Who Owns Your Media: Jagran Group and the story of India’s most read daily

“Puran Chandraji was a freedom fighter, revolutionary, journalist and an entrepreneur…He chose the path of journalism to serve the people of India.”

This is what Dr Manmohan Singh said in 2012 while releasing a postage stamp honouring Puran Chandra Gupta, founder of the Jagran group – best known for Dainik Jagran. Gupta had also served as chairman of the Press Trust of India for two years.

As per Singh’s speech, Gupta was inspired to start a “nationalist newspaper after Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement” and “strongly believed that the countrymen’s aspirations and emotions can be best expressed only through newspapers in Indian languages”. Singh also added that “through [his] life, he encouraged free and fearless journalism.”

If you’re wondering why the founder of a group that’s been accused of leaning right was commemorated in the tenure of the Congress, Sevanti Ninan’s book, Headlines From the Heartland: Reinventing the Hindi Public Sphere, gives us some clues.

In an interview with Ninan, Gupta’s son Yogendra Mohan said that in 1926, when his father would have been 14 years old, he started a group called Hindi Sampraday with his friends. The group initially supported revolutionaries and later Gandhi – Gupta even joined the Congress to work for the independence movement.

In 1937, he started a printing press in Kanpur with his brother. Apart from printing leaflets for the movement, they also took on print jobs to earn a living and later to publish news about the movement they started a weekly called Swatantra in 1939 with Sampraday member Jagdish Chandra Kulsia, who was working with Pratap. A year later, after catching the unfavourable attention of the British, they moved their press to Jhansi. By then, Gupta was regularly travelling to Bombay, Delhi and Madras for the movement’s work and also to secure advertising. He was confident of starting a daily newspaper.

And that’s how Jagran was launched in Jhansi in 1942, followed by editions in Kanpur (1947), Rewa (1953) and Bhopal (1956).

Archived annual reports, dating back to 1960, of the registrar of newspapers – and published by the ministry of information and broadcasting in its Press in India book – recorded media trends as well as ownership. For Jagran’s Jhansi edition, Gupta’s brother JC Arya was registered as the publisher, printer and owner, with Arya’s son Rajendra Gupta as the editor. Puran Chandra himself was registered as the publisher, printer, editor and owner of the Kanpur edition. His brother Gyan Swarup Gupta was the registered printer and publisher for the Rewa edition, while another brother Guru Dev Gupta was registered as its owner and editor. Guru Dev Gupta was also the publisher, printer, editor and owner of the Bhopal edition.

While the Uttar Pradesh editions at the time were registered under the name Jagran, those in Madhya Pradesh were registered under Jagran (Dainik). This differentiation might have been required in Madhya Pradesh because Indore already had another daily called Jagran, started by Ishwar Chandra Jain in 1950 and published by Mazdoor Printing Press.

The group has since expanded its footprint to cover most of the northern Hindi-speaking belt, as well as some places in the east, spanning 39 editions. Dainik Jagran is presently India’s most-read daily with a total readership of close to seven crore, as per the results of the Indian Readership Survey Q42019.

Funding and in-fights

In 2002, after the government overturned its 1955 resolution to now permit 26 percent foreign direct investment in print media, the Jagran group was one of the first to get foreign funding. In 2004, Irish businessman Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News & Media acquired a 26 percent stake in Jagran Prakashan Ltd, or JPL – incorporated by Puran Chandra and his sons in 1975 – for around Rs 150 crore. At the time, Pearson Overseas had already acquired 14 percent shareholding in Business Standard.

In 2005, the Jagran group forayed into the television space with the launch of Channel 7, a Hindi news channel that was rechristened IBN7 after Network18 took over. The Jagran group has exited the venture and Network18 has renamed the channel News18 India.

The group then started its marketing and outdoor advertising and media services divisions, Jagran Solutions and Jagran Engage.

In 2006, Jagran Prakashan went public.

In its prospectus, JPL disclosed the history of its business acquisitions within the group over the years, including patent and copyright transfers:

First, in 1975, it acquired publication rights of Dainik Jagran Kanpur and Gorakhpur, Daily Action (Kanpur) as well as a monthly magazine Kanchan Prabha (Kanpur) along with the plant and machinery from partnership firm M/s Jagran Publications.

Then in 1997, JPL acquired the self-generated patent and copyright of the contents from M/s. Jagran Publications. Next in 1984, JPL entered an agreement with partnership firm Daily Jagran (Jhansi) regarding sharing of advertisement revenues from Dainik Jagran’s Jhansi edition that Daily Jagran printed and published; JPL had exclusive rights to sell the advertisement space in national markets. JPL also entered into a similar ad-revenue agreement, in 2000, with Jagran Publications Pvt. Ltd. for the Rewa and Bhopal editions that the latter published. But Jagran Publications would hold exclusive rights to the title ‘Dainik Jagran’ w.r.t. new editions in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh; any expansion of ‘Dainik Jagran’ in those states would be undertaken on mutually agreed terms between JPL and JPPL. Subsequently, JPL also acquired equity shares in JPPL such that Jagran’s M.P. Group Jagran (lineal descendants of Guru Dev Gupta) and U.P. Group (lineal descendants of Puran Chandra Gupta) would hold shares in the ratio 60:40 with the U.P. group holding 50% voting rights. The agreement was to be in force for at least 25 years.

In 2000, JPL acquired the entire undertaking of Dainik Jagran’s publication from Jagran Limited, which printed and published the Meerut and Dehradun editions. A few years on, JPL entered a deed whereby Jagran Limited was disallowed publishing any newspaper with the same or similar name neither could it publish any Hindi newspaper from Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand and Punjab.

In 2002, by a scheme of amalgamation, three of JPL’s wholly owned subsidiaries – Jagran Prakashan (Delhi) Private Limited (JPDPL), Jagran Prakashan (Varanasi) Private Limited (JPVPL) and Rohilkhand Publications Private Limited (RPPL) – were transferred to and vested in JPL.

In 2005, for Rs.1.53 million, JPL acquired its partnership firm Jagran Research Centre, in which it already had 89% shareholding and the same year Jagran Prakashan (MPC) Private Limited was incorporated to focus on Dainik Jagran’s MP and Chhattisgarh editions; the M.P. Group and U.P. Group would hold share capital in a 50:50 ratio.

But in 2007, only a year after JPL got listed, Madan Mohan Gupta, belonging to the MP group, filed a civil suit with a few others against Jagran Prakashan in the Delhi High Court, stating that the trademark Dainik Jagran was owned by the lineal descendents of JC Arya, PC Gupta and GD Gupta and not by Jagran Prakashan alone, based on the Provisional Partition (Family Settlement) dated June 12, 1951 and an additional agreement dated January 10, 1976. They even applied for an injunction seeking an ad-interim restraint order against Jagran Prakashan from unauthorisedly using the Dainik Jagran trade name/trademark.

In fact, Sanjiv Mohan Gupta, who belongs to the GD Gupta family and is director of Jagran Publications Private Ltd, reportedly wrote to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to reject Jagran Media Network Investment Pvt. Ltd’s proposal to transfer shareholding to Blackstone. JMNIPL is Jagran Prakashan’s holding company. After Independent News & Media sold its stake in JPL in 2010, the PC Gupta family had transferred its entire shareholding to JMNIPL and Blackstone GPV Capital Partners invested Rs 255 crore in it.

But as the bulk of Dainik Jagran’s editions – 35 out of 39 – are registered under JPL, the court dismissed the injunction application, not finding sufficient grounds. Of the remaining four editions, Rewa is still registered under Gyan Swaroop Gupta and Bhopal under GD Gupta. Gwalior is registered under JPPL and Jhansi under Dainik Jagran LLP, owned by JC Arya’s family.

While the case is still in court, JPL set out to expand with mergers and acquisitions.

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