Home India News National Herald, founded by Nehru, to close down

National Herald, founded by Nehru, to close down

By Ranjana Narayan, IANS

New Delhi : The National Herald, the newspaper started by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru before World War II and being financed by the Congress party for the past several years, is likely to close down.

According to sources in the newspaper, talks between the National Herald and Quami Awaz Employees Union and Congress leaders on modalities towards a final settlement for the 265 employees, including about 40 journalists of the English and the Urdu editions published from New Delhi, have been on for the past few months.

Overstaffing, mainly of the press and non-journalists and also lack of advertisements, are said to be the main cause for the newspaper running into major losses. The Congress has reportedly decided to discontinue publication of the daily that was started in Lucknow Sep 9, 1938 by Nehru.

The Lucknow edition of the National Herald and Quami Awaz were closed down about 10 years ago. The paper also had a Hindi edition Navjivan – a name given by Mahatma Gandhi – that was closed down several years ago.

According to the sources, chairperson of the newspaper Motilal Vora, MP and treasurer of the Congress party, and some other Congress leaders have reportedly finalised a Rs.380 million compensation package for the workers.

Confirming that the paper was being closed, Saud Akhtar, senior journalist with the Quami Awaz and president of the National Herald and Quami Awaz Employees Union, told IANS: “Yes, everything has been finalised. The final agreement is likely to be signed by the end of this week or maybe a little later.”

According to Akhtar, the employees have agreed to the closure.

“The employees were told about the closure at the general body meeting held on Jan 16 and earlier on Nov 15. They have all agreed; it was a mutual agreement from both sides,” he said. The employees are getting a “handsome compensation”.

“Five to six rounds of talks have been held between the employees union and the Congress over the last two months,” he said, declining to disclose the final settlement amount for the workers till everything “was settled” with Vora, most likely by Wednesday.

The newspaper, which officially claims a circulation of around 40,000 copies, has “never had a history of making profits”.

It is not yet clear what publication the Congress party plans to bring out in lieu of the paper, but Vora is reported to have told senior editors: “We’ll have some publication later.”

Asked by IANS Monday evening, Vora said: “We are only discussing a VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) for the excess employees.”

He denied that the National Herald was headed for closure. Asked what publication the Congress would bring out in its place, he dismissed it as a “hypothetical question”.

But Akhtar said: “On Jan 1, Vora came to Herald House (on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) and categorically told the employees union that the paper is going to be closed down.”

T.V. Venkitachalam, editor in chief of the National Herald, said: “In my 20 years association with the newspaper, and nine years as editor, there has never been any interference from the Congress party in presenting the news. We have always tried to keep a fine balance in our news, especially the editorials, and never tried to make it sound like a party publication.

“The newspaper has been part of the country’s freedom movement and has been an upholder of national values like secularism and non-alignment and we have strived to run it in a professional manner,” said Venkitachalam, 79, who joined the paper in 1987 when then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi revived it.

The paper had closed down for a few months at the time due to various reasons, including financial constraints.

During the paper’s golden jubilee in 1988, Rameshwar Thakur, who was chairperson of the board of directors of the publication and is now the Karnataka governor, had written in the special issue: “The freedom movement (was) at its peak, Gandhiji leading the nation through blood and sweat. His lieutenant and our great founder Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, wanting to give a new meaning to the freedom that was yet to come so that all its fruits could reach the poor and the humble…

“It was in these stirring times that the National Herald was born at the initiative of its founder, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.”