Congress set to revive National Herald newspaper after 8-year break

  • Jatin Gandhi and Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 10, 2016 15:40 IST
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi come out of Patiala House court after the court granted bail to both the leaders in National Herald Case, in New Delhi, India, on December 19, 2015. The Congress party is set to relaunch the English daily along with two other newspapers after a gap of eight years. (Sushil Kumar / HT Photo )

The Congress party is all set to announce this month the revival of the National Herald and two other newspapers that went out of print eight years ago due to financial crunch.

A public statement on the proposed relaunch could be made as early as next week after a final meeting of the board of directors for the publications clears the name of the editor of National Herald, sources said.

The newspaper, which was founded at Lucknow in 1938 by freedom-fighter stalwart Jawaharlal Nehru who became the country’s first prime minister, was banned by the British during the 1942 Quit India movement. It faced brief shutdowns in the 1940s and 70s.

Today, the publication is on a comeback trail. “We intend to revive all three papers – National Herald, Qaumi Awaaz (Urdu) and Navjeewan (Hindi),” Congress party treasurer Motilal Vora, who is CMD of the Associated Journals Limited (AJL) that published the three papers, told Hindustan Times.

“The decision was taken in January this year. We are now close to finalising the editor’s name for the operations to start. We will make a formal announcement within a few days,” he added.

Read | Court grants bail to Sonia, Rahul Gandhi in National Herald case

AJL owns a number of properties across the country. These include the Herald House in the national capital from where the papers were last published in 2008. While two floors of the multi-storey building on arterial Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg have been leased out to the Regional Passport Office, the rest of it houses AJL and Young Indian Private Limited (YIL) that have functional offices. Of late, the place has been readied for publishing the papers again and applications have been sought for filling the vacancies.

The relaunch of the papers will weaken the premise for a case against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party vice-president Rahul and some of its senior leaders among others. The ongoing litigation was filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy in 2012, alleging income-tax violations.

AJL, along with its assets and liabilities that included a Rs 90-crore loan from the Congress, was taken over in 2010 by YIL – a Section 25 company (which is akin to a trust) in which the party president and her son hold 38 per cent equity each. Veteran Vora is among the rest of the stakeholders; the prominent others being party leader Oscar Fernandes, technocrat Sam Pitroda and Suman Dubey, a schoolmate of late PM Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia’s husband.

Swamy alleged in his petition to a Delhi court that the real motive of the transaction was to acquire Rs 5,000 crore worth real estate the AJL owned in various cities of the country. On her part, Sonia Gandhi told the High Court in July last year that the move was aimed at reviving the publications.

Read | Key facts about National Herald case

Sources associated closely with the decision said the revival plan has been on the cards since 2010. “Things got delayed; it is still a work in progress,” said a person associated with the relaunch of the newspapers.

Octogenarian Vora, who is a former chief minister as well as governor, had chaired a January 21 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the AJL. Attended by Sonia and her son Rahul among others, it decided to set the ball rolling for publishing National Herald once again. The EGM had also decided to convert AJL from a commercial entity to a not-for-profit company.

A Congress leader, who was present at the meeting in the Uttar Pradesh capital, said shareholders at the EGM had expressed concern over the “unnecessary delay” in publishing the newspapers again.

Once re-launched, a Congress leader said, the party will “use these publications to their full advantage” amid next year’s assembly elections in its one-time bastion Uttar Pradesh. The party has been struggling hard in the country’s most populous state to regain its political glory after being voted out of power in 1989.

The National Herald, in its farewell editorial on April 1, 2008, announced temporary suspension of the publications which were running into losses for several years due to over-staffing and dearth of advertisements. The board had then approved a voluntary retirement scheme payment for the 265 employees, including 40 journalists.

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