A tribute to Ramesh Agarwal, the man with a mission

As you enter the Dainik Bhaskar group head office at Bhopal, you would notice a huge outline sketch of Gandhi. On the left on the canvas, you would notice the depiction of the Mahatma’s seven social sins — wealth without work, knowledge without character, business without ethics, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and pleasure without conscience. This precisely sums up the life principles that late Ramesh Chandra Agarwal lived in letter and spirit until his last breath on 12 Apr

24 Apr 2017 | By PrintWeek India

Agarwal always loved to be among people. Whenever he would meet the Bhaskar people or the general public, one could see a charming and curious twinkling, a spark of sorts in his eyes. That glimmer was a wonderful characteristic of his physical persona. Though publication was his family business and his father Dwarka Prasad Agarwal founded the Dainik Bhaskar group in 1958 with four editions from Bhopal, Gwalior, Ujjain and  Jhansi, probably, this people-friendly nature drew him to newspaper business that he eventually joined in 1965, starting DB’s ‘second round’ in his own words. The ‘Third round’ came when his sons joined the business.

He loved interacting with people face-to-face, which reflected in his editorial vision and also in the pages of DB. During one such interaction in Raipur, some local politician tried to raise issue of credibility crisis in journalism, Agarwal bluntly said, “Excuse me, credibility crisis is more with politician. Neta has become a word of abuse. Common man sees neta with disgust.” There was pin-drop silence in the hall. Such was the power of his words. He used to say, “Dishonesty needs memory, honesty doesn’t.” After the Bhopal tragedy, when the state government tried to teach media about sensible coverage, Agarwal, in his loud and clear voice, said, “Don’t teach the media about coverage. Tell us how the government is going to handle this crisis.”

Similarly, After the Patna launch of DB, he went to meet a local senior political leader. During conversations, the politician said, “Our relations are 20 years old. Why don’t you let this known to your editor?” Agarwal took no time to say that editors take their own decisions and such things had no bearings on them. He had the credit of re-establishing the institution of editor, especially at a time when owners themselves had started leading the editorial teams in various newspaper organisations. Even at young age, he was very clear about the profession, which was more of a mission to him than a profitable business.

Recalling initial financial difficulties, he said during the period, once he succeeded in securing Rs 20,000 advertisement from a famous business tycoon but he didn’t like the idea. He was determined to develop such a business model that would make DB financially self-sufficient. He took extra caution that DB should not be built relying on political forces or any particular business house. No doubt, his grit has paid off.

His business acumen was matchless and in that he was more of a visionary, innovator and a man of modern thinking. That’s why he was able to convince his father to adapt to modern offset printing. Later, when he took reins in 1980, he could see great possibilities in regional journalism, which was considered inferior to English then and often addressed as vernacular journalism, a derogatory term used since the days of the British Raj. Now, we are witnessing a booming regional Hindi journalism, testifying his vision.

Another groundbreaking concept of his was of cultivating new readers, not snatching them away from rival publications. He often used to say, “Hum pathko ko todate nahi, jodte hai.” Now, it seems so obvious, but in those days, new publication never talked about creating new readership, other than breaking them away from the established ones.

He was also able to see a visual era coming, when visual aspect of newspapers would make a great difference and hence he laid great emphasis on quality printing and reader-friendly layout. He was against designing paper for the sake of design.  Rather he would wish a design that helps readers in navigating through news items easily. Regarding content his emphasis was on colloquial language and short sentences. He preferred English words rooted in daily life over the Sanskritised words. He came out with full stylesheet stressing that people use ‘school’ and not ‘vidyalaya’, ‘judge’ not ‘nyayadhish’ ‘power or bijali’ and not ‘vidyut’.

As business leader, he always raised the bar for himself. The first task he set for himself was going outside Bhopal. He started the Indore edition, after which he never looked back. Making DB the largest daily in MP and more importantly, going outside MP naturally followed. When DB got rooted in all major cities and towns in Rajasthan, he aspired for making DB the largest daily of India. He also broke language barrier by publishing dailies in English (DNA Bombay), Gujarati (Divya Bhaskar) and Marathi (Divya Marathi). Even before that, he brought out the Chandigarh edition, which was basically an English language market, with local Punjabi newspaper of significant presence. Despite this, he succeeded in establishing Hindi language DB not only in Chandigarh but also in other towns of Punjab. Two decade back, once he said, “British newspapers don’t cover news after 10 pm. We can start a daily there, catering late night news.” That was the ultimate vision.

He was rare combination of someone who had a love of life and firm understanding of what was important — the simplicity of living a life with those you love. Although he developed a great media empire, he would trade it all for a Garba night with his family. In private life, he enjoyed all facets of relations, from caring father to loving grandpa and he was always for closely-knit family that results into professional and social success for its new generation. For him, family was source of his strength that gave confidence and hope of winning any obstacle.

The last of Gandhi’s social evil translates to Hindi as ‘Aatma bina anand nahi.’

No doubt, Agarwal was successful in discovering aatma ka anand, the celestial bliss that always reflected in his eyes all through the life.

Quotable quotes from Ramesh Chandra Agarwal

- Journalism is not a business; it’s a mission.
- Whatever we earn, we should return a portion of it to society.
- I must help all those who are connected to me or my group in every possible way.
- Dreams realise, but through hard work only.
- Firm determination opens all avenues of possibilities.
- I call him a leader who transfers all his abilities in every member of his team.
- I think media is for social cause. It should not harm people in any way.