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Sic transit gloria

How the mighty are fallen! Aveek Sarkar, hitherto chairman and editor-in-chief of the Kolkata-based Ananda Bazar Patrika Ltd (ABP), a closely held family-run company which dominates the media business in West Bengal, has been ousted from office in a swift and silent boardroom coup engineered by younger brother Arup obliged to pay second fiddle for over three decades. Currently, the ABP website lists Aveek as vice chairman and editor emeritus, and Arup as the director and his UK-educated son Atideb as executive director. Aveek’s large ballroom size office in the new high-security Doric-style ABP headquarters on Prafulla Sarkar Street is reportedly vacant with this media tycoon relegated to a tiny annexe, which he visits occasionally with none so poor to do him reverence. 

If there is a trace of schadenfreude in this narrative, it’s because your editor conceptualised and launched BusinessWorld for ABP in 1981, and with extraordinary diligence established it as the country’s #1 business magazine, raking in vast profits. However, when I put in my papers in 1987, no golden handshake or severance package was offered. Moreover when this evangelist sui generis education magazine was launched in the new millennium, repeated invitations to Aveek to invest a tiny proportion of the crores your editor earned for ABP by way of an equity stake, went unheeded. 

In the end, hubris proved the undoing of this self-absorbed media tycoon. In the run-up to West Bengal assembly elections of May 2016, Aveek foolishly took sides and antagonised Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee who was re-elected chief minister with a landslide majority. And with the ABP Group — to which the TMC government had cut off all advertising — obliged to downsize its 1,800-strong workforce by 700 last December, because of the vast expenditure incurred by Aveek on the imposing new ABP headquarters and the imminent possibility of the state government siding with the laid off workers, Aveek became the sacrificial goat who had to go.

Now reportedly in charge of ABP’s unglamorous vernacular television news channels, Aveek who prides himself as an authority on the world’s finest hotels and private clubs, whiles away his days in effete epicureanism with “books, food, wine and art , his four principal loves”. Sic transit gloria mundi. 
Over-monetised society

The big gamble of Theresa May, prime minister and leader of the Conservative party, to call a mid-term general election to strengthen her five-seat majority in the House of Commons (UK’s lower house of Parliament) has blown up in her face and reduced the Tory Party to a minority government obliged to cobble up a working majority with a small far right Northern Ireland party. Meanwhile, the opposition Labour party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, written off just a month ago, recorded handsome gains in the recently concluded British general election. 

The question which everybody in the UK and elsewhere is asking is how did the massive majority that every opinion poll in the UK had predicted for May’s Conservative party, vanish before election day (June 8)? While there’s no shortage of expert opinion on this subject, as a former student activist in British politics and occasional visitor to contemporary Britain, my view for what it’s worth, is that since the retreat of Britain from oppressive socialism in the 1980s under Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, the country has gone too far in the other direction.

Latter day Britain is an over-monetised economy in which all state services are charged. Even the country’s excellent National Health Service — the Labour party’s enduring gift to the UK — has become grudging with dentistry and some medication expenses axed. Moreover free legal aid and advice, another great social service to the people, has become a cipher. Once a generous welfare state which subsidised the aged and students, modern Britain has reverted to type transforming into a nation of greedy, grasping shopkeepers scrambling for profit. 

Yet a substantial minority within this once great imperial power has a historical memory of liberal politics and idealism which this island nation exported worldwide. Therefore, against the backdrop of rising income and wealth inequalities of latter-day Britain, the core public welfare ideas of the Labour party preached by Corbyn are resonating countrywide. Indeed the general consensus is that the brief summer of May — who fashioned herself after the Iron Lady — is over.


Shadow over NDTV

The Editors Guild of India and almost the entire Delhi press corps have rightly condemned the eminently questionable NIA (National Investigation Agency) and CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) raids on the home of Dr. Prannoy and Radhika Roy, promoter-directors of NDTV Ltd (estb. 1988) — India’s pioneer English news television channel company — on June 7, on the basis of a clearly motivated complaint filed by Sanjay Dutta, a disgruntled shareholder of NDTV and ICICI Bank. Dutt’s allegation is that a fraudulent and collusive deal between the Roys and ICICI Bank under which the latter waived a part of the interest payable to settle an outstanding loan, caused a loss of over Rs.48 crore to the bank. 

Although such principal recovery settlements are normative in the banking business, it is difficult to sympathise entirely with the Roys who have a long history of complex financial wheeling-dealing and influence peddling, for which cases were filed against them long before the incumbent BJP government was elected in 2014, as recounted in considerable detail by the Delhi-based magazine Caravan (December 2015). These opaque deals and the lavish lifestyle of the royal Roys have cast a long shadow over their public image. 

Moreover, although from his comfortable perch in Lutyens Delhi, Roy proclaimed himself a great champion of poor and underprivileged children, repeated requests to him to provide a tiny whiff of oxygen to EducationWorld (estb. 1999), promoted to reform the country’s rotting education system, were dismissed with disdainful silence. Little wonder it’s difficult to throw him a lifeline as he flounders in a sea of troubles. 

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