Ramnath Goenka had courage in his DNA: Ananya Goenka on the dark days of Emergency

Unfortunately today newspapers have becomes businesses owned by business houses who use the power of the press for business interests
Ramnath Goenka had courage in his DNA: Ananya Goenka on the dark days of Emergency
Ramnath Goenka had courage in his DNA: Ananya Goenka on the dark days of Emergency
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The News Minute | June 25, 2014 | 03:57 pm IST 

Ananya Goenka, is the former Vice-Chairperson of the Indian Express Newspapers Pvt.Ltd. and former CEO, Screen. She also owns a publishing house called Ana & Ana and has authored the book- 'A life in Black and White' on her father-in-law. In this conversation with Chitra Subramaniam, Editor-in-Chief, The News Minute, Ananya Goenka talks about Ramnath Goneka, the Emergency in India and PM Narendra Modi.

Ramnath Goenka led the fight against the Emergency imposed by Mrs. Gandhi on June 24-25, 1975. You have written a book about it. Tell us what went through his mind during those critical days and turbulent times?

To understand what was going on his mind, we need to understand why the paper was started in the first place. The Indian Express was a response to a call given by Gandhiji, for people to know the wrong that the British government was doing to Indian citizens. And to raise that voice it was important to have strong (and fearless) vocal chords.

That was the foundation on which this paper was built -- to speak against strong powers. So courage was in his DNA and the courage to be able to fight against any wrong was the metal with which he was built.

The moment you stand up for a right and just cause, the incumbent forms a strong opposition -- these are people who, most often, are armed with political capital and/or wealth. But for a pen to stand up against these powers , you need to make sure that it is made of stronger material, and if the hands of the pen are guided by the right motives then the pen can do much more than write -- it can create movements.

He was not much of a family man, he hardly met his children, that's probably a cost you pay for standing on your principles. Once I told him,"nanaji ( grandpa ), you've been named one of ten most influential people in india." He replied, "at what cost ?" .. .he definitely paid a very heavy price for fighting the emergency, and if the emergency would have continued for another week we would have probably had to close the paper at that time because there was no money to buy the newsprint. Advertisers -- both government and private -- weren't allowed to advertise in Express. Members of the family then said that the ladies were prepared to sell their jewellery, to keep the paper running.

His life was in danger , any one who spoke to him was in danger, so most of his meeting would be in disguise. His stance against Mrs. Gandhi threatened the survival of the paper and of a free India. He was fortunate to have the support of a handful of influential friends who believed in the same cause. Without that historic battle, I think it's safe to say that we would have been a very different country today. The Indian Express for him was a cause -- a tool in nation building -- and that was more important then anything else in the world -- whether it was family, wealth or even when his life was threatened, he chose to fight for a free press as a tool to build India as a democracy. It is only when you believe in something so strongly that one can take up a challenge like this.

Gandhi led the movement to challenge and shake the British regime. When Mrs. Gandhi stood to challenge Indian democracy, Ramnathji's adrenalin began to pump -- he was convinced that he wasn't going to let his paper see another era of autocratic rule.

I think three of his biggest challenges were: First, was when the Government appointed two hostile members on his company's board. For him it was like having two swords drawn on the Express' neck. And second, was when his board, on direction from a hostile Mrs. Gandhi, instructed him to replace his editor V.K. Narasimhan with Suman Dubey. For him it was like sound of death bells. He continued the stalemate and did not appoint suman dubey as Editor-in-Chief ..... I think that was nerve wrecking for him to defy Mrs. Gandhi's instructions. And third, I think, was the challenge of meeting the cost of newsprint without having any ad revenue. I think had the Emergency continued for another week, he would probably have been forced to surrender. It's one thing to cut costs to the last penny, but for a man already living a frugal life how much could he save?

I would like to quote a paragraph from one of the editorial written by RNG under extreme pressure from the Government after which he decided to stop publishing The Indian Express. " the human race is said to be fighting for its freedom, and what use it to us unless it includes the freedom of our country ? The hard fact of the situation is that if we went on publishing the indian express may be called a paper but it cannot be a news paper ... We have therefore decided that this will be our last issue for the present ." He was willing to shut the paper but not give in to the diktat.

What is the one piece of advice you would share with reporters today who are keen to do something for the country, but find themselves stuck in business and editorial calculations that have little to do with the profession?

Advise I can share -- what I told my son Anant when we were discussing Ramnathji -- was that his grandfather's story is a lesson not just for journalists but really, for anyone: To stand up for a higher cause which motivates you, have conviction in yourself , and be true to yourself to do what you think is right. He chose to shut his paper down instead of giving in to a diktat.

More specific advise is to work for an honest and journalism-first newspaper. It will motivate you to be better at your craft. Unfortunately the newspapers have becomes businesses owned by business houses who use the power of the press for business interests. It's a very dangerous zone to be in. Planted stories can easily be misconstrued as the voice of the newspaper. Fortunately though -- with the emerging online media, any one and everyone can become a reporter. My advise would be to hang on the truth . Don't kill your conscious just for someone else's benefit . Loosing money is okay because it is easy to find some more. but if you loose your values just once, you can consider them lost for good.
If you want to make a difference, then this is the the job for you. Journalism is like sacred stone of democracy -- which has all country's vulnerabilities. It's important you enter this space with clean hands and the right intention.

Do you believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a threat to press freedom as some of his detractors have already started to say?

I think his intentions are right with as a strong spiritually charged background, I think his conscience wont let him act against India's interests. He is a very strong leader -- I think this challenge will be to reach out and lead with others, not just by himself. And I think he's too smart to take India's free press for granted.

What is the one mistake Modi must never make?
He should not make too many enemies in his first term.

What is the one thing he must never forget?
His humble beginnings and the people who have supported him when he was possibly the most unfashionable political leader outside of Gujarat. 

Today young people think democracy is a given right. Few appreciate that it's a privilege they must protect especially in the media. Please comment on this.

Lot of blood and sweat has gone to protect this particular right of the people . There are hawks waiting to nibble at this right . We have seen it not only in India, but also in a country like America which boasts of freedom of press. I can only say if this ever happens in India , we must fight it tooth and nail, and also be aware that if this right goes away then no one is safe . My serious advise to media houses is please don't misuse your rights so much that it becomes the reason for govt to censor this right . 

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