Punjab Kesari

Punjab Kesari

cobrapost |
March 26, 2018

Sunil Sharma, Himachal; Harish Sharma, Sr. Business Executive, Chandigarh; Rajendra Kumar, Aslam Siddiqui, Bureau Chief, Delhi, Punjab Kesari

Making a beginning with a print run of just 3500 copies in 1965, Punjab Kesari has come a long way, now selling 743,000 copies a day. With simultaneous editions published from Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Palampur, Panipat, Hissar, Jammu, Bathinda, Rohtak and Shimla, the Hindi daily is undoubdetly one of the most influential vernacular paper of this region. It may have a daunting reputation, but when Pushp Sharma met two of its officials it did not take much effort for him to discover they were equally eager to secure business.

At the outset, the journalist made his agenda clear to Sunil Sharma. He wants to polarize the electorate in Punjab through his newspaper? Do they have a digital platform to promote speeches of firebrand Hindutva leaders? Sunil without batting an eyelid says: “Digital hai Sir (Yes we have a digital [platform]).” And it is cheaper, he adds. But tell me then, asks the journalist, if your management will not cut short our Hindutva agenda as they may have a deal with Akalis. “Aisa kuch nahi hai (No, that is not the case).” It is means your paper will fulfill its commitment with me? Reassures Sunil with a rider: “Bilkar Sir. Haan beech mein agar wo bhi chhapna chahte hain kuch toh hum usko bhi nahi rokenge (Sure Sir. Yes, if they [Akalis] want our newspaper to publish something we will not stop them, either).”

Pushp Sharma plays one of those audio jingles for him and then tells Sunil that next on his agenda is to thrash political rivals by caricaturing Rahul Gandhi as Pappu in a similar way. How will it go in your print editions, he asks Sunil. Suggests Sunil: “Creative toh chal jayega Sir par usmein cartoon ka hee rahega mere khyal se usi hisab se (Such creatives can be run Sir. I think it can go in the form of cartoons).” You mean you may run a series on weekends? “Haan wo chal jayegi koi issue nahi hai (Yes, that [series] will run. There is no issue).” Now, the journalist tells him who the main rivals of the party in power are: Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Janta Dal. But you can do it by using cartoons. Agreeing, Sunil says: “Koi issue nahi hai. Cartoon toh humare paper mein waise bhi chhapte hain … koi dikkat nahi hai (There is no issue. Anyway, our paper always carries cartoons … there is no problem).” But can you stop from publishing or dilute such stories that are not favourable to us? Sure he can, Sunil tells us, but the big ones: “Par normal see jaisi aati hai wo main karwa sakta hoon … wo karwa doonga wo koi diqqat nahi hai (But I can fix normal stories … that I can do. There is no problem).” This is how unfavourable stories will be diluted.

To see if all important components of his agenda have sunk in well, the journalist asks him if he can repeat what they all were. Surprisingly Sunil reiterates them leaving no doubt about his readiness to undertake the media campaign. Fine, what if I pay half by cheque and the rest in cash, the journalist now asks him, as it is important to discuss the mode of payment before any or every deal is finalized.

Wo theek hai koi diqqat nahi hai (That is fine. There is no problem),” assures Sunil. So, will this be decided at your level here itself? Interjects Sunil to say: “Nahi Sir main kal jaa raha hoon na Jalandhar toh ye saari baat kar loonga wahan jaakar jo bhi final hoga telephone par bata doonga (No Sir. Tomorrow I am going to Jalandhar and will discuss all these things there. I will tell you over telephone what is finalized).”

So, how will we deliver you the cash?

Sir ye Jalandhar office mein jayega aapka direct (Sir, this will go to our Jalandhar office direct[ly]),” informs Sunil. But who should we meet to deliver the cash? asks the journalist again. Replies Sunil: “Toh mere paas aana padega (Then you will have to come to me).” As the journalist has quoted a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore for his paper, he asks Sunil if they can accept 50 percent payment in cash. Sunil has no problem with it either: “Haan fifty-fifty ho jayega. Derh crore ka hua toh 75 cash uske through (Yes, fifty-fifty will be done. Of Rs.1.5 crore, you can pay in cash, the rest you can through that [cheque]).”

His colleague Sr. Business Executive Harish Sharma too is all game for the proposition that the journalist puts on his table. He even suggests him to go for a combo of Punjab Kesari and Jagbani for his campaign in Punjab. He says: “Main suggest karoonga apko Punjab Kesari and Jagbani in Punjab (I will suggest you to go for a combo of Punjab Kesari and Jagbani in Punjab).” Jagbani is another prominent newspaper published simultaneously from Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Bathinda by the group. This Punjabi daily sells about 329,000 copies a day. After discussing how he wants his paper to run his ad campaign, the journalist tells him in no uncertain terms that to find a toehold in Punjab his Sangathan would like their newspaper to promote Hindutva so that the electorate is mobilized on communal lines. To our shock, Harish has other priorities. “How much rate in 3 month [for your campaign]?” he wants to know. Rs. 3 crore, he is told. Says a satisfied Harish: “Theek hai (All right).” Next, the journalist tells Harish, he would like his paper to promote firebrand Hindutva leaders both in print and on digital media so that it is Hindutva all around. “I got your point,” says Harish.

Discussing again the combo media campaign, the journalist asks him to design the content in a manner that serves the intended purpose. Says Harish: “Wo uss cheej mein ho sakta hai jaise advertorial jayega na (That can be done through advertorial).” But then our advertorial should never be designated as such, asserts the journalist. Assures Harish, thus, “Nothing, just like news item, I got it.” What Harish tells us is that paid content of any kind is welcome by his newspaper.

After meeting Sunil and Harish, Pushp Sharma came back to Delhi where he had already met T.J. L. Kutty, who is National Marketing Head of Punjab Kesari. After hearing his agenda, Kutty had advised Sharma to see Aditya Chopra, owner of the group. Obviously, it was not logical for him to make dash for the same. Now, it was time for Sharma to check if the tendency to accept paid content of dubious nature ran through the organization. He, therefore, met Aslam Siddiqi, who is Bureau Chief and also looks after marketing, at the Delhi office, where he was accompanied by his junior colleague Rajendra Kumar. While briefing Siddiqi on his agenda, Sharma also plays one of those jingles for him. When the jingle is over, he tells Siddiqi that after the first phase of soft Hindutva, his media campaign will enter into the political realm targeting Congress, BSP and SP. The leaders of these parties are known by certain nick names like Bua. Siddiqi knows how the leaders of these parties are referred to in public discourse and says: “Babua, Pappu and Bua.” But it is none of his concerns. He is rather worried about the nitty-gritty of the deal that is about to come his way. Look what he says: “Ab ye dekhna padega political mein discount wali problem ayegi (Now, I see that there is a problem with the political as getting discount is a problem).” I know you will charge premium rates, the journalist assures him, and my Sangathan is capable of paying. Siddiqi says again: “Koi diqqat nahi hai toh ye starting mein toh aapka simple hoga ye religion mein humara chala jayega. Ismein toh hum discount de sakte hain. Fir aage kyonki political touch ho jayega toh problem ho sakti hai (There is no problem. Your campaign in the starting is simple. It is religious, so we can offer you a discount, but in the next phase it has a political touch. So, there may be a problem [with regard to discount]).”

It is obvious that Siddiqi does not give a damn about the nature of what his prospective client is proposing. His priorities lie somewhere else, in the realm of business. Now, the journalist pointedly tells him that in the next phase as the elections approach, his ad campaign will take a communal overtone to polarize the electorate. “No problem,” agrees Siddiqi nonchalantly. He also agrees to promote firebrand leaders like Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar and Mohan Bhagwat on their digital platform. He says: “Haan, haan … theek hai (Yes, yes. All right).” Reiterating that he wants political rivals like Congress, BSP and SP to be thrashed with help of those jingles, Sharma tells Siddiqi again that there mainly three main agendas of his campaign. Here again Siddiqi is more concerned about to see if he can offer discounts to his client. Listen to what he says: “Dekhiye pehla toh aapka discounted rahega … second aur third, second mein pata karna padega aur third mein to possible nahi hai ye toh premium par hee jaate hain (You see, the first phase of your campaign will be discounted … second and third. I will have to check for the second phase and there is no discount possible in the third phase as they go at a premium rate).”

What about accepting 60 percent payment in cash? We hear Siddiqi has no problem with that either, as he says: “Koi diqqat nahi hai. Main baat karta hoon pehle kya ho sakta hai (There is no problem. Let me discuss it first what we can do about it).” Sharma’s meeting with Siddiqi ended on this braoder agreement. To see reactions of concerned person click here

If you like the story and if you wish more such stories, support our effort Make a donation.


If you believe investigative journalism is essential to making democracy functional and accountable support us. »