India is once again in the throes of another political storm of great magnitude that threatens not only to setback the current legislative agenda of the Parliament’s winter session but may also permanently fracture the trust needed for future consensus among political parties to conduct the nation’s business. The National Herald case has all the familiar hallmarks of a political mud fight rather than the true ingredients needed to prove any alleged impropriety and/or violation of laws.
National Herald was started by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937 along with other leaders of the independence movement. Undoubtedly, it was a symbol of this struggle and provided a voice to the freedom movement across the country. In addition to Pandit Nehru, freedom fighters like Purushottam Das Tandon, Acharaya Narendra Dev, and India’s first Communications Minister, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai were among the first subscribers and signatories to the memorandum of Association of the ‘Associated Journals Limited (AJL)’.The company that was published National Herald and later Quami Awaaz and Navjeevan.
From its inception, the National Herald was in poor financial health. There were reports to the effect that Mahatma Gandhi originally even opposed the idea of the Congress party owning a newspaper but relented to the wishes of Pandit Nehru and others in the party. The determination of Nehru to carry on with the publication despite the heavy odds against it is quite evident in his statement; “I will not let the National Herald close down even if I have to sell Anand Bhavan.”
The Congress party supported AJL until now because of its rich and vibrant legacy associated with the freedom struggle, as well as its inextricable link with the policies and principles of the Indian National Congress. Despite the editorial excellence of the paper, AJL continued to bleed financially and ran into losses year after year. The published records show that AJL received multiple loans adding up to 90 crores from the Congress Party.
It has come to a point where no bank would sanction AJL a loan because of the 90 crore debt in its balance sheet, and its benefactor, the Congress Party, had no choice but to rethink its strategies. Towards that end, some of the most eminent experts were consulted, and their considered advice was to form a section 25 not-for-profit company called ‘Young India’. Further, in order to bail out AJL and free it from the burden of debt, the loan was reassigned to the not-for-profit company. In so doing, Congress party leaders truly believed that it could rescue and revive Nehruji’s paper while relieving AJL of its financial distress. In today’s world, conversion of debt into equity is a normal business practice to restore the financial health of companies that are over-burdened with debt.
All shareholders of AJL, who were present and voting on 21st January 2011, approved the advice of the experts unanimously. Meanwhile AJL, now able to borrow money for the first time in years, renovated its Delhi building and rented them at the current market rates. It is believed that these new avenues of income would fund the re-launching of the National Herald in the foreseeable future.
Undoubtedly, there are a number of misconceptions promoted by groups intending to tarnish the image of the Congress party. A few things are quite evident upon the examination of this case:
- The Assets and properties owned by AJL will continue to remain with AJL;
- No assets have been transferred from AJL to ‘Young Indian’;
- As Directors or Shareholders of ‘Young Indian’, Smt. Sonia Gandhi or Shri. Rahul Gandhi is prohibited by law from drawing any financial benefits from the company;
- At the Extraordinary General meeting in 2011, shareholders were present and unanimously voted to approve the issuance of fresh equity to ‘Young Indian’, in order to extinguish the debt of AJL.
It is also clear to independent observers that AJL was directed and sustained over the years by a successive leadership of the Congress Party, and this continues to remain the case today. The newly created ‘Young India’ also lists the major office holders of the party as its shareholders. In a nutshell, this whole exercise appears to be a major overhaul of an entity within an organization that has become financially burdensome because of its debt, and otherwise unresponsive to revival in the prevailing market conditions. Political Parties in India are under no restriction in giving loans or restructuring their various entities. A complaint along these lines by Subramanian Swamy was dismissed by the Election Commission in 2012.
In light of all of these clarifications, why is there still all of this hubbub? BJP, at the outset, would want everyone to believe that it was a case brought up by Subramanian Swamy in 2012, and they (the BJP) have very little to do with it! However, this case was reopened by Enforcement Directorate after Rajan S. Katoch, the ED Director, was removed from service after his recommendation to close the case due to lack of evidence against two leaders. In addition, the BJP has already brought out a booklet called ‘Family Greed and National Blackmail’ in a deliberate attempt to sully the names of the Congress President and the Vice-President.
Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader and lead attorney, in this case, said the following: ‘The BJP, in the last year or so, has been targeting the leaders of the Congress Party. Since they have no idea how to govern the country, they want to distract the attention of people from the promise of good governance. They have targeted the Congress Party president Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and our leaders Virbhadra Singh, who was accosted during his daughter’s wedding, Shankarsinh Vaghela, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. They have filed sedition charges against young people in Gujarat and targeting West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar’.
Since the ascension of BJP to power in 2014, there is a growing intolerance to dissent in a democratic framework. For some in their leadership, a responsible opposition is altogether an inconvenience to the unilateral BJP agenda. Senior BJP leaders who appear to have taken an oath for a ‘Congress-free Bharat’, might believe that the top leadership of the Congress party in the Court in an alleged case of cheating and criminal breach of trust makes for bad optics and will help them in their quest to discredit and destroy them politically. There is no doubt then why Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi became their prime targets.
Subramanian Swamy is a known operative for the BJP, and his malevolence and hatred towards the Nehru family and anything Nehru touched including the venerable National Herald is well documented. He has long been discredited on these shores for his vitriolic statements against minorities in India, which got him booted out from the prestigious Harvard University in the immediate past. In one of his infamous quotes from 2011, he states ‘implement the uniform civil code, make learning Sanskrit and singing Vande Mataram mandatory, and declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus. Rename India Hindustan as a nation of Hindus and those ancestors were Hindus”. In his view of the world, Smt. Sonia Gandhi or any other foreigners our sons or daughters may marry will be permanently relegated to second-class citizenship. Unfortunately, his demagoguery and bigotry come in handy for the BJP in its stealth campaign to undo the Nehruvian legacy.
Filing the plea, Congress leaders insisted that Swamy is a political opponent, insisting that the present criminal proceedings have been initiated only with intent to secure an oblique political objective! Hopefully, the days ahead may prove just that!
The author is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA