operates The Hindu newspaper and other publications. This follows a decision of the board to appoint a professional, Siddharth Varadarajan as editor of the flagship daily, The Hindu, in an apparent move to relieve all family members of their editorial responsibilities.Vardarajan has been made editor in place of N Ravi, current editor-in-chief N Ram’s brother, who was to take over from him, according to the family’s succession plan.
In the new plan, Ram will step down from his responsibilities, along with four others on the board, aimed at ending family’s role in editorial decision-making. If the decision is ratified by extraordinary general body meeting (EGBM) on May 20, it would mean the removal of N Ravi, Nirmala Lakshman, K Venugopal and Malini Parthasarathy, all cousins, from their present editorial jobs.But family members allege that the move will ensure Ram’s control over the newspaper even though he will not be editor-in-chief. “The original succession plan was to handover the charge to me. The decision usurps it,” Ravi, who is exploring legal options to challenge the decision, said.Ravi said Ram and his supporters were trying to impose a succession plan that went against the family tradition of 132 years and was in violation of their suggestion of appointing a family business consultation for determining the succession plan.N Ram refuted the claim in a statement saying “separation of ownership and management is a principle many successful organisations maintain... when it comes to newspaper organisations, eight of the top 10 English newspapers in the country have non-family professional as an editor”.Ram’s statement was in response to N Ravi’s email to The Hindu employees on Tuesday, which said: “Ram seems bent on taking all editorial directors --- most are in their 50s — into retirement with him, with a scorched earth policy to ensure no one in the family succeeds him…In a sudden change of rules and under specious plea of separating ownership from management, alongwith my removal as editor, Nirmala Lakshman is forced to step down as joint editor and Malini Parathasarathy as executive editor.’Ravi also questioned Ram’s role as an editor, specifically linking a front-page interview of sacked telecom minister A Raja to a “hurriedly arranged full page advertisement” for the newspaper from the telecom ministry. “News coverage is linked directly to advertising in a way that is little different from paid news,” he said, in his email, while alleging that the newspaper was giving undue coverage to certain “political favourites” and has a distinctive pro-Left and pro-China bias. Ravi has also said Ram was “indulging in an unceasing self-glorification campaign, publishing his own ribbon cutting pictures and speeches with a regularity that would put corporate house journals to shame”. It is not for the first time that a succession battle has hit the Hindu. Last March, managing director N Murali, Ram’s second brother was replaced by K Balaji, another board member and his cousin. Finally, the Company Law Board, Chennai, re-instated Murali quashing the decision of the board.Although Ram described the Monday’s board decision in pursuance of the Company Law Board’s directions, both Ravi and Murali termed the move as “unfair” and said the original succession plan should be enforced.The decision at the board’s meeting will have to be ratified by Extraordinary General Body (EGB) meeting of all shareholders, who are members of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar family, on May 20. Kasturi and Sons have 12 board members and the EGB, 50.