By Sandhya Jain on November 16, 2012
A grandson of former Defence Minister Kailash Nath Katju, one of the founder-members of The Associated Journals Ltd which floated the National Herald, Navjivan and Qaumi Awaz during the freedom struggle, has written an article berating the controversy over transfer of the company to a closely held firm and diverting attention to the Congress’s lapse from the ‘true ideology’ of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. In the process, he has unfairly attacked the Prime Minister’s economic policies, ignoring the fact that Manmohan Singh is an appointee of the party president whose questionable actions are being glossed over.
He avers that many eminent Congress leaders set up the company in 1937 to support the freedom movement and desired no personal financial advantage from it. This is undeniably true for the era in which the project was launched.
What is questionable is his claim that the present Congress leadership did not restructure Associated Journals and gift control to Young Indian for personal profit. He admits the restructuring exercise should have been done transparently to avoid suspicion of wrong-doing. He laments that Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy will go to court over the Rs 90 crore AICC loan to Associated Journals for non-political activity, and Congress may have problems defending the action.
The National Herald issue has multiple dimensions. The principal questions revolve around the law under which Associated Journals was set up, who or which entities currently comprise its legal ownership, whether these entities concurred in the transfer of ownership to a tightly-controlled private firm, whether assets raised from public contributions during the freedom struggle can become the personal property of some individuals, whether a newspaper or newspapers can be sold to a company not engaged in newspaper business, and whether land acquired at concessional rates from the state for a specific purpose can change hands without permission of the state.
Only after these questions are answered by a duly instituted official inquiry can the Congress be permitted to revive the National Herald, if it truly intends to do so. For the now-defunct National Herald and allied journals have no legally ascertainable link with the Congress, which link will have to be established before the party exercises rights over the title of the newspaper and journals, their properties and assets, and re-launches any or all of them. These are legal matters which cannot be glossed over by resort to emotional obfuscation.
The National Herald is not in the league of party-owned publications like Congress Sandesh. The Associated Journals was set up in 1937 under the Indian Companies Act, 1913. The Memorandum of Association announced its objective, “To establish and to carry on… the business of news agency, newspaper and magazine proprietors, printers and publishers and all similar and incidental trades thereof …” [3 (a)]. The founder members were Jawaharlal Nehru, Purushottamdas Tandon, J Narendra Deva, Kailash Nath Katju, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Mohan Lal Sakra and Krishna Dutta Paliwal; the document was witnessed by Govind Ballabh Pant.
The company launched the National Herald, Navjivan and Qaumi Awaz. None was a success; though kept afloat by Congress and its dominant family for many decades after independence, they eventually closed down.
The closure of these papers raised the question of what was to be done with the enormous properties acquired from Central and State Governments at concessional rates over the years – in Delhi, Mumbai, Bhopal, Indore, Haryana, Lucknow and other places in Uttar Pradesh – the rough value of which is said to exceed Rs 5,000 crore. Massive edifices were erected on some of the properties through public donations for publication of the newspapers. Subramanian Swamy has alleged that un-built land in Mumbai, Indore, Bhopal, Punchkula, Lucknow has been illegally sold to builders of luxury skyscrapers, malls, and housing for Congress Ministers, in violation of land allotment orders.
Since Congress as a political party was never legally the owner and promoter of Associated Journals, the legal ownership has to be settled by appropriate authorities as over 80 per cent of the shareholders listed with the Registrar of Companies are dead and many firms defunct.
The question arises if shares of defunct firms or individuals whose heirs did not come forward to claim mutation in their names can be deemed to lapse into Associated Journals itself, and shared equally with surviving members. Could Associated Journals legally sell / assign shares to new members who were brought in from time to time, most notably from the Nehru-Gandhi family that dominated the party and national polity in most of post-independent India?
An official inquiry should take particular note of Rattan Deep Trust and Janhit Nidhi that seem to have played a critical role in introducing Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra into Associated Journals as authorised attorney, and then facilitating transfer of shares and assets to Young Indian. As is well known, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are majority (76 per cent) shareholders in Young Indian.
The Election Commission, which rejected Swamy’s plea to de-recognise the Congress for giving a loan to a private firm (a non-political activity), failed to take cognisance of his claim that the Amethi MP did not disclose his Associated Journals shareholding of 2008 in the affidavit for the Lok Sabha election in 2009. This is an issue that deserves clarification.
Swamy has pointed to violations of the Companies Act, Income Tax Act and Representation of the People Act. Before the Congress claims ‘emotional attachment’ to the defunct journals once associated with Jawaharlal Nehru, it should settle all legal issues raised by the controversy.