October 23, 2013
The sober, even reassuringly staid, national daily The Hindu has of late been making the news rather than reporting it. On October 21, its admired 48-year-old editor Siddharth Varadarajan dramatically announced his resignation on Twitter after the newspaper’s board decided to move him from the editor’s chair to the less central role of contributing editor and senior columnist. Varadarajan, the first editor in the Hindu’s 135-year industry to be appointed from outside the family, took the hint and quit. “With The Hindu’s owners deciding to revert to being a family run and edited newspaper,” he tweeted, “I am resigning from The Hindu with immediate effect.” N Ram, chairman of the Hindu’s board, said Varadarajan and CEO Arun Anant defied the newspaper’s core values. Speaking to TEHELKA, Varadarajan categorically denied the charge and reflected upon a tenure cut ruthlessly and surprisingly short
How were you informed by The Hindu‘s owners of their decision to change your role to that of contributing editor and senior columnist?
The owners (board members) were split down the middle with six wanting me to continue and six wanting me to go. It was the first group who apologetically told me as soon as the Board meeting was over that the second group had prevailed because N. Ram, who was in the chair and had voted for the change, had issued an additional casting vote as chair. As a result, they told me, family members would now be returning to top editorial positions.
Why did you choose to announce your resignation on Twitter?
I did not. I emailed my resignation from The Hindu as Editor to the HR department as soon as I was informed of what had transpired; a few seconds later, I sent out a tweet.
Did N. Ram or anyone on The Hindu‘s board explain to you why you were being replaced? Did they mention your “defiance” of “core values” as the reason for the board’s decision?
No. Not once did the Kasturi & Sons Ltd (KSL) Board speak to me about these so-called violations. In fact, the Board has never asked me any questions on editorial content in the 20 months I was editor even though I submitted a report to them every two months. Of course, individual board members had queries about this or that story, about adverse coverage of this or that hospital or private university, why a certain op-ed writer or photograph was used, and so on, but it was all very collegial. The board members, including Mr Ram, have great experience of the newspaper business and often their queries or suggestions or bits of advice were very useful for me as Editor. Sometimes, though, we would agree to disagree. Certainly, no one made the kind of sweeping charge that is now being levelled.
In your time as editor, was it communicated to you that you were straying from long-held principles that The Hindu cherished?
No. And if there was truth in the charge, I should have been replaced with another professional editor.
Is it true, as your successor N. Ravi is reported to have claimed, that the “news desk was given standing instructions not to take any stories on Narendra Modi on page 1″?
Mr Ravi must have been misinformed. Here is the full text of my 27 September memo on the subject, which speaks for itself. My rule for “Modi, Rahul, Sonia etc” was: front page in the local edition, elsewhere only if newsworthy: