Ramnath Goenka is a Constituent Assembly member elected to the Assembly from Madras from a Congress party ticket.
Goenka is most popularly known for setting up Índian Express’. Ramnath Goenka’s decision to start the Indian Express, according to his son, Viveck Goenka, was taken as a response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for the need of starting a national newspaper. During the Quit India movement, as a sign of protest against the Colonial government’s order to not publish news about the Congress-led movement, he wrote a scathing editorial titled ‘Heart Strings and Purse Strings,’ stopped the press and briefly shut down the publication of the newspaper.
According to Robin Jeffrey, he started his newspaper empire in Madras in the 1930’s as a Congress-oriented nationalist, but from the late 1960’s shifted his political sympathies to the Hindu revivalist political parties. His closeness to the Congress party is also illustrated by the fact that in the early years of independence, Goenka, not only was nominated by the Congress party, as a member to the Constituent Assembly from Madras, but in 1952 Lok Sabha elections, the first Lok Sabha elections of independent India, he even contested the Trivandrum seat on a Congress party ticket. However, his later rift with Congress party came to light, when in 1971, he was elected to the fifth Lok Sabha, as a Jan-Sangh candidate from the Vidisha seat of Madhya Pradesh.
The intense government crackdown of The Indian Express during the Emergency years of 1975-1977, and the vigorous and courageous retaliation by the Goenka-led newspaper in the form of blank editorial columns, counter-propaganda editorials, news-reports and cartoons about the brutalities of the sterilization drives, slum demolitions, and other extremities committed during the Emergency by the government, which were published at the cost of severe financial and health loses born by Goenka, show his complete alienation with the Indira Gandhi led Congress, by that time. According to Coomie Kapoor, not only was Ramnath Goenka a media advisor to the pre-emergency JP movement but also played an instrumental role in bringing together various anti-Congress parties like BLD, Jang Sangh, Congress (O) and Socialist Party together.
In the post-Emergency years, he was a moving force behind the coming of the Janata Party. He supported the brief Janta party government, but could not control their infighting. When Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1980, Goenka had to again face an angry Mrs. Gandhi. After Mrs. Gandhi’s untimely death, Goenka campaigned extensively against the Rajiv Gandhi government on the issues of dismissal of V.P. Singh as a finance minister and the corruption allegations in the Bofors case. Ramnath Goenka died on 5th October, 1991 leaving behind a rich legacy of responsible journalism.
Cinematically, he is remembered for his role in exposing the illegalities of the Ambani-led Reliance group. In the Mani Ratnam directed, 2007 movie Guru, which was based on the life of the industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani, actor Mithun Chakraborty essayed the role of a righteous newspaper baron Manik Dasgupta, which was inspired by the life and personality of Ramnath Goenka.
(This post is authored by Shikhar Geol, Student Contributor to the CADIndia Website)