How Ramnath Goenka refused to Compromise the Indian Express during the Emergency

20 June 2015
Indian Express Archives
Indian Express Archives

When Coomi Kapoor, a contributing editor at the Indian Express, was a young reporter at the paper’s Delhi office in 1975, the Emergency came into effect. In addition to forced sterlisations, land grabbing, and the arrests of opposition members and people who protested, the government, under Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, also implemented a stealthy censorship policy in which publications had to tow the government line or they would be shut down for minor regulatory reasons. In this excerpt from her book The Emergency: A Personal History, with a foreword by Arun Jaitley, Kapoor recalls how Ramnath Goenka, an industrialist and media baron who owned the Indian Express, steered the paper clear of every tactic of intimidation the government placed before it.

Ramnath Goenka (RNG) was that rare newspaper baron for whom the bottom line was not the only concern. He was an unusual businessman for whom the content of the newspaper was more important than the profits. A Marwari trader who had moved to Chennai to make his fortune, RNG had been an ardent supporter of the freedom movement. He had numerous friends among the Congress leadership and was himself a member of the Madras Legislative Assembly for some years.

When he borrowed money to buy over the majority shares in an ailing English-language newspaper, the IndianExpress, which had been started in 1932, he largely divested himself of his other business activities. From then on, RNG concentrated on the newspaper business and acquired several publications, including the Dinamani, the Andhra Prabha and the Kannada Prabha. All his publications had pro-nationalist leanings, and when Gandhiji gave his Quit India call in 1942 and the British government introduced a gag order on the press, the Express was one of the first newspapers to close down in protest. The Express in its farewell edition at that time carried a moving editorial in August 1942 titled ‘Heart Strings and Purse Strings.’ “The hard fact of the situation is that if we went on publishing, The Indian Express may be called a paper, but cannot be called a newspaper,’ the editorial pointed out.1 RNG was fond of proclaiming that he came into the business world with a lota and he could leave with just a lota.

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By the time of the Emergency, RNG headed a newspaper empire across the country, with over fifty lakh readers, which exercised enormous clout. He used to claim proudly that he was the first reader of his newspapers, getting up at four in the morning to go through each of his publications. We journalists all appreciated the fact that although a hard taskmaster with the administrative staff, whom he would often berate in the most strong language, he left his correspondents alone. He did not interfere in the stories except on very rare occasions. He allowed us enormous leeway. It was his editors who bore the brunt of his occasional temper tantrums.

Coomi Kapoor Coomi Kapoor is a contributing editor at the Indian Express.

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