Except for a large portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru and a small board of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), there is little in the five-storeyed Herald House to suggest that the daily National Herald was once published from here.
The building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi now houses the regional passport office. On Tuesday, all one could hear was the buzz of passport applicants, many crowding the building staircase.
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It was from this building that National Herald, launched by Nehru, began publishing in 1968 and continued until 2008.
What remains now is a 30×7-ft office of Young Indian, which has Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as major stakeholders, and which took over AJL in 2010. In February, 2012, four floors of the building were taken on rent at market rates by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
From the first two floors, the MEA runs the Passport Seva Kendra — it has been operational since February 27, 2012. The other two floors are occupied by TCS which processes passport applications. The top floor is an empty office space owned by Young Indian.
Staffed by about half a dozen people, including security guards, the Young Indian office is practically dead. A glass door leads to what looks like a gallery with paint peeling off the walls, four rusty almirahs with books on Companies Act and Income Tax, a poster of Goddess Lakshmi wishing Happy Diwali, and a rickety table-and-chair set where a man in his late 60s sits wearing a suit.
From here, S K Sharma, a retired company secretary with the Modi Group, has been “managing” the affairs of Young Indian for the past eight years.
So what does he do? “Read newspapers,” Sharma said. “I have been reading newspapers here for the past eight years. There is nothing to do here. Sometimes a lawyer comes in connection with cases involving the trust. Or if there is some work related to my expertise, I help out. But that rarely happens.”
Sharma said after he retired, he got in touch with Congress treasurer Motilal Vora who he knew for “some engagement”. Vora asked him to sit at the Young Indian office in Herald House.
“I don’t get paid. My children are married and settled. I don’t need much. As a retired man, I have nothing to kill time with. Vora Sahab asked me to sit here. This is the registered office of Young Indian. It suits me. There is AC and the office is centrally located,” Sharma said.
Most in the staff are from the days when National Herald was functional. Most part of the day is spent running errands or ordering tea: “Meethi (sweet),” shouts a woman as she orders another cup of tea on the phone.
“Sometimes we have to carry papers to the Congress office. The FAX has been dead for years,” says one from the staff.
Stopping by at Herald House, Jameel Akhtar, who once worked for Qaumi Awaz, an Urdu paper published by the National Herald group, feels sad about the state of affairs.
“This was a buzzing newspaper office once… The Young Indian office space was actually the reception of National Herald,” he said, recalling how Rajiv Gandhi once got back employees poached by another Urdu newspaper by gifting them radios.
All employees have since retired or are engaged elsewhere. “The group took good care of its employees. All were given hefty voluntary retirement packages when the paper shut down,” Akhtar said.
Four of the five floors of the building are now rented out to the passport office and TCS. So how much is the rent, and who gets it? “We have no idea. Maybe somebody senior in the Congress will know,” a staffer said.
The top floor is well done-up with glass door cabins and leather sofas, their plastic covers still intact. Four security guards keep watch. “Nobody works here. In fact, nobody ever comes here. Sometimes, letters come and are sent to Rahulji,” a security guard said.
Do Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or any Young Indian director ever visit the office? “No idea” is the curt reply.
Sharma says if ever National Herald is revived, it will be published from this fourth-floor office. “Sometimes when Vora Sahab comes, he sits in that office.”