SHOBHANA BHARTIA CULTIVATES an image of herself in the mould of Katharine Graham. She has brought up her connection to Graham in multiple interviews and public appearances—at an event in 2015, she spoke of “a very deep engagement and a personal bond with Mrs Graham”—and reporters inclined towards stenography have played up the parallels between the two. Bhartia, as the chairperson and editorial director of HT Media, is the publisher of the Hindustan Times—the third most-read English-language newspaper in India, and the most-read one in the country’s capital. Graham was the publisher of the Washington Post, in the US capital, in the 1960s and 1970s. Both inherited control of their newspapers from their families—Graham from her husband; Bhartia from her father, the industrialist KK Birla. As women in positions of power, both count as pioneers in societies and media industries dominated by men, and both had to struggle hard to establish themselves. Graham was a stellar networker, on close terms with much of the political elite of the United States in her day. Bhartia, similarly skilled, is deeply embedded in the parallel constituency in present-day India.
Graham took decisions to publish stories that are now monuments of journalism, including the Washington Post’s exposés on the Pentagon Papers, which detailed official lies about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, and the paper’s revelations about the Watergate investigation, which cut short the presidency of Richard Nixon. Both stories came at great cost to Graham’s personal relationships with her country’s political elite. The Hindustan Times has published nothing remotely comparable under Bhartia.