But it was not the first time that questions were raised about the funding of the Herald, a newspaper India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru founded in 1938. One of Nehru’s party colleagues, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, alleged that the paper, for which he and others collected money, became a mouthpiece of the PM and, later, his daughter Indira Gandhi.
Gupta, a four-time CM who was considered one of the party’s top fund-raisers in north India in the Nehru years, wrote in his memoir Safar Kahin Ruka Nahin, Jhuka Nahin (Journey did not stop anywhere, did not bend), “I am surprised that National Herald is now considered as a property of the Nehru family. If there is some investigation by an inquiry commission into how funds were collected for National Herald, there will be a big exposé. From the very beginning, the policy of the National Herald was to promote Nehru and his daughter. For it, freedom of the press meant attacking whoever criticised the wrong policies of the Nehru family.”
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The book was published last year by Naman Prakashan in Lucknow, four decades after Gupta’s death.
Gupta became the third UP CM in 1960, but he was removed from the post in 1963 under the Kamaraj Plan. K Kamaraj, who served as CM of erstwhile Madras state, had proposed to Nehru that all senior Congress ministers and CMs resign and take up party work. He became the CM again on March 14, 1967, but had to step down on April 2, 1967, after Charan Singh left the Congress and floated his own party. Gupta became CM for the fourth time on February 26, 1969, but was forced out just short of a year because of the fallout from a split in the Congress the year before.
In the book, Gupta, detailed how funds were collected for National Herald during its initial years and even later on as and when required. The newspaper began its journey in Lucknow in 1938 while the Hindi daily Navjivan and Urdu publication Qaumi Awaz started later.
“We all — Acharya Narendra Dev, Shriprakash, Shiv Prasad Gupt, Purushottam Das Tandon and myself — sold shares. A hundred shares were bought in the name of Nehru so that he could be named its director. Some money was taken from the Congress and a part came from money bags gifted to Nehru and other leaders. When I started collecting money for that, it was said that I wanted to take control of the paper. Still, I helped the newspaper during a crisis.”
The former UP CM claimed that Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, who was the state revenue minister in the two administrations that GB Pant headed till August 15, 1947, collected money from talukdar families and a part of that sum was given to National Herald. “Because of that, Nehru never objected to Kidwai about this (fund) collection,” Gupta said.
The Congress leader, in his book, mentioned that his well-wishers and friends gifted him Rs 36 lakh on his 65th birthday on July 13, 1966. This was a year before the 1967 UP Assembly elections. Gupta claimed that his rivals (HN Bahuguna, Kamlapati Tripathi, and Govind Sahai) in the state Congress complained to the party’s central leadership in Delhi and Kamaraj got annoyed with him. Gupta wrote that National Herald’s then managing editor Uma Shankar Dikshit — a Congress stalwart who became a Union minister and served as the governor of Karnataka and West Bengal — told him that Indira Gandhi wanted a part of the money to be given to the paper. But Gupta said he refused, and pointed out that before Dikshit made this request he had received an Income-Tax Department notice on paying tax on the Rs 36 lakh. He claimed he had done so.
Gupta alleged that since the newspaper had gradually transformed into a mouthpiece of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, he “was not ready to fulfil the wishes of Indira Gandhi because she always helped my political opponents silently”. “I told her that I had no funds left,” he added.
Following the split in the Congress, the then UP CM sided with the Congress (O) headed by Kamaraj but lost his position the following year as the Indira faction won the intra-party struggle for control. Gupta later joined the Janata Party and was appointed its treasurer. The four-time CM, who was among the defence counsels in the Kakori train robbery case, died on March 11, 1980.
Since its launch, National Herald has carried on its masthead the quote “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might” composed in Nehru’s handwriting. But the quote was withdrawn during Emergency. The paper subsequently continued to come out of Delhi and Lucknow but its publication stopped in 2008. It was relaunched in 2016. In his complaint, Swamy alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds on the part of the Gandhis in acquiring the newspaper. Swami alleged that the Gandhis acquired properties owned by National Herald by buying the newspaper’s erstwhile publishers, The Associated Journals Limited (AJL), through an organisation called Young Indian in which they have an 86 per cent stake.
Defending the Gandhis, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi has said AJL came under financial stress over the decades, after which the Congress stepped in and over a period of time gave Rs 90-odd crore of financial support. AJL converted its debt into equity, which was eventually acquired by Young Indian, Singhvi said, adding that since Young Indian was a non-profit organisation, “by law…no dividend can be given to its shareholders or directors… So you cannot take a penny”.