On February 7, a week after right-wing news and opinions website NitiCentral shut its operations down, it dawned on everyone that it was no more. It took popular tweeters sympathetic to the Right to point out that the website had been shut down. The website had fast been losing its share of the media space after the 2014 general elections and the subsequent exit of its then Editorial Director Kanchan Gupta.
In the past few months however, the website had run a news-aggregation product called the Offstumped Report under the leadership of its CEO Shashi Shekhar. Shekhar, who joined the NitiCentral team after the 2014 elections, describes Offstumped Report as an ‘experiment’ with positive results. You can read about the NitiCentral journey here.
However, following the sudden demise of the website, names have been called and accusations made. Speaking to Newslaundry on the website’s shutdown, Kanchan Gupta said,
‘’Friends have told me about Niti Central’s demise. My response is one of indifference. I resigned from my post as Editorial Director of Niti Digital in June 2014 after a callow techie whose only demonstrated qualities were of intrigue and deceit was appointed CEO. As part of my exit agreement, I insisted on all content attributable to me to be removed from the site, including any mention of my name. I wished no association with the new dubious avatar of what was once a trail-blazing multi-media digital platform. I have neither visited the site nor cared to think about it since then. Its closure means nothing to me.’’
It is believed that Gupta was unhappy with Rajesh Jain, the founder of NitiCentral, wanting to appoint Shekhar as the CEO irrespective of his approval, so Gupta quit in anger and disappointment.
There was more of the dirty linen being washed in public. A couple of employees have complained to Newslaundry that after the change at the top, when Gupta stepped out and Shekhar came in, the website became too opinion-driven and policy-centric, and that the management wasn’t standing behind its journalists when they were being targeted by politicians.
But one question has been left unanswered – why was NitiCentral really shut down?
The CEO, who has since found a spot on the board of Prasar Bharati, says that NitiCentral was a ‘mission' which had been accomplished. He says that the goal of NitiCentral was to change the media narrative in the country, with an important milestone being the victory of Narendra Modi in 2014. With the job done, it was time to move on.
“Back in 2012 there was no diversity of political opinion in the Indian media landscape. Now there is a very vibrant social media and online media covering the entire spectrum of political opinion with no single political ideology claiming a monopoly on debate and opinion. Thus in the true entrepreneurial spirit, this was the right time for us to move on to other challenges, with our mission largely accomplished,” says Shashi Shekhar.
Shekhar says that NitiCentral was never a commercial venture, and only a “mission”. “Since we were primarily driven by a mission, monetization was not a priority,” he says.
Shekhar also adds that they never hid that NitiCentral was a mission with limited goals. He says, that this ‘moving on’ is what he meant on May 17, 2014, when he wrote, “This institutionalised digital engagement will mean that we can look forward to more platforms in the future that will play a role similar to what India272+ played during the Campaign — soliciting ideas, channelising feedback, crowdsourcing solutions and facilitating a multi-way conversation.” Rajesh Jain too had written about it in October 2014, says Shekhar.
But couldn’t NitiCentral have been a platform which helped them further in their other missions? Shekhar says that NitiCentral had simply run its course.
Shekhar also dismisses allegations made by several employees, “When we shut down operations of NitiDigital (parent company) in Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Delhi and finally in Bengaluru, we made sure everyone else left with a job. Those who have complained now publicly are those who had specific HR issues with the company.”
On Gupta’s personal remarks against him, Shekhar refused to comment.