PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who launched himself into India’s bulging billionaire club by selling his 67% stake in BPL Mobile, and became a Rajya Sabha member of the ruling JD(S) in Karnataka, is reportedly eyeing a stake in a Bangalore-based newspaper group that publishes Deccan Herald and Praja Vani.
Chandrashekhar, 43, currently chairman and managing director of Jupiter Capital, a firm with a focus on media, entertainment and technology ventures, already has a presence in radio and television. He owns Indigo Radio, an FM channel, and recently acquired the Malayalam television channel, Asianet. A Kannada channel is in the pipeline.
The erstwhile BPL scion, who is sitting on a cash pile of anywhere between Rs 1,400 crore and Rs 1,600 crore, wants to complete his media bouquet by getting into the print medium by picking up a slice of The Printers (Mysore) Private Limited, the publishers of Deccan Herald, Praja Vani, Sudha and Mayura.
Except that the family-owned media house is not for sale. Sure, it is cash-strapped. Sure, there is an internecine war that recently saw a change in the editorship of the publications. And twice in the last three years, there have been rumours that one of the three brothers, a different one each time, wanted to sell out; but they were hotly denied.
Therefore, Chandrashekhar, who himself was at the centre of a family squabble involving his father-in-law T.P.G. Nambiar over BPL mobile, is said to be using a backdoor route to gain entry into 75, M.G. Road.
Sources say Chandrashekhar is said to be interested in picking up the holdings of non-family members. As per the Form IV declaration of February 25, 2007, besides the three brothers, there are 12 shareholders—29 individuals in all—holding more than one per cent of the total capital of the company.
At least one of them is said to have evinced keen interest in Chandrashekhar’s offer. But there is a hitch. The change of editorship issue is before the Company Law Board. Till that is resolved, the shares cannot change hands. And even if the shareholder wants to divest, the first offer has to be made to the family. Will the family spurn the silver?
Moreover, will picking up these small holdings give Chandrashekhar controlling power, which is his ultimate gameplan? Maybe not, but media analysts say at least it will give him a foot in the door in Bangalore, where the newspaper market has been red-hot for over a decade now and market leader Deccan Herald has been caught napping time and time again.
Cross-posted on sans serif
Illustration courtesy: The Telegraph, Calcutta