Bitter succession battle threatens India’s The Hindu dailyBy Asia Sentinel Oct 27, 2013 2:10PM UTC
Squabbling families battle it out for control of newspaper, reports Asia Sentinel’s Cyril Pereira
India’s dynastic successions have virtually paralyzed some of the country’s biggest and most powerful institutions including the Reliance, Bajaj, Birla and Ranbaxy groups. Now it is the turn of the fifth-generation descendants of Kasturi & Sons Ltd, the public company which owns the influential 135-year old English language newspaper, The Hindu.
Brothers and cousins from four branches of the clan – the Narasimhan, Parthasarathy. Rangarajan and Kasturi familes, each with 25 percent equity shares – are locked in the bitter succession battle, which culminated in the ouster earlier this month of Siddharth Varadarajan, an internationally respected Indian-American journalist, as editor.
The looming Indian general election of 2014 is a major factor in the rush to take back editorial control of the paper, which dominates English language readership in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala with a daily circulation of 1.5 million copies, generating US$200 million in annual revenues.
The incumbent Congress Party is expected to be turfed out. The political calculations of smaller parties for a coalition with the opposition BJP are churning old allegiances and forging new partnerships. The Hindu needs to reposition itself for the coming New Order. Dynastic families trade favors with political power.
The initial crisis was triggered in late 2011 by chief editor Narasimhan Ram, who resisted mandatory retirement at 65 for two years and then deftly bypassed family members for succession in January of 2012.
Ram discovers professional management
At his retirement, Ram argued that proprietorship should be separated from professional management of the newspaper. He promoted Varadarajan, his Delhi bureau chief, as his replacement. Ram’s publisher responsibility was handed to K Balaji from the Kasturi family. Ram proposed a new post of CEO. Both the key editor in chief and chief executive officer roles went to N Ram’s non-family nominees.
The radical change to The Hindu’s leadership came in the context of decades of invented titles and jobs to accommodate the multiplying heirs of the four families. In editorial there are editor-in-chief, editor, joint editor, executive editor and deputy editor. In management there are chairman, publisher, chief executive officer and managing director. This tottering proprietorial load of bodies with hereditary entitlements rule a staff of 1,600.
Half of the 12-member board opposed Ram’s transitional engineering. They petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene, which politely declined. Similar to melodramatic movies which fascinate Indian audiences, The Hindu’s disputes unfolded as a classic family drama of shifting alliances, double-cross, power play and intrigue among brothers and cousins.
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