National Herald: ‘transfer of share had AJL stakeholders’ consent’

December 13, 2015 02:35 am | Updated October 18, 2016 01:09 pm IST - New Delhi:

Denying the charges of having “cheated” the shareholders of The Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the Congress Saturday added a new dimension to The National Herald controversy saying it had secured the consent of all the stakeholders before transferring AJL's shareholder rights to Young Indian (YI).

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told The Hindu that in an “extraordinary general meeting” in 2011 all the AJL shareholders “unanimously” agreed to hand over fresh equity to Young Indian — a charity trust in which Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi own 38 percent shares—with an intention of “reviving” the defunct publishing house.

“The fresh equity was approved to Young Indian to extinguish debt of AJL,” Mr. Surjewala said. “And AJL has every intention of reviving The National Herald newspaper and restoring the media voice that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had founded.”

In 2012, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy filed a complaint in a Delhi trial court, accusing the Congress of reducing AJL’s shareholder rights in a “malicious manner” from several hundred people to a few Congress leaders and well wishers so as to “usurp” its property. Since the former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru extensively wrote for AJL’s The National Herald. Dr.Swamy’s litigation, unwittingly or not, became known as “National Herald” controversy.

The most common question that arises in the National Herald transaction is — why did AJL not go to a bank in 2010 to repay its Rs.90 crore debt? To this, Mr.Surjewala said: “There was a Rs.90 crore loan from the Congress on AJL’s balance sheet. No commercial bank was willing to lend a single rupee to AJL due to the negative worth of the company, its meagre income and its over-levered balance sheet.”

Mr.Surjewala said the Congress was bound to support the AJL as it had a 78-year-old agreement with the company that states: “The policy of any newspaper, periodical, magazine or journal issued by the Company shall generally be in accordance with the policy and principals of the Indian National Congress.”

Mr.Surjewala said since Young Indian is a charity organisation and could not make profits out any AJL property, neither sell it or transfer it to any other body, there was no scope for any “criminality” in Dr.Swamy’s litigation.

“Not a single paisa has gone to Young Indian, Young Indian directors or Young Indian shareholders,” he said.

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