The invite had come in the name of Ramesh Chandra Agarwal, the chairman of Bhaskar group of publications. But, unlike most of the proprietors of regional newspapers, Rameshji did not jump at the opportunity to accompany the Prime Minister on his foreign trip.
Instead, he recommended my name —- I had just joined Dainik Bhaskar, DB Post’s sister publication —- and ensured that the invite was re-routed to include me in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s official press party.
When I landed in New York in the fall of 2000 to cover the Prime Minister’s visit to USA, Switzerland and Germany, I was in for a surprise.
The media contingent was teeming with owner-editors of regional newspapers, particularly Hindi newspapers, eager to reap the double benefit of proximity to PM and a subsidised foreign junket.
It was then that I realised the importance of what Rameshji had done.
He was trying to introduce professionalism to the world of regional newspapers. He was bringing in professionals to run his newspapers, giving them freedom to experiment with the product, even if it meant curtailing his own power.
That is no mean sacrifice, as those familiar with regional newspaper world would tell you. He is the man who brought professionalism to the world of Hindi newspapers.
For the next six years when I worked for his newspapers in different parts of the country, never once did he give me a reason to regret my decision to leave the national media scene and join the regional media.
He fully backed his editors, never questioned their professional decisions, settling disputes over a leisurely cup of tea in his office.
During my Bhopal stint, he was puzzled over only one fact: why Congress, that was ruling MP then, and BJP, the main opposition, were both unhappy with the newspaper.
Better informed than many of his editors
The chairman of the country’s largest group of newspaper was politically well-informed, probably better than many of his editors, thanks to his wide connections and his down-to-earth style.
For many people in the vast newspaper empire and other business powerhouses that he single-handedly created, he was a financial wizard who took the group to the height where it is today.
For me, he was the man who succeeded in taking regional journalism to new heights. For, he understood regional newspaper world like few of his contemporaries did.
He was basically a simple man, very affable and easy to go along with. He did not pick up fights. Being a good businessman, that was not in his nature. But he would not fight shy of confrontation, if someone tried to bulldoze him.
When a former chief minister closed down Dainik Bhaskar’s Gwalior edition, he pitched a tent on the road in front of the Press and for weeks produced his newspapers from there till the country’s judicial system came to his rescue.
Chief Ministers who used to complain to him about his editors knew that they would get a patient hearing, but nothing beyond that.
Stories of his magnanimity are legendry. I have my own to add.
My first introduction to him was in the early 80s. I was active in trade union field then. I would often approach him for donations to journalists and newspaper employees’ unions.
Most of our activities, needless to say, were against the interest of newspaper proprietors. And never once did he say no to us!
This was, I must point out, when most newspaper owners would not even allow us entry to their offices. When everyone would refuse us chanda, we could always count upon Rameshji.
He truly believed in the joys of giving. I bow to the memory of a great man, and a great newspaper owner.