If you are reading the Hindustan Times today, a part of the credit can justifiably go to Madan Mohan Malaviya – who was awarded the Bharat Ratna, posthumously on Wednesday. Malaviya owned the paper during its critical initial years in the 1920s, and served as the chairman of HT from 1924 till his death in 1946.
HT was originally the brainchild of the Akalis, who wanted an English language paper to communicate with others in the freedom movement and expand their reach. It was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on September 26, 1924. Akalis had asked Krishan Das Kohli, who had participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement, to help set up the paper. The entire investment came to about ` 25,000. The money came from Sikhs in Canada.
But as an essay by Prem Shankar Jha in ‘History in the Making: 75 Years of Hindustan Times” points out, “Setting up a paper was one thing and running it, quite another… Within six months the paper was facing a financial crisis.”
Both Motilal Nehru and Malaviya were keen to purchase the paper, but the Akalis preferred to sell it to Malaviya for `20,000. In 1925, he borrowed `40,000 from the Punjab National Bank through his friend, Lala Lajpat Rai, who was its chairman. Malaviya gave the Akalis half the amount to buy the paper, and the remaining to Kohli to run the paper.
When Kohli took over, he found the newspaper had a paid circulation of 20 copies and a complimentary distribution of 350.
And so began a series of changes – hiring of professional editor; converting it from an evening to a morning paper; introducing dak editions; adopting an aggressive pricing policy, etc. But all these changes needed money.
The `20,000 that Malaviya had given Kohli had run out. As Jha writes in his essay, “Malaviya soon found himself at his wits’ end in trying to raise more money. He therefore turned to the one industrialist who was already emerging as a staunch, if quiet and unobtrusive champion of the freedom movement.” This was the then 33-year-old Calcutta industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla. From 1926 itself, the Birlas had begun giving substantial contribution to the paper.
While Birla did not have any intention to acquire HT earlier, if it was not to be shut down, it had to be financed. Malaviya did not have the money to repay the bank loan. So he turned to Birla. The problem was compounded because of security deposits and fines the British kept imposing on HT, for it was the voice of the national movement. Eventually, the paper was purchased by The Hindustan Times Ltd from Malaviya for `89, 252. GD Birla had bought 480 shares, and thus owned 48 percent of the company’s stock.
HT is proud of the old bond it shares with India’s newest Bharat Ratna.