From Launching Zee & Rebel ICL to Being RS MP, Who Is Subhash Chandra Goenka?

Goenka has filed his nomination from Rajasthan for elections to the Rajya Sabha as an Independent backed by the BJP.

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Subhash Chandra Goenka, a billionaire media baron, on Tuesday, 31 May, filed his nomination from Rajasthan for elections to the Rajya Sabha as an Independent candidate backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chandra is the chairman of the media conglomerate Essel Group, which also has interests in amusement parks, packaging, infrastructure, and lotteries.

In 1992, Chandra founded Zee TV, the country's first satellite TV channel, and built it into a market leader. For many years, the company was ahead of the pack in the general entertainment category in Hindi and was also among the top three in regional languages, according to Forbes.

From launching the country's first satellite TV channel to founding his own newspaper and taking on the mighty BCCI, Chandra has been a man of many faces. And as always, controversies, too, weren't far behind. The Quint takes a look at his early life and professional and political careers.


Humble Beginnings

Chandra was born to a trading family in a small village in Adampur in the Hisar district of Haryana on 30 November 1950. According to Forbes, his extended family, which had as many as 86 members, slipped into debt and split up. As a result, he had to drop out of college and start working to find a way to pay off the family debt.

With less than a dollar in his pocket, he moved to Delhi and joined the family business of being a commission agent and trader who procured and supplied rice to the Food Corporation of India.

He made decent money in rice trading over time and decided to move to Mumbai. There, he set up a packaging unit that made laminated tubes for fast-moving consumer goods under the brand name Essel Packaging. Today, his company Essel Propack claims to be the world's largest producer of such tubes.

Soon afterward, he also started a leisure park named Essel World in north Mumbai.


Launches Zee TV

After being inspired by CNN's coverage of the Gulf War, Chandra launched India's first satellite TV channel, Zee TV, in 1992. However, his family was worried that he would lose all the money he had made. His friend and Zee's co-founder said, according to Forbes, that the move was like "walking into the valley of death."

There was no private Indian broadcaster in 1992 as regulations did not permit the same back then. So, Chandra decided to set up the company in Hong Kong. However, he was questioned by the Indian government several times and was asked to shut down the channel. Chandra refused to do so, despite losing money at $6 million a month.

Over time, the channel competed with Sony Entertainment Television and Star Plus. Currently, the Zee Network comprises 90 channels, reaching over 1.3 people in 174 countries.

In 2003, he launched Dish TV, the first satellite television provider in India.


Launches DNA

In one of the biggest newspaper battles of Mumbai, Chandra decided to challenge the well-established The Times of India by launching an English-language daily newspaper, DNA, in collaboration with the Dainik Bhaskar group, in 2015.

While the newspaper managed to turn things around after sustaining earlier losses, things went downhill subsequently, and the newspaper was forced to shut down in October 2019.

Indian Cricket League

In April 2007, a year before the official start of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Chandra announced the 'Indian Cricket League' (ICL), a professional cricket league with prize money of $1 million. The private cricket league was funded by Zee Entertainment Enterprises and ran for three seasons from 2007 to 2009.

However, the league was not officially recognised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the International Cricket Council. BCCI and other cricket authorities placed several heavy sanctions on all those involved with the ICL, which ultimately led to its downfall and winding up in 2009.

Chairperson of Zee Media and Zee Entertainment Enterprises

Chandra served as the chairperson of Zee Media. However, on 24 May 2016, he resigned as the director and non-executive chairman of the company.

On 25 November 2019, Chandra resigned as the chairman of Zee Entertainment Enterprises, which was in line with SEBI Listing Regulations that prohibited the chairperson from being related to the managing director or the chief executive officer of the company. The company is run by Chandra's sons, Punit and Amit. Chandra continued to serve as a non-executive director of the company.

However, in August 2020, Chandra resigned as the non-executive director of the firm and was appointed as the chairman emeritus, which means he would continue to be associated with the business in an honorary fashion.

Foray Into Politics and Political Ideology

In the 2016 Rajya Sabha Elections, he was elected to the upper house of Parliament from Haryana as an Independent candidate after being supported by legislators from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In his autobiography 'The Z factor: My journey as the wrong man at the right time', Chandra has also talked about his association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in his younger years. The RSS is the ideological parent of the BJP.

Debt Issues

In August 2019, Chandra agreed to sell an 11% stake in his Zee Entertainment Enterprises to the Invesco Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund as part of Essel Group's efforts to repay its nearly $1.8 billion debt to avoid a default on payment.

Oppenheimer already had a 7.74% stake in the company and bought the additional shares for $614 million.



In January 2019, reports emerged that Essel Group was linked to a company being investigated by India's Serious Fraud Investigation Office for suspicious transactions.

According to The Wire, the SFIO was probing a company called Nityank Infrapower which made deposits of over 30 billion rupees immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation in November 2016, which had invalidated nearly 86% percent of the country's currency. The report said that Nityank and a few shell companies had carried out financial transactions involving a few firms associated with the Essel Group.

The Essel Group, however, denied the allegations. But that did not prevent the stock value of Zee Entertainment Enterprises and Dish TV India from crashing as much as 31% and 38%, respectively. Only after Chandra held talks with banks, mutual funds, and non-banking finance companies did the stocks go back on the recovery path.

On 22 May 2020, 3,00,000 investors were affected after Essel Group defaulted Rs 616 crore secured Non-Convertible Debenture Bonds with a standstill agreement along with Subhash Chandra Personal Guarantee.

(With inputs from Forbes and The Wire.)

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Topics:  BJP   BCCI   Rajya Sabha 

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