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All but over for a Nehru child

New Delhi, Jan. 22: National Herald, Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream project and the Congress’s voice, will soon fall silent.

The employees’ union and AICC treasurer Motilal Vora are set to sign an agreement on Friday declaring the newspaper’s death. Its publication could stop by March.

The paper has suffered massive losses for years, the problems blamed on poor management, lack of resources, surplus staff and drying up of advertisements.

So attached was Nehru to the paper since he founded it in 1938 that he had declared: “I will not let the National Herald close down even if I have to sell Anand Bhavan (the family home in Allahabad).”

Even today, over four decades after his death, the paper carries his stamp. The masthead reads: “Founded by Jawaharlal Nehru.”

The countdown to the closure began with the visit of Vora to 5-A Herald House in Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, Delhi’s Fleet Street, to close the deal.

He met Saud Akhtar, president of the National Herald and Qaumi Awaz Employees’ Union, and conveyed Sonia Gandhi’s decision. Petroleum minister Murli Deora assisted Vora in closing the protracted negotiations at the Congress chief’s behest.

“Yes, it is true that everything (the closure terms) has been finalised. It has been a good deal. I am glad to note that the employees have got a good deal, a bonanza of sorts,” Akhtar, recovering at home from an accident, said.

Vora had told this correspondent recently that the Congress high command wanted the Herald, particularly its Urdu edition, Qaumi Awaz, to be re-launched from Lucknow. The Lucknow editions were suspended over a decade back.

Under the arrangement Vora reached with the union, over 250 employees, including around 40 journalists of the English and the Urdu editions published from Delhi, will get compensation. A source said a Rs 40-crore package had been finalised to pay them.

According to Akhtar, the employees, tired of waiting for things to turn around for years, had agreed reluctantly to the idea of closure. “Nobody wanted it this way but all of us were tired of its slow death. A general body meeting on January 16 led to a mutual agreement,” he added.

Akhtar said he had also heard Vora reassure senior employees that there could be a publication later.

“Maybe the Congress will get its act together, get state-of-the-art machinery and new staff and start afresh after a few months.”

In 1998, Lucknow’s Nehru Manzil, from where the papers were published, witnessed the sad spectacle of government officials auctioning the Herald’s properties as a huge portrait of Nehru brooded over the sorry turn of events.

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