Siddharth Varadarajan quits The Hindu; family rift resurfaces
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New Delhi: New battlelines were drawn and some old ones revived at Kasturi and Sons Ltd (KSL), publisher of The Hindu, after chairman N. Ram used his casting vote to effect a change in top management after the 12 member board of the company voted 6-6 on the move.
Arun Anant is no longer the chief executive of the company and Siddharth Varadarajan, who was re-designated contributing editor and senior columnist, has resigned, The Hindu said in an announcement on its website.
“With The Hindu’s owners deciding to revert to being a family run and edited newspaper, I am resigning from The Hindu with immediate effect,” Varadarajan said in a post on the microblogging site Twitter on Monday evening.
With The Hindu's owners deciding to revert to being a family run and edited newspaper, I am resigning from The Hindu with immediate effect.— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) October 21, 2013
“The KSL board which had two years ago decided to keep the family out of editorial control and run the paper more professionally has changed its mind. In this new set-up, it is best that I leave,” Varadarajan said.
The announcement on The Hindu website spoke of “recurrent violations...on the business side”, and “defiance of ... the mandatory code of editorial values...”
Anant declined comment.
The surprise changes, which followed a board meeting on Monday, came two years after another flare-up of occasional hostilities between family members resulted in the family deciding to remain mere shareholders and directors, and run the company through professional managers and editors.
The announcement on The Hindu’s website said this commitment to professionalization would continue.
The six directors who opposed the move said in a statement that they “wish to declare” N. Ram’s “casting vote invalid” and that they would “contest the decision through an appropriate mechanism”. The six are: K. Venugopal, K. Balaji, Ramesh Rangarajan, Lakshmi Srinath, Vijaya Arun and Akila Vijay Iyengar.
Varadarajan said he could not comment on the announcement on the newspaper’s website about violations in the editorial code because they were not communicated to him in person.
Ram said “no difference was maintained between news stories and editorial pieces”.
N. Ravi, the new editor-in-chief, said that the “news desk was given standing instructions not to take any stories on Narendra Modi on page one. The Hindu has always been anti-Hindutva, but it was always kept out of our news judgement”.
Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, has made two visits to Tamil Nadu since he was named last month as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate for the next general election.
Ravi denied that there was any outside pressure on the group to make these management changes. “We have always maintained a professional stand on news coverage,” he added.
Ram denied that the move was prompted by the case filed by the BJP’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.
Apar Gupta, a media and communications expert and lawyer, said the development throws up several possibilities on the possible outcome.
If found to have violated the statutory regulations, the company will be penalized irrespective of such an event, Gupta said.
“Another possibility is that if the petitioner only sought removal of the individual (Varadarajan), then the matter will become infructuous and come to an end.”
However, as has happened in public interest litigation, exercising its discretion, the court may decide that there is a question of law or a grey area that needs to be decided upon. Then the court may determine whether a foreigner can hold the position of editor in an Indian newspaper, Gupta added.
Varadarajan was the first editor of the newspaper in nearly five decades who didn’t belong to the Kasturi family, and Anant was the company’s first chief executive.
Monalisa in New Delhi contributed to this story.
The Hindu and its sister publication The Hindu Business Line compete with Hindustan Times and Mint, both published by HT Media Ltd, in some markets.
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