Date:13/09/2003 URL:

Looking back


A 155mm Bofors howitzer in the Drass sector, 1999.

With the death of Kasturi Srinivasan who was very much in charge of everything at The Hindu, there was bound to be considerable change in style in the management of the organisation. Without that dominant personality around, there was likely to be a greater tendency to management by committee. A second blow to the family-run institution came in February 1961 with the untimely death of his elder son, the affable and popular Parthasarathy, who was in charge of the Sunday magazine and had also become Publisher of the newspaper in 1959.

Kasturi Gopalan, Srinivasan's younger brother, was Printer and Publisher of the newspaper for close to half a century. As long as The Hindu continued to do justice to his passion, sport, above all hockey, and the religious discourse he had introduced, he was content to let others guide the destiny of the organisation. But that was not to say he withdrew from the paper. One of the longest office attendance and punctuality records anywhere was his. From 1913 till his death in 1974, he arrived at the office every day right on the dot and spent several hours a day in it. He was convinced that an orthodox life was perfectly compatible with a modern and progressive outlook in a variety of ways. Duty and devotion to the National Press and the family was what he aimed to demonstrate with punctiliousness in the office and observance of rituals elsewhere.

Gopalan's elder son G. Narasimhan, was General Manager of The Hindu from 1937 and succeeded Srinivasan as Managing Editor and Managing Director. A retiring man who did not seek the limelight, he was the ideal committee chairman, able to lead discussions and, with his fine logical mind, point out discrepancies, omissions and commissions. The courteous and patient Narasimhan proved popular. He was considered such a benevolent employer that it came as a surprise when The Hindu had its second and third major labour problems in 1967 and 1968, but when the situation returned to normal, there was the unruffled Narasimhan committing himself calmly to restoring the confidence of the employees. A clubbable man, he had a life-long passion for Carnatic music - bequeathing to the Music Academy in Madras a unique collection of tape recordings of all the outstanding musicians of his time - and a deep interest in sports like horse racing, billiards and golf, which he played himself and quietly promoted. His death in 1977, when only 61, left behind a comparatively young family. His sons Ram and Ravi were in the Editorial Department and Murali was in management, becoming General Manager in 1977.

With Narasimhan as Managing Editor, it was judged prudent to have an editor with long journalistic experience. So an older person, a cousin of Srinivasan, S Parthasarathy, was named and Narasimhan's brother, Kasturi, appointed Joint Editor. Parthasarathy - S.P. as he was called - was a self-effacing person, yet was more knowledgeable about men and matters of the time than anyone else in the paper. As Senior Sub-editor and, later, as the first recognised News Editor of the paper, he trained a couple of generations of journalists in The Hindu to respect accuracy and language. They, in turn, saw in him a sympathetic father figure to whom they could turn when in difficulty. He believed editorials should be notable not only for their language but also for their ability to see all sides of an issue. His advocacy of the people's cause during Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar's dewanship in Travancore and his defence of India on the Kashmir issue were well appreciated throughout the country. Considered an expert on Pakistan, he would, at editorial conferences, forcefully argue Pakistan's case and, then, with an array of facts and a display of incisive logic, demolish it and arrive at what he was going to say in his next editorial. He was the quintessential newspaperman who felt that if you were well informed and acquainted with varying points of view, you would be able to work out for yourself the just view.

It was during S.P.'s stewardship that India first faced war crises that threatened the security of the country and generated throughout the nation a hysterical call to arms. But The Hindu presented cogently argued cases and stressed negotiation and reorganisation. Backing India's position on the "inviolability" of the MacMahon line, the paper commented: "China must choose between friendship with India and mere acquisition of territory of which she has enough and more already." In the wake of the Sino-Indian boundary conflict of October 1962, The Hindu editorialised that India had "done... [its] best to avoid a war" and could "negotiate only on honourable terms and not when our soil is being increasingly occupied by the Chinese."

The Hindu, August 26, 2003.

When Prime Minister Nehru died in 1964, The Hindu, which begun to be disappointed in him, remembered him handsomely: "Child of the Indian Revolution ... leadership came naturally to him and he proved himself a man of the masses almost from the time he plunged into the non-co-operation movement ... It is given to few leaders to achieve in their lifetime all that they set out to accomplish in their youth. Jawaharlal must be deemed exceptionally fortunate in this respect because he did achieve a great many things in a life of crowded activity ... he has a secure place in history as a great national leader who used his high prestige and influence among the nations in the cause of world peace and international understanding. His greatest achievement undoubtedly is the fact that despite the horrors of partition and the surge of communal passions and linguistic loyalties he kept India united within a democratic secular framework and set her firmly on the road to economic development and modernisation."

The second war crisis came with Ayub Khan, the military dictator, leading Pakistan. When Ayub Khan declared war on India, The Hindu wondered whether it was "a gambler's throw." Looking at what India was faced with, The Hindu commented ruefully: "For us in India grave times are ahead. A truculent neighbour, encouraged by the arms it has received from the West and the arrogance born of new found friendship with other enemies of peace has thrown a challenge which must be accepted calmly and courageously. It is a terrible experience for a peace loving democratic people, engaged in the building up of their national economy and raising living standards to be called upon to divert their energies to military activity and to resist an unscrupulous and well-armed enemy."

The moderate tone that Kasturi Srinivasan had brought to The Hindu was being echoed by S.P. He was, in the commitment to reasoned argument, to be followed by G. Kasturi when he became Editor in September 1965. He had been working closely with his uncle and the various outstanding journalists who served the newspaper. A keen sportsman, who showed a flair for both tennis and cricket, he gave up these pursuits in single-minded dedication to the newspaper. Much of Kasturi's time was spent on finding ways and means to reach The Hindu not only to the largest number of readers in the South but also to make it reach further and give meaning to its claim to be a national newspaper. The Hindu has always been a pioneer in technology and always paid close attention to management. Kasturi was the most technology-oriented of its editors ever. The technological innovations he helped introduce not only made the paper grow enormously but also showed the rest of the industry the way to technological improvement and modernisation.

The Hindu's first step towards reaching out to a larger readership had been taken by Srinivasan when his faith in the aeroplane had him using the world's and India's fledgling air services to transport The Hindu. Kasturi built on this and, in 1962, The Hindu became the first newspaper in India to charter a plane to deliver its newspapers - an Indian Airlines Dakota flew a Bangalore-Coimbatore-Madurai route and the cities and their hinterland got a morning edition. The next year, The Hindu made history when it bought four Herons. It became the first newspaper in the world operating its own fleet of aircraft to reach copies to readers over an extensive region. On September 29, 1963, the low-key newspaper, on one of those rare occasions in its existence, patted itself on the back with a front page picture and a vivid description of the "unique event in the history of world journalism."

When The Hindu in 1964 augumented its fleet with Dakotas, it was able to distribute the paper by air to Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Trivandrum and Cochin. By the middle of 1965, the newspaper was able to stop its dak edition. This was made possible by a splendid Circulation Department exercise linking air, rail and road transport to ensure that the morning edition of The Hindu penetrated deeper into the southern States, reaching the target areas no later than noon on the day of publication. C.G.K. Reddy, Business Manager, contributed considerably to the success of the planning and execution of this path-breaking exercise. No more were many of The Hindu's readers 24 hours behind their city confreres. It was a bold and revolutionary step that no other paper in India had even attempted. It was innovative for the rest of the world too and The Hindu's management stock rose sky high.

The cost of supplying readers their daily newspaper using the newspaper's own aircraft was, however, far too high. Weather conditions, especially the monsoons, made deliveries erratic at times. A better way of serving readers across South India had to be found. With technology making rapid strides in a world capitalising on wartime inventions, new means of transmission were being developed in the 1960s. The Hindu decided to replace its airfleet with new methods of inter-city transmission in the late 1960s. Kasturi, who spent much time on his trips abroad taking a look at developing newspaper technology, was in the forefront of taking The Hindu into the hi-tech age. The breakthrough answer was the facsimile mode of transmission.

Kasturi says The Hindu has always been a "lucky institution"; someone or something always turns up when the organisation needs help most. When the paper decided to go in for facsimile transmission, there happened to become available just the man to help make the changeover possible. Mahadevan of the Post and Telegraphs Department, a master of technology who knew the theory of the subject but not the practice, was just retiring at the time. The Hindu recruited him. The facsimile transmission process The Hindu was looking at had never been used in India, but Mahadevan was well aware of the intricacies of the task ahead. Kasturi got down an American expert to work with him - and they began to train the necessary staff.

The Hindu made newspaper history in India in July 1969 by printing a facsimile edition in Coimbatore to serve western Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Facsimile transmission to the newspaper's printing centres in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Madurai was established in the next decade. All these presses had modern web offset units offering high quality colour printing, which began with a press set up in Hyderabad in 1976. Once again, The Hindu was in the lead in printing technology - its colour offerings in the 1970s having their roots in 1940 when the paper became the first in the country to offer colour, even though it was spot colour in advertisements. In 1983, The Hindu further equipped itself at headquarters with a new Japanese printing machine to meet the demand for high quality colour printing. This it replaced in 1997 with an even more sophisticated Japanese machine that was yet another path breaker in India. The Hindu today produces in all its 11 printing centres up to 24 pages in the main section as well as supplements, many of them with a strong local flavour. Over 110 pages are made up every day.

While all this technological upgradation was going on under Kasturi's stewardship, The Hindu took another major step. Aware that the paper was read daily in the circles of power in the country's capital, but reached Delhi only in the afternoon, The Hindu decided to move out of the South for the first time and establish a national presence. To do this it took another pioneering step - linking up with an Indian communication satellite in September 1986 for facsimile transmission. The growth in The Hindu's circulation since the new technologies were introduced 30 years ago has been striking. From around 1,50,000 at the time, it has grown to 9,33,000 today.

K. Kamaraj reading The Hindu.

A significant feature of this technological advancement has been the painless way it was done. A clear and transparent assurance was given to the Union on this point and there has not been any retrenchment of employees at any time during the phases of technological modernisation. The consequence of this has been that not once has technology been the cause of any disagreement during talks with representatives of the workforce.

The content of The Hindu, its comprehensiveness, its reasoned comment and its commitment to technology and management in an India where these were still new made The Times, London choose it as one of the world's ten best newspapers in 1965. Discussing each of its choices in separate articles, The Times wrote:

"The Hindu takes the general seriousness to lengths of severity... The Hindu which is published in Madras, is the only newspaper which in spite of being published only in a provincial capital is regularly and attentively read in Delhi. It is read not only as a distant and authoritative voice on national affairs but as an expression of the most liberal - and least provincial - southern attitudes... Its Delhi Bureau gives it outstanding political and economic dispatches and it carries regular and frequent reports from all state capitals, so giving more news from states, other than its own, than most newspapers in India... It might fairly be described as a national voice with a southern accent. The Hindu can claim to be the most respected paper in India."

In 1968, the American Newspaper Publishers' Association chose The Hindu for its World Press Achievement Award. The citation reads in part: "Throughout nearly a century of its publication The Hindu has exerted wide influence not only in Madras but throughout India. Conservative in both tone and appearance, it has wide appeal to the English-speaking segment of the population and wide readership among government officials and business leaders... The Hindu has provided its readers a broad and balanced news coverage, enterprising reporting and a sober and thoughtful comment... [It] has provided its country a model of journalistic excellence... [It] has fought for a greater measure of humanity for India and its people... [and] has not confined itself to a narrow chauvinism. Its Correspondents stationed in the major capitals of the world furnish The Hindu world-wide news coverage... For its championing of reason over emotion, for its dedication to principle even in the face of criticism and popular disapproval, for its confidence in the future, it has earned the respect of its community, its country, and the world."

Indeed, management, the careful harbouring of income and resources and putting them to the best use, as much as the commitment to new technology have been The Hindu's strong points from Veeraraghavachariar's day. Management, however, was called on to do more during the Gopalan-Narasimhan-Kasturi era when The Hindu was affected by its second and third strikes in 1967 and 1968. In the first instance, the paper closed down for a month - and matters were settled only through the good offices of the first DMK Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai. Then, less than a year later, the paper had to stop publication for 72 days from August 20 to November 1, 1968. Readers regretted the absence of the paper. One of many letters of loyalty read: "The Hindu is not a good newspaper but a bad habit... .Many try but are not able to give up smoking. It is about the same with your esteemed daily. For my part I have successfully given up smoking." After weathering the strikes, The Hindu made its position clear on labour-management relations in newspaper offices: "A newspaper is different from other industrial undertakings in the sense that when it ceases operations the general public stands to lose as much, perhaps even more, as its own management and staff." One result of the strikes was the closing of that popular weekly Sport and Pastime - - though the more colourful The Sportstar was to emerge in the fiscally better times of 1978. The Weekly Review, which was also closed in the aftermath of the strike returned in a new fortnightly avatar, Frontline in late 1984, a dialectician's delight.

The Hindu's ambivalent attitude to the Congress, which it described as being an "independent and objective view," was put to the test when the country's first internal Emergency was declared on June 26, 1975. An editorial commenting on the proclamation of Emergency, to the effect "we hope it is temporary," was scrapped when the paper learnt that censorship had been imposed. It might have tested the waters with the publication of that editorial "but we just did not know what was going to happen and my brother and I decided to wait and see what would happen," explains Kasturi, speaking of the paper's lack of opposition to and indeed support for the Emergency. The paper adopted a wait-and-see policy, which was to last till January 1977 when the Emergency was withdrawn, and The Hindu noted editorially that Mrs. Gandhi had been "demagogic" and hers had been "an authoritarian and repressive regime."

The 18 months of the Emergency were not The Hindu's happiest hour. Not once during that period did it oppose the Emergency or even its prolongation. It welcomed the `discipline', even though it may be by punitive threat, in educational institutions, factories and government offices. It applauded the drive against smugglers and the corrupt and was appreciative of greater productivity in industry, with labour having been made "responsible". Of these matters, The Hindu wrote: "All round official corruption seems to have flourished under an umbrella of permissiveness. The public will expect that the present drive to improve discipline and efficiency in public offices will be followed or rather accompanied by all-out action to root out corruption too, for they are often interlinked."

The Hindu at that repressive time was forceful only on such matters as the population policy, urban land ceiling and economic planning. Welcoming the hard line taken by a couple of States, The Hindu felt that the Centre too should adopt a population policy that would be more a carrot-and-stick one. Firm in its belief that the population explosion should be tackled on a war footing, the paper wrote several times urging a more coercive family planning policy.

While The Hindu was urging legislative coercion as an essential part of the country's family planning policy, the route to more effective family planning was taking another, more frightening, route in the Hindi belt. The newspaper was to confess later that it was "ignorant" of the "gross excesses" of the family planning drive in the Hindi-speaking states "and other repression." The let sleeping dogs lie policy of The Hindu during the Emergency can be attributed to prudence, a considered decision to protect the interests of "the only institution we have."

While looking back, it is evident while its editorial comments on family planning would not be ones The Hindu would wish to make today, its attitude to a couple of Press Ordinances and to Land Ceiling was oppositional, if softly so.

With the Emergency over, The Hindu reverted to a period of quiet. Its well-reasoned opinion was read by many who mattered throughout the country, even if action on these opinions was less than forthcoming. On the other hand, for a larger readership, The Hindu offered a growing amount of political news from its own correspondents from all parts of the country, more news from abroad than most papers in the country, excellent sports coverage of major national teams - though sports like football and volleyball received inadequate coverage - and a host of serious features on education, medicine, science, technology and agriculture. There was also space for the airing of views of experts as well as lay readers on a variety of subjects in such special pages as `Outlook', `Special Report' and `Open Page', introduced in 1977.

It was during this period of quiet seriousness that The Hindu found itself suddenly playing an uncharacteristically activist role on two occasions. In 1983, the ethnic explosion in neighbouring Sri Lanka had the paper suddenly wake up to a situation brewing in the Island from 1945, sizzling in 1956 and simmering till the pressure build-up led to the explosion. In the half decade that followed 1983, N. Ram, the paper's Associate Editor, sympathised with the Tamil militants as well as the moderate Tamil United Liberated Front. The newspaper's reports as well as editorials made this clear. The Tigers' turning on the Indian Peace Keeping Force, the heavy casualties suffered by the Indian soldiers in the North and East of Sri Lanka, the withdrawal of the IPKF from the island in early 1990 and the Tigers' policy of assassinating any leaders opposed to it, resulting in Rajiv Gandhi's calamitous death in a suicide bomb blast near Madras in 1991, all made not only Ram, but also The Hindu take a strong anti-LTTE line. In this sense, the newspaper mirrored official India's policy course and turns.

Long before this disillusionment with the Tigers, Ram found himself leading The Hindu into an investigation of an even more sensational story. The Bofors scandal broke quietly enough in April 1987 with Swedish Radio alleging that bribes had been paid to top Indian political leaders, officials and Army officers in return for the Swedish arms manufacturing company winning a hefty contract with the Government of India for the purchase of 155mm howitzers. The Hindu commented in June 1987 that Bofors was "a very serious business" and said: "The Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, has promised Parliament and the nation that nobody in India, however highly placed, would be able to get away with wrong doing if it was established in the Bofors-India deal ... The time to initiate serious investigative and possibly criminal action is right now."

A few weeks later, the paper thundered: "Virtually every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows, or should know, that presently this nation is going through a crisis of leadership - with a Prime Minister apparently trapped in deep political trouble despite the not-very-long-lasting euphoria of a runaway triumph in the Presidential election. Over the past eight months or more, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi has made major blunder upon major blunder, stepping up the pace disastrously as the going has got worse... for his party and Government ... Serious corruption charges hang over the present and future of the Government like a Damocles' sword." With the Government still not doing anything to clear the air four months after the scandal broke, The Hindu charged the Rajiv Gandhi Government with an "old-fashioned cover-up after hands have been trapped in the till."

The Hindu was beginning to sound like it did in its first fifty years. In early 1988, through its part-time correspondent in Switzerland, Chitra Subramaniam, it began to receive a series of document-backed exclusives on the murky financial transactions involved in the Bofors affair. With Ram joining her in an aggressive investigation, The Hindu kept filling columns - at times, pages - with documents and articles that set the terms of the national political discourse on this subject. During a six-month period the newspaper published scores of copies of original papers that documented the secret payments, amounting to some $50 million, into Swiss bank accounts, the agreements behind the payments, communications relating to the payments and the crisis response, and other material.

L'affaire Bofors caused not only a political storm in the country, contributing to a regime change in the 1989 general elections, but also a storm within the house of The Hindu. Many of the details of the internal controversy have become public property. In 1991, it was learnt that Kasturi had stepped down as Editor and Ram's younger brother N. Ravi, Deputy Editor with the paper, was taking over as Editor. Months later, Ram was appointed Editor of Frontline and The Sportstar. Malini Parthasarathy, Kasturi Srinivasan's grand-daughter, became Executive Editor of The Hindu and her sister, Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor. Venugopal, Kasturi's younger son, was appointed Executive Editor of Business Line (with Ram as Editor), when it started on January 28, 1994. Under his stewardship, the business daily has made steady and impressive progress and acquired a reputation for comprehensive, insightful and ethical coverage of business affairs.

S. Rangarajan, who had become Publisher and Printer of the newspaper after the death of Kasturi Gopalan in 1974 , succeeded Kasturi as Managing Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd, the public limited company that publishes The Hindu group of publications. The business side of the newspaper was now in the hands of a strong team comprising N. Murali, was appointed Joint Managing Director, Ramesh Rangarajan, in charge of advertising, and a cadre of management professionals. Happily, K. Balaji, Kasturi's elder son, who was for some years a consultant, returned in 2000 to the family company as a full-time Director in charge of production. The newspaper made a considerable investment in new technology and systems. There were also workplace changes, transforming the interior of the sprawling offices. Dr. Nalini Krishnan, Kasturi Srinivasan's grand-daughter, took the initiative in developing the company's Welfare Centre, which offers health care services free of charge to the employees and their families. The work of the Centre, including its programmes in the areas of disease prevention and health education and awareness, has been widely commended in the industry and beyond.

Today, The Hindu group of publications employs nearly 3,200 people, half of whom work at headquarters. The employees have adapted to waves of technological modernisation and acquired specialised skills demanded by a modern newspaper. Their loyalty and commitment to The Hindu will be priceless asset" to any institution anywhere in the world, according Murali, Joint Managing Director. He adds that "industrial relations are harmonious with the Union cooperating fully with the management in all its endeavours."

Reflecting on the differences within the family run institution, which have prompted commentators on occasion to refer to "the Hindu divided family," Kasturi explains: "There have always been differences of opinion in the family and, from time to time, there have even been threats to break up. But restraint has always been exercised and the problems have been solved with the interests of the institution uppermost in mind."

As the 1990s began, the Bofors excitement behind it, The Hindu became a quieter paper. Between 1990 and 2002, facsimile editions were started in five other centres in the South, giving The Hindu printing facilities in all four southern states. In the second half of the decade, the newspaper took a strong stand against the policies of the governments in power - at the Centre as well as in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK government responded by filing as many as 16 defamation cases against the newspaper in 2002-2003. The Hindu began to take on a more local hue, something it was rich in up to the 1950s. But with increasing economic liberalisation, the middle class affluence that followed, the influence of television on interests and tastes, and a greater demand from the cash-rich young and middle-aged to be kept in touch with locally, the perception of what a newspaper was had to change. And change it did - with considerably more local news, some of which may be seen by old-timers as promotional.

The Hindu also made a conscious effort to appeal to the young. MetroPlus, a city-focussed supplement was introduced in 1999. Downtown and several other supplements enlarged the local focus, reaching out to the smaller advertisers in the different regions and even in sections of the city, and there was a greater attempt to reach out to new readers. There was recruitment of a young and cosmopolitan staff, mainly women from the leading city colleges. This gave The Hindu, which till the 1970s was all-male and till this influx welcoming only the rare woman journalist, a completely new look. There was an expansion of the newspaper's editions and printing centres and the newspaper's circulation virtually doubled over the decade. With the growth of advertising revenues, it had become possible to raise the page level to over 20. There was also diversification of coverage. It is only fair to add that during this period, strident and more frequent complaints began to be heard from readers about the objectivity and factuality of the newspaper's news coverage.

Meanwhile, unknown to the world outside, the sentiment for change and redirection and restructuring of editorial operations was growing at the top levels of the organisation. On June 27, 2003, the Board of Directors of the company made a decision that was every bit as dramatic as the developments witnessed 14 years earlier. Noting "the need for improved structures and mechanisms in order to uphold and strengthen quality and objective journalism in respect of both opinion and news reports, and continually to achieve higher standards of journalistic performance," the Board appointed Ram Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, as well as the other publications of the group. He was placed in charge of the editorial department, including its day-to-day operations. Venugopal was entrusted with new responsibilities for the flagship daily in addition to his work in Business Line.

The weeks following this development have witnessed major changes in the editorial structure and operations of The Hindu. Long-tested institutions and practices such as the daily editorial conference, which had been discontinued in the decade of the 1990s, and cross-section news conferences were revived. `Walls' separating editorial departments and functions have been brought down, with a new effort to make the best use of the common journalistic resources of the group. Regular meetings, interactions, and consultations have been instituted between the people in charge of editorial and marketing functions at various levels. A team of senior editors has been constituted at headquarters to coordinate the regional pages and the work of the various news bureaus. There has been an attempt to give a new and brighter look to the front page with the daily use of larger size colour photographs, and a reorientation of the editorial page towards greater newsiness, topicality and timely comment on a variety of subjects. On August 27, exactly two months after the change a 2800 word editorial was published by way of providing an explanation to the readers. The leader set out a framework as well as a set of five principles for the kind of journalism The Hindu stood for - and strongly re-committed itself to.

It is a cardinal rule in history that the closer the historian is to the event, the less reliable and sure-footed is his or her account. We are too close to the recent changes in The Hindu and can safely put off judgment to the future.

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