"The idea of an independent satellite channel and cable network in Kerala had been in my mind ever since the advent of Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) in the mid-eighties," recalls Mr Sashikumar, former promoter, Asianet Communications Ltd.
The hotshot Doordharshan (the state-owned television broadcasting company) English newsreader of the seventies and eighties, quit his plum general manager post in PTI TV and floated Asianet Communications in 1991. He and his brother-in-law Dr CP Chandrasekhar were the first directors of the company. Dr Raji Menon, Sashikumar's uncle, who was involved in an export business to Russia, gave Rs 10 lakh as loan to the company upon an understanding that he would be given 50 per cent stake in the channel company at a later stage. And Mr Sashikumar's contribution would be sweat equity. "Dr Menon promised to fund the entire venture. But he could not deliver on that promise," remarks Sashikumar. Since its start the channel got into financial troubles and went off air a couple of times. It was then that Sashikumar decided to float Asianet Satellite Communications Ltd, as a wholly owned subsidiary of Asianet Communications to undertake cable TV operations in Kerala. The cable company won a path-breaking contract from Kerala State Electricity Board to use the KESB electricity poles throughout the state for a nominal payment of Re 1 per pole per year. "The contract was garnered solely by me with Dr Menon not on the scene," claims Sashikumar.
Armed with the right-of-way to use the electricity poles, Sashikumar scouted for an equity partner for the cable company. "After talking with BPL group and Falcon, USA, we entered into an agreement with Hathway Investments (P) Ltd," he recalls.
As per the agreement signed in 1995, Hathway Investments bought 50 per cent stake in Asianet Satellite for Rs 37 crore. "The money thus brought in was ploughed back into the channel. The cable company paid some royalty to the channel company for driving the brand," says Sashikumar. According to him, two years later the Reserve Bank of India gave permission to convert Dr Menon's initial loan for payment made for the Russian transponder, into equity.
After that the fight for control of Asianet Communications began between Dr Menon and Mr Sashikumar. "When I was away in Cochin, Dr Menon one day came to the company's registered office in Chennai and wrote out a share certificate in his name to upset the 50:50 shareholding and to show the majority holding in his name," alleges Sashikumar. The issue went to the police station and later the criminal complaint was withdrawn as the family was involved, he adds. With the fight for the management control intensifying between the promoters, the channel functioning got affected. That is when Sashikumar decided to opt out in April 1999. Attempts to get Dr Menon's version turned out to be futile as he refused to answer the questions sent by fax and e-mails.