14 states, 62 editions, four languages, fourth largest circulated daily of the world and 28 FM radio stations. That's what DB Corp (Dainik Bhaskar) is, an empire built, brick by brick, by the late Ramesh Chandra Agarwal.
Earlier today, a cardiac arrest took him away, marking the end of an era in Indian print media. He was 73.
"Back then," Kalpesh Yagnik, group editor, Dainik Bhaskar, says, recalling the group's early days, "we were in an era where media owners ran the editorial (function) as editors-in-chief. This led to a series of resignations - we saw editors of leading daily broadsheets moving out, posing an immense question mark about the institution known as 'editor'. This was when Ramesh Agarwal stood up and said - 'Each edition of Bhaskar will have its own editor who will run the newspaper'. I salute this contribution. It was significant for journalism and the readers. In those days, being a regional daily, Bhaskar managed to set a pattern for the rest of the country to follow."
He goes on to recall an anecdote, his first tryst with the firm: "I was nearing the end of my college days. I found something which seemed incorrect in the paper. I picked up the phone and called the Bhaskar office. I was directed to the editor's chamber. The phone rang and rang for a long time and finally someone picked up. I said, 'Aapke akhbar mein kuch galat chapa hai....' He replied, 'Batayiye na, aapke akhbaar me kya galat chapa hai?' I said, 'Ji mere nahin, aapke akhbaar mein galat chapa hai....' He said, 'Aapne Bhaskar padha, usme aapko galti mili, aur aapne phone kiya... toh abh yeh aapka akhbaar hai..."
It was only later, when he joined the company, that he found out it was Ramesh Agarwal who answered his call that day.
Agarwal had made it mandatory for all editors to go out and meet at least five readers every week and take their feedback. A newspaper, he believed, should be a reader's delight, not an editor's delight.
Yagnik recalls the time Agarwal came to the editors and asked them whether an aggressive campaign against the consumption of gutka could be executed. The campaign subsequently broke across all the states Bhaskar was present in and eventually grabbed the attention of the Supreme Court, that later took action against the sale of gutka.
He also recalls the 1983 Bhopal Gas Tragedy in the context of the stories that were carried around it. The government, then, gave the media several guidelines concerning their reportage, for instance, keeping a lid on the urge to sensationalise events, etc. Agarwal took at stand at the time; it is for the media to decide what it should do, not the government, he had asserted.
"He is a pioneer who created a large and successful business group, which is respected by the business community and the readers. His demise is a loss. I am confident that his sons (Sudhir, Girish and Pawan) will take the legacy forward," says, Shashi Sinha, chief executive officer, IPG Mediabrands India.
Srinivasan Swamy, chairman and managing director, RK Swamy BBDO, says, "He was a terrific entrepreneur who thought ahead of his time. While many newspaper owners didn't think beyond their own states, he planted the Bhaskar flag in eight. His foray into radio, and diversified businesses like salt, textiles and power, was timely and says a lot about his business acumen. He had enormous faith in 'emerging India' comprising tier II and III towns, where much of his success was found..."
Agarwal entered the English broadsheet space through a joint venture with Subhash Chandra. The duo launched Daily News and Analysis (DNA) in Mumbai, in the backyard of The Times of India.
"The demise of my friend has caused me deep sorrow. Our thoughts are with his bereaved family and the Bhaskar Group during this time of grief... His contribution to social service and journalism was remarkable. The media world will always get inspiration from his thoughts and ideas," says Subhash Chandra, chairman, Essel Group.