Whether he was loved or hated, feared or admired, Ramnath Goenka was an enigma. Born in Darbhanga on April 3, 1904, Goenka went to Chennai to learn the business and worked as a despatch vendor with the Free Press Journal. In 1936, he founded The Indian Express. In 1941, he was elected President of the National Newspaper Editors’ Conference. He was also a member of the first Constituent Assembly, having put his signature on the Constitution of India.
The Indian Express and Goenka took the British Raj head on. In 1948, the Hindi daily,
Daily Tej approached Goenka. In collaboration, they brought out the English newspaper,
The Indian News Chronicle in Chennai. When Lala Deshbandhu Gupta passed away,
Goenka renamed the newspaper The Indian Express. After Independence, Goenka was
appointed member of the Constituent Assembly of India. He was a fearless journalist
who is remembered for his fierce opposition to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,
during the days of the Emergency. His bitter fight with friend-turned-foe Dhirubhai
Ambani is legend. He passed away on October 5, 1991, having battled a prolonged
What fate could fall more grievously than this? Either — being killed — thou wilt enter Swarga’s safety, or alive — and victor — thou will reign an earthly king. Therefore arise, thou Son of Kunti! Brace thine arm for conflict, nerve thy heart to meet — as things alike to thee — pleasure or pain, profit or ruin, victory or defeat. So minded, gird thee to the fight, for so thou shalt not sin. -Srimad Bhagavad Gita
I knew Ramnathji from late 60s to early 70s. In my eyes he was the one man who fought for the freedom of the press relentlessly in this country. I must admit we took positions of confrontation but he never bowed down to any political pressure or administrative pressure. He fought for the freedom of the country before Independence and after that he fought for the freedom of the press. As Revenue Minister in the 70s, I had tremendous personal respect for him. The way he built up the The Indian Express into the largest chain of newspapers shows his sagacity. We may have differed on principles, ideology and approach, but my respect for him will always remain undiminished. Shri Ramnath Goenka was a true freedom fighter and iconoclast who served the nation in the fairest spirit of Indian heroism by his refusal to submit
Shri Ramnath Goenka was a true freedom fighter and iconoclast who served the nation in the fairest spirit of Indian heroism by his refusal to submit to what he felt was not correct. He was willing to stake all he had for his principles and set the highest standards for Indian media in pursuit of truth. His legacy lives on in The Indian Express.
I had an opportunity to work very closely with Ramnathji as a student. He was the personification of free and fearless media. He loved a fight. He never shied away from it. He had the ability to give a direction to public opinion. But for him, a lot of facts would have remained concealed. He added meaning and substance to the readers’ right to information.
He was old but he had a fiery temper. Once he got provoked by a servant and I saw him jump over beds and furniture in hot pursuit of the poor fellow. He caught hold of him and gave him a dressing. His laughter at the same time was contagious. He enjoyed a good joke, the saltier the better. Along with this he combined a profound knowledge of the scriptures and western philosophy. He often spoke in Parliament and was heard with attention and respect. He was head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
I remember an upstanding and extremely courageous proprietor who backed his editors to the hilt when convinced they were right. I know of many instances, including the Bofors expose, when major attempts were made to plant stories with a spin, but on the spot Ramnathji could sniff them out and instead he threw his weight behind his editors. I remember like yesterday the way he marched in the hot Delhi sun with much younger people in 1988 (I was marching alongside), against the Anti-Defamation Bill that Rajiv Gandhi’s government wanted to introduce after Bofors. Ramnathji was a real institution builder who made a newspaper with a difference, a strong paper that upheld truth. I know that many have faced his wrath in his organization, but he was in the grand mould, he came out of the Freedom Movement and upheld its principles all his life.
Though our families had been friends for many years, I came into real contact with Ramnathji in 1985 when I became the first woman on the Press Trust of India board of which he was a senior member. I have very fond memories of the couple of years that we interacted, he was a mentor, an elder guiding me. He could make many directors shudder, I have seen him getting very aggressive and shouting very loudly, but I was fortunate that I experienced only the warmth and affection behind that steely exterior. He was really very charming underneath. The Indian Express has always stood apart from the rest of Indian media, its zeal for investigative stories puts it in a very different slot, a niche of its own, and that was Ramnathji’s doing: it is still regarded as anti-establishment, as bold as its founder.
He was a principled man who never bent to Government pressure. He was always prepared to take risks, without giving a thought to consequences…once, he had to give up his post as Chairman of PTI for taking on powerful people.
I would like to take this occasion to pay homage to Ramnathji. He was a free and fearless man and a great source of strength to every democracy. He made a phenomenal contribution to the growth of free press in India, which is the bulwark of our democracy.
The most trying period in modern Indian political history began with Jayaprakash Narayan’s launch of his all-India movement and ended with the traumatic Emergency experience. I have seen Goenkaji very closely during this period. It is rare that you have such a person who is so committed to values and principles and at the same time so fearless in standing by them. All of us who have gone though that crisis would recall that whenever anyone had a question in mind as to what should be done or not done, everyone realised that Ramnathji’s counsel would be the most appropriate. On the occassion of his centenary I offer my deep respect to the great soul.
Ramnath Goenka’s life is a clear message to the new millennium that you can’t get a better life for yourself unless you first get a better life for the country. He’s the reason why our press is the freest and strongest in the world, as befits the world’s largest democracy. The Indian Express is a living illustration of this. Ramnathji came into contact with Gandhiji as a pre-university student in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He joined the historic Champaran Movement begun by Gandhiji. From that time until his dying day, he stuck to his principles.
I had a lot to do with Ramnath Goenka in so many ways regarding freedom of expression, and I admired him for the boldness of his decisions, regardless of the consequences. I particularly liked the way he would write strong editorials himself without needing any professional touches – he spoke out himself. He supported Morarjibhai and I did not, but we remained friends to the end of his days. He had the courageous mental makeup that most editors lacked, including myself. Today we need more people in the media with the boldness of The Indian Express, to tell both the NDA and the Congress how to run the country: Ramnath Goenka certainly would have.
Posterity will judge Ramnathji for the relentless war he waged against the autocracy of the Emergency. His commitment was transparent and his dedication overwhelming.
He was a man in a hurry, complex, contradictory irascible, yes affectionate, who built a vast newspaper empire as a sword and shield to fight for causes he held dear – India and freedom of the press.
For over 75 years, The Express Group of publications has been synonymous with excellence in journalism and a commitment to independence and fairness. Its flagship newspaper The Indian Express has twice won the Vienna-based International Press Institute’s India Award for Outstanding Journalism in the Public Interest. It has won every major national journalism award and several international awards, including the Kurt Shorck Award for International Journalism, Natali Prize for Journalism and the International Federation of Journalists – Journalism for Tolerance Prize.
With the largest network of reporters across the country, The Indian Express and the business daily, The Financial Express, are published from a dozen cities every day, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Jammu and Chennai. The Group publishes Loksatta in Mumbai, the largest Marathi daily, and Jansatta in Hindi. Screen, its weekly entertainment magazine, is considered the most influential and authoritative magazine in the Mumbai film industry.
In June 1975, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi clamped an Emergency on the country. The voice of the media was ruthlessly choked, its contents censored. Anti-government demonstrations were prohibited by law.
Since the paper took a strong stand against the Mrs. Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency, The Indian Express protested her Government’s attempts to censor the press by carrying a blank editorial on the OpEd page. This blank editorial went on to become a symbol of the movement against the Emergency.