ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Is The Hindu‘s uneasy relationship with the government of the day in Tamil Nadu rearing its head once again?
First, Jayalalithaa‘s decision to clamp down on the paper created a national furore. Now, comes hot speculation that a section of the ruling Karunanidhi family may be trying to pick up a stake in the Mount Road Mahavishnu.
The Sun conglomerate, which started out with a single Tamil channel has steadily branched out into various other media ventures over the past decade. It picked up Kungumam, a weekly magazine, and then bought and turned around Dinakaran, a Tamil daily.
Two years ago, before the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle set foot on Tamil soil, there were rumours, substantiated by Kalanidhi Maran himself, that the group was planning an English newspaper, to occupy the No. 2 slot, between The Hindu and The New Indian Express.
But the success of Sun’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), which has spurred its promoters into the league of the superrich, and the reported success of Chronicle in building up a 200,000 circulation in less than two years, has reportedly spurred a change of plans.
Media circles are abuzz that influential representatives of the Maran family have already sent feelers to Editor-in-Chief N. Ram for a stake-sale in The Hindu. (For the record, Sun is flush with money. Its scrip issued at Rs 875 through the book-building process is now hovering around the Rs 1,700 mark.)
Well placed sources say Sun’s initial overtures have been grandly rebuffed by the family owned newspaper. But given the manner in which the group muscled its way into the cable TV market with Sumangali, and the impunity with which it used Dayanidhi Maran‘s position as Union Information Technology minister to obstruct the Tata DTH project (because the Tatas refused to give a stake to Sun), observers say the last word on the subject has not been said.
It is difficult to see The Hindu doing business with the Sun group. There will be the caste factor at play. For all its progressive pap, The Hindu is still an I-Iyer-Iyengar fiefdom. More importantly, if The Hindu needs funds for growth and expansion, it has the reputation to go for an IPO itself or to sell a stake to a more solid and credible partner, maybe even a foreign player, than Sun.
Already, there are murmurs over the delay in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The Hindu union. Those who put one and one together and end up with eleven, believe the two events—the stake bid and the delay—may not be unconnected.
The Hindu union has traditionally owed its allegiance with the ruling DMK, and the grapevine is that Karunanidhi wants a full fledged DMK man at the helm of the union before the goodies are distributed to the employees.
Cross-posted on sans serif