Rao, who passed away last year, facilitated meetings and interviews with government officials for his daughter and, by association, for ANI. This gave the fledgling news agency a huge boost. In particular, the veteran bureaucrat’s close ties with the Congress, which has led the government for most of independent India’s history, ensured that ANI never drew any political ire.
Affiliated with any political party?
The company, however, has been careful to never affiliate itself with any one political party or group. In this way, no matter who is in power, the Prakash family is never left out in the cold.
While they maintained connections with the Congress during its time in power in the 1980s and 1990s, they were quick to court the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when the tide seemed to be shifting. A point, ironically enough, highlighted by no less than Sanjeev Prakash himself.
In an obituary to the former prime minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prakash claims that back in 1998, in the run-up to the elections that saw the BJP first come to power, Doordarshan would only give a few minutes of airtime to opposition leaders.
In response, Vajpayee and the BJP approached private studios in a bid to get their election campaign on the airwaves, but “no private studio, however, was willing to allow them recording facilities. Such was the fear of reprisal,” writes Sanjeev Prakash. “As the doors of ANI was opened to them, all the BJP leaders trooped in one by one and recorded their messages. Vajpayeeji also came to ANI for recording.”
When the Vajpayee government’s term ended in 2004 and the Congress returned to power, ANI rekindled its old connections without missing a beat; its business unruffled. And 10 years later, when India once again seemed poised for a change in government, the Prakash family was ready.
Ahead of the 2014 elections, Sanjeev Prakash and Naveen Kapoor, a close aide, ensured the BJP was given extensive coverage, say former employees and government officials. “Cameras followed opposition leaders everywhere, and that’s how ANI got in,” said a former employee.
“At this point, ANI has more access to the government than Doordarshan and the Press Trust of India. It works well for them. Whatever needs to be covered and conveyed nationwide can be done with a single company,” said a senior government official.
ANI expands upon this by extensively covering every politician of even the slightest significance. From Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi arguing with an MLA on stage at a minor function (viral on social media, of course) to Home Minister Rajnath Singh giving an address at a “global summit-cum-expo on Science, Spirituality and Environment” in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. From founding BJP member Jaswant Singh’s son joining the Congress to senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh in small-town Madhya Pradesh explaining why he thinks the party would actually lose votes if he campaigns for them.
What was the matter?
More recently, when Union minister M.J. Akbar faced a spate of sexual harassment accusations by female journalists stemming from his time as a newspaper editor, his first statement to the media (denying any wrongdoing) was to ANI.
For all its reach and success, say, former employees, the company still operates as a tightly knit family business. Either members of the Prakash family or their long-time associates have the final say in all aspects of both business and editorial operations. In this, they are assisted by a small core of loyal employees across departments who have been with the agency for decades.
By the early 2000s, Prem Prakash had hung up his boots and distanced himself from company operations. Since then, the company has been managed by his son Sanjeev Prakash, who acts as managing director, while his wife Smita Prakash is the editor. Their eldest son, Ishaan Prakash, heads ANI Live Service.