National Herald: History of the paper and the case

Recently, the Gandhi family suffered a setback in the National Herald case against them when the Delhi High Court dismissed a plea by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi against a reassessment notice from the Income Tax department.

The BJP was quick on its feet, as usual, saying that the Bharat Bandh that was called out for yesterday was to 'divert attention' from the matter itself rather than to protest the rising fuel prices as the Congress claimed.

But what of the paper and what led to this situation? To know that, read on for a bit of history and an introduction to the political tug-of-war between the Congress and the BJP.

National Herald was created during the later parts of the Freedom Movement in September 1938 and was started by Jawaharlal Nehru, with K Rama Rao being the first editor of the paper. Nehru was a member of the Board of Directors till his appointment as the first PM of Independent India.

Following the Quit India resolution in 1942, the British government clamped down on the press of the country, and many were shut down, including the National Herald. The paper was revived in 1945. In 1946, Manikonda Chalapathi Rau was made the editor of the Herald, with Nehru reportedly giving him free reign and complete editorial independence.

Nehru continued to be a member of the Herald and served as its international corrsespondent. He was said to use the paper to sidestep the existing press to convey his thoughts to the public, such as in the case of his 1954 editorial where he penned a scathing piece on the Bikini Atoll tests, calling it 'The Death-dealer'.

For over 50 years after the editorial, the paper continued to circulate, until 2008, when it was shut down after the paper failed to modernise its print technology and was a loss-making enterprise.

Then, in 2012, talks of National Herald being revived took steam when the Congress gave an interest-free loan to the Associated Journals. Amdist a petition by Subramanian Swamy, who was the Janata Party chief at the time, to derecognise the Congress over the move, the party's general secretary Janardan Dwivedi termed National Herald's revival as 'an emotional issue'.

In 2014, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were summoned by a local Delhi court as accused in a criminal complaint lodged by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy for alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of National Herald., but in August, the Delhi High Court stayed the criminal proceedings against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandi the case.

In 2015, the Enforcement Directorate stepped into the National Herald case shortly after a senior official said there was no case to be made out against Sonia and Rahul, suggesting the body may file a money laundering complaint against the duo.

In November 2015, BJP spokesperson M J Akbar said the reports on Robert Vadra's land transactions involving shell companies had "rattled" top party leaders and as such, the party was raising "slogans" of "intolerance" to divert attention from that and the National Herald case.

Then in December, the Delhi High Court dismissed pleas from Sonia and Rahul, challenging summons issued to them in the National Herald case in which they have to appear before the trial court and also refused to give them an extension.

Undeterred from all the legal issues surrounding its leaders, the Congress attacked the BJP head-on, with its spokesperson Randeep Surjewala terming the case a "vendetta politics" tactic from the saffron party.

Around the time the Delhi HC dismissed the Gandhis' pleas, Shanti Bhushan said he will intervene in the National Herald case and described the transfer of shares to Young Indian Limited as "illegal".

Former Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu ridiculed the Congress for dragging the PMO in the National Herald issue and accused it of fighting a legal battle in Parliament.

In less than a week of the Delhi HC verdict, Himanshu Kumar Lal, the ED officer who had recommended closure of National Herald case, was shifted from the organisation and appointed as Deputy Secretary in the UIDAI under the Department of Electronics and Information Technology. The change followed a complaint by Swamy to Narendra Modi.

In January 2016, The EGM of the Associated Journals Ltd, the publishers of the National Herald, Navjivan and Quami Awaz newspapers, decided to re-launch the three dailies.

On February 5, Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi approached the Supreme Court to quash a complaint filed by Subramanian Swamy in the ‘National Herald’ case and to set aside the December 7 order of the Delhi High Court directing them to face the criminal prosecution for the offences of cheating, breach of trust, misappropriation of funds and criminal conspiracy.

In November, National Herald staged a comeback with a digital version. The Associated Journals Limited, mired in legal hassles over its assets, announced the launch and claimed that the printed version of its newspaper will also see a rebirth soon.

In December 2016, it was Swamy's turn to face a setback when a Delhi court rejected his plea to direct Congress and Associated Journals to produce certain papers, saying that he "seemed to enlarge" the scope of the proceedings.

In January 2017, Swamy produced an Income Tax assessment order against the Young Indian company, in which majority shares were held by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to misappropriate funds by paying just Rs 50 lakh, through which YI obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which Associate Journals Ltd owed the Congress.

In April 2018, Senior Congress leaders, including Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes told a Delhi court hearing the National Herald case that Subramanian Swamy was trying to defame them and vilify their party.

And finally, in August, Sonia Gandhi told the Delhi HC that the debt of Rs 90 crore of the Young Indian company, when converted into equity, would not result in any income for levying tax.

Which brings us to the setback the Gandhis faced from the Delhi HC yesterday.

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