A day after the Supreme Court chose to steer clear of the Hindu’s internecine war and directed the Company Law Board (CLB) to hear the case on a day to day basis, there was a spate of resignations.
At the meeting of the Hindu's Board of Directors today, Mr Siddharth Varadarajan was formally appointed Editor of The Hindu by a majority of 7 to 5, over the objections of Mr N. Ram's brothers Mr N. Murali and Mr N. Ravi, and their cousins, sisters Ms Malini Parthasarathy, Ms Nirmala Lakshman and Ms Nalini Krishnan.
Mr Varadarajan is the first non-dynastic professional to be appointed Editor of the paper, but his appointment in stead of being celebrated as a new landmark in the paper's history has led to resignations from Mr N. Ravi as Editor, Ms Malini Parthasarathy as Executive Editor, and Ms Nirmala Lakshman as Joint Editor who had objected to his appointment.
Earlier, the CLB had ruled in favour of the objecting parties, but N. Ram and others had gone to the Madras High Court and obtained a stay on the CLB order. The objecting parties had filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, which declined to step in and asked the CLB to proceed with haste.
Mr N. Ravi, in his resignation letter as Editor, "protested the unseemly hurry in pushing through the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor" which, he said, had made his " continuance as Editor untenable" and stressed:
... the board clique that removed the responsibilities of N. Murali was indicted by the Company Law Board in CP 25 of 2010 as lacking in probity and good faith. The same lack of probity and good faith is on display now in dealing with the reorganization of the editorial side and the actions of the board clique have been challenged in a company petition. While the SLP before the Supreme Court stands disposed of without a stay but with directions for expedited hearing, the company petition is still pending before the CLB.
The resignation letters were made public by Ms Malini Parthasarthy through her tweets. Mr N. Ravi went on to say:
After having sworn by tradition and continuity for so long, to suddenly seek to remove highly qualified shareholder family members from the posts they have been holding for decades reeks of vindictiveness and the pursuit of colourable personal agendas. A combination of megalomania and a crass disregard of the values that The Hindu has always stood for has brought the institution to this sorry state. It is shocking that some of the board members should want to run a media institution like a company producing plastic buckets with purely commercial considerations and unethical practices overwhelming editorial interests and values, thereby damaging the credibility of the newspaper.
The whole exercise of removal from posts on the editorial side is sought to be carried out in the guise of professionalisation as if the family shareholders holding positions on the editorial side are not in themselves qualified professionals. Also, any claim of professionalisation is a sham as the separation of ownership from management is being applied selectively to some shareholders even as some other shareholders including wholly unqualified persons are being allowed to continue in high positions. Ironically, the board clique that now speaks of professionalisation has been resisting suggestions to frame norms for the selection of family members to different posts and has been continuing to distribute responsibilities as largesses arbitrarily and without regard to qualifications.
The same arbitrary, non-professional procedure was followed even in the case of the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan: his name was announced for the first time at a board meeting and passed without any discussion in a few minutes. There were no selection procedures or prior consultation or evaluation of candidates that are normally followed in any well run company.
In other words, the start of the so called professionalisation process has itself been carried out in a wholly arbitrary, non- professional way...
In the letter announcing his retirement on reaching the age of 65 on August 11, 2011, as Senior Managing Director, Mr N. Murali wrote:
Such a brazen and crude display of factionalism, vindictiveness, vote-bank and opportunistic politics and personal agendas by various board members as seen over this period, has not only seriously eroded the quality, reputation and credibility of our family run newspaper, The Hindu, but also has severely impaired the competitive ability and profitability of the whole enterprise.
If the faction of the board that has perpetrated the gross injustice and vindictive acts persists in its unsavoury ways, the institution and the iconic 132-year old newspaper would have a very bleak future indeed.
Ms Parthasarthy wrote that she was resigning from the post of executive editor since her " continuance has become untenable with the Board seeking to humiliate" her " by putting a junior professional like Siddharth Varadarajan" over her as editor:
In bringing in Siddharth Varadarajan, an outsider with no familiarity with the Hindu’s rich editorial inheritance and no particular institutional loyalty, in the guise o f “professionalising and contemporising”, what is sought to be done is to eliminate qualified successors from the family. I deeply regret that my legitimate professional aspirations, especially as I had no hidden personal agenda nor any other stake in The Hindu were so belittled and so rudely rebuffed.
I am also deeply worried for the future of the newspaper given the scheme that is being contemplated by a group of directors who want to reduce the role of the Editor to another functionary in the company, sitting along with business side executives, treating the editorial operations as another branch of the corporate banyan tree. By no means is this contemporising or professionalising editorial operations. This is only legitimizing the incursions of personal agendas into editorial operations. While being market-friendly is certainly necessary, succumbing to a range of dangerous personal agendas including gross self-promotion is not in the interest of this great newspaper.
Ms Nirmala Lakshman who resigned as Joint Editor wrote that "the present Board of Directors has used a tenuous majority" to force her out of her position as Joint Editor of The Hindu:
With the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor it has become untenable for me to continue as Joint Editor of The Hindu.
I would like to state for the record that I strongly protest this manner of trying to reorganize the company; with little foresight, complete insensitivity, and a lack of grace and decency. Opportunistic factionalism has taken precedence over concern for the institution's welfare and progress as demonstrated in recent months. Under the guise of professionalizing, experienced and professionally trained family members who have worked conscientiously and tirelessly for this institution for decades have been jettisoned to serve the self interest, the misguided perceptions and the personal agenda of a few. With competitors making alarming inroads into our territory, functioning in this cavalier manner and playing the numbers game does not bode well for the future of The Hindu.
While Mr N. Ram and the newly appointed Editor Mr Siddharth Varadarajan have maintained a studied silence and did not tweet on the issue at all, Ms Malini Parthasarathy also had a series of tweets on the subject:
Post Script: July 23:
We have been able to get a copy of the e-mail Mr N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief sent to his colleagues at the Hindu on July 21 that provides the counter-perspective and explains the recent changes at the Hindu:
This is to inform you that, at my initiative, the Board of Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. at its meeting of Wednesday, July 20, 2011 "resolved that July 30, 2011 be the date on which the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor of The Hindu reporting to N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, will come into effect."
You will recall that Siddharth Varadarajan's appointment as Editor, The Hindu had already been decided by the Board and approved by the Shareholders of the Company and only the date of the appointment taking effect had to be fixed. That has been done now. This is the first stage of the editorial succession or transition we are carrying out in a planned way.
The next stage will see Siddharth taking over as Editor responsible for the selection of news under the PRB Act consequent on my stepping down from my editorial position. I don't see this taking long and the date for this will also be decided on by the Board alongside other changes under way on the business side. The search for a CEO is on and a CEO should be in place fairly soon.
Siddharth's mandate will be to build on the great traditions of The Hindu as India's most respected newspaper, lead and strengthen our editorial team and other editorial assets, induct fresh young talent, and take new initiatives. It will not of course be a one man show because we have a wonderful editorial team, with distinguished and committed senior and experienced journalists and a large number of talented young journalists. I don't want to say more and increase the pressure of expectations on Siddharth. He will have a free hand within the framework or Code of Editorial Values adopted by our Company, which can be read at our website. This is part of the process of professionalising and contemporising our flagship newspaper, our other publications, and our Company on the editorial as well as business sides.
As you may be aware, following the adoption of the above-mentioned resolution by the Board of Directors, N. Ravi submitted his resignation as Editor, The Hindu, Nirmala Lakshman submitted her resignation as Joint Editor, The Hindu, and Malini Parthasarathy submitted her resignation as Executive Editor, The Hindu. They will continue as Wholetime Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. I don't wish to say anything on this development involving people who have worked with us for so many years except to note that nobody on the Board asked for these three resignations and they were made of their own free will, in writing, and have taken effect. I also wish to assure you that we are clear-sighted and strong in our resolve to go forward in our strategy of professionalising and contemporising all the operations of The Hindu and our other publications.
Our long-term vision for The Hindu, our other publications, and our Company is to build on our greatest asset -- the trust we enjoy by virtue of being associated with India's most respected newspaper, with a great history behind it. But we can't rest on this history and let events take their course. We need to shape our future based on the values of integrity, freedom, independence, and social responsibility, values which are reasserted and safeguarded in our Code of Editorial Values. We need to innovate, espouse forward-looking ideas, and adopt the most advanced methods. We need to ensure a sustainable path of growth and commercial success. We need to seize new opportunities offered by digital journalism and new technologies because they will be key to what is unfolding before our eyes. In other words, we will need to ensure that what lies ahead will match our history.
I am confident that this future will be very bright since we are making the right strategic decisions in time.