The Times of India (ToI), the world’s largest selling English-language newspaper, was founded at a time when the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar still sat at his throne in Delhi, the seven islands of Bombay had not yet been fully joined, and there was no such thing as the Indian Railways.
When it came to life on November 3, 1838, it was not yet The Times of India: it was called The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, and was published every Saturday and Wednesday. J.E. Brennan was the editor and the owners included a British syndicate of 11 firms. It was launched as a semi-weekly edition by R.N.D. Velkar, a reformist leader. It became a daily in 1850, and was renamed The Times of India after a merger with other papers.
The merger was carried out by Robert Knight, “one of the most inspiring figures in Indian journalism during the 19th century”, according to Dileep Padgaonkar, renowned journalist and himself an editor of the ToI during 1988-94. “Through his [Knight’s] sharply-worded editorials, Knight campaigned for a sound system of popular rights in India and sought massive investments to extend the rail network, improve Bombay’s water supply, construct roads and set up irrigation facilities,” Padgaonkar wrote in the Outlook magazine in November 2012. “He continued to upbraid British officials for the perks they enjoyed, for their nastiness towards Indians and for doing precious little to eradicate India’s abysmal poverty. Moreover, unlike the rest of the Anglo-Indian press, he sympathised with the Great Uprising of 1857 even while he deplored the large-scale destruction of lives and property.”
In the 19th century, the ToI had around 800 employees and was circulated in India and Europe. In 1892, its editor, T.J. Bennett, entered into a partnership with F.M. Coleman, resulting in the formation of the joint stock company, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. (BCCL). Just before India attained independence, the BCCL was bought by Seth Ram Kishen Dalmia, thus passing into Indian hands. In an article in the Outlook in 2003, writer and journalist Khushwant Singh recalled a “very brief” meeting he had with Dalmia after Singh had applied for post of editor of The Illustrated Weekly, which was part of the BCCL family. “He [Dalmia] asked me one question: ‘Do you know Sanskrit?’ I replied, ‘No, Sir, I don’t.’ He dismissed me curtly: ‘Go and learn Sanskrit, then come to me.’ I got the job 20 years later, without a word added to my Sanskrit vocabulary.”
Later, BCCL was taken over by Shanti Prasad Jain, who belonged to a business family with roots in Uttar Pradesh.
The BCCL steadily increased its footprint in the Indian media space. The company launched its Hindi daily, the Navbharat Times, in Delhi, in 1947. The ToI’s Delhi edition was launched in 1950; the Bollywood news magazine, Filmfare, in 1952; the women’s magazine Femina in 1959; the financial newspaper The Economic Times in 1961; and the Marathi newspaper The Maharashtra Times in 1962.
In the first 40 years after Independence, the ToI had some legendary editors such as Sham Lal and Girilal Jain, but in the last two decades, editors are no longer the towering figures that some of their predecessors used to be. As Singh put it bluntly: “The one lasting contribution Bennett Coleman has made to Indian journalism is to cut to size editors who had grandiose notions about their positions.”
ToI has seen other changes as well after 1990. In his book JS & The Times of my life the journalist Jug Suraiya, perhaps best known for his satirical columns in ToI, defends a decision to make the actress Madhuri Dixit’s wedding, and not another scam in Bihar, the lead edit of the day in the paper. “For ‘serious’ journalists, Madhuri’s wedding wasn’t serious; Bihar scams were. For the general reader, male or female, Madhuri getting hitched was serious, as in seriously interesting. Bihar scams were serious, as in seriously boring. You took note of them not because you wanted to but because you felt you had to. Because you felt that taking note of them was good for your moral health the way eating spinach and other green leafy vegetables was good for your physical health.”
With the ToI entering its 175th year in 2013, the Times Group is the country’s largest media conglomerate. The BCCL and its subsidiaries are present across media platforms, including newspapers, magazines, books and Television, TV, Radio and Internet. The group has a turnover of over a billion dollars. Explaining the central role Samir Jain, the current vice-chairman of BCCL, has played in the recent evolution of thr ToI, the writer and journalist Samanth Subramanian wrote in Caravan magazine in December 2012: “Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Jain has imprinted himself indelibly onto The Times of India, and thereby onto Indian journalism. He preserves an Olympic detachment from his newspaper’s coverage of politics, . . . [but] has been exacting and forceful in his mission to shape The Times of India [. . .] in his image.”
Also on this day:
1901 — Prithviraj Kapoor, Indian theatre and film actor, was born
1933 — Amartya Sen, economist and Nobel laureate, was born
1992 — Prem Nath, Indian actor, passed away
2012 — Kailashpati Mishra, Governor of Gujarat, passed away