The Economic And Political Weekly Is Dying

I began my association with the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) in early 1979, when I sent a hand-written book review to Krishna Raj – my first contribution to EPW, from the field where I was collecting data for my PhD thesis. I continued my association well into 2004 – about which I had written in the EPW of May 1, 2004, which I reproduce below.

Krishna Raj

Though several persons have expressed their shock, sense of loss and ‘remembrances’ after the untimely death of Krishna Raj, it will be unfair to Krishna Raj, EPW, and to the vibrant world of both, if others remain reticent. With this conviction I dwell on three issues.

Krishna Raj11
Krishna Raj (Image source: Economic and Political Weekly)

One, an article sent to another Indian journal in the early 1990s by an American historian was returned on some flimsy ground. He was collecting data from the Tamil Nadu Archives when this happened. When he mentioned this to me I suggested that if he has no objection I would pass on the article to Krishna Raj. I did so and the article appeared in the EPW. Krishna Raj did not even ask for a letter from the author, and relied on my letter to him. Obviously, there was a world of difference between the perception and pragmatism of Krishna Raj as editor of a widely circulated weekly and the treatment of [wo]men and matters by arm-chair academic editors of ‘limited circulation’ (say 200 to 2,000 copies) journals published twice or four times a year.

Two, in the early 1990s I had to be in Bombay for about a month for collection of some rare material from the Archives. To save time I wanted accommodation near Elphinstone College. I sent a letter to Krishna Raj. To my delight I received a telegram from him informing that he had arranged my accommodation in the Churchgate area and wanted me to confirm my arrival. During my stay in Bombay we met frequently. I mentioned to Krishna Raj about an Italian scholar engaged in data collection from the Bombay Archives. Krishna Raj persuaded him to contribute to EPW and a long article by him appeared in the journal. I still remember Krishna Raj mentioning to me, after introducing me to the Asiatic Society, Bombay, that the Society wanted him to be its life member but he could not do so as it wanted his photograph. Three and most important, though it is widely known that Krishna Raj worked silently, his modesty had another dimension. Readers may recall Dharma Kumar’s stinging criticism of what she termed ‘the editorial policy of EPW’ followed by Krishna Raj’s brief, mild, and modest reply to it (EPW, August 3-10, 1991). My rejoinder to the letter appeared as a full-page letter (EPW, September 14, 1991), triggered the publication of several letters for several months, most of them supporting the EPW, a number of them from abroad. I started my association with EPW in the late 1970s with a handwritten book review, which I sent from the field. Like many others I have been a product of EPW, though probably with a difference. In the school of my learning it was Krishna Raj who was getting ‘hard knocks’ through my repeated letters and telephone calls, which after a short break since 1995 continued well into 2002. I cherish his memory.

The EPW gained in popularity and circulation over the years, thanks to its dedicated editor Krishna Raj. Krishna Raj’s primary consideration was ensuring a wide readership of the journal and getting quality articles, particularly from young scholars. He never spared persons like me when I dropped in on him. He would persuade me to go through one or two articles, tell him their suitability for publication – and if possible, get them edited by me. Because of its popularity, the journal was so cheap and affordable that many lay-persons bought it from news stalls.

After Krishna Raj’s death, the journal’s culture and ethos changed. Instead of appointing a competent person comparable to Krishna Raj in calibre, commitment, and culture, as its editor, the Sameeksha Trust, which has been running the journal, appointed a person, who had no proper exposure to academics and journal editing – and who was like the proverbial ‘journeyman’, who persisted with the impudence of the apprentice without gaining the skill of the master!  He was previously associated with a newspaper, and carried his baggage of ‘cronyism’ and ‘news-editing’ to the journal – accepting for publication articles mostly from his known circle of friends.

Shortly after this person, C Rammanohar Reddy was appointed as editor. I stopped contributing to EPW, for reasons which are obvious above.

As the Reddy-propelled debate on the EPW, though not vibrant or widespread, has been going on, I would like to dwell on seven issues.

1. Krishna Raj also had problems with the Sameeksha Trust and some of its trustees. When I dropped in on him one day – in the course of our conversation, he expressed his difficulties in managing the EPW, showed me an article and said that the author wanted him to publish it within three weeks – and that, as a trustee, he was breathing down his neck.

In another context, shortly after Krishna Raj’s death, an economics professor, presumably a trustee or someone close to the Trust, started blaming him in a seminar in Delhi. Since I was chairing the session, I did not allow any discussion on Krishna Raj and said that the session cannot be used for discussing a totally unrelated issue – that too concerning a person who is dead and gone. Krishna Raj was firm on certain issues concerning the content of EPW – and his attitude towards what some considered as EPW’s ‘dominant ideology’ was ‘thus far and no further’, as the journal was facing a resource crunch.

2. This concerns Rammanohar Reddy’s reference to “This was so different from the early 1990s when a group of senior scholars sharply criticised the EPW of the time for “the turn” it had taken; the Letters columns of EPW saw a passionate debate over months on what was wrong and what needed to be done.”  To begin with, only one letter was published. As Krishna Raj clearly indicated in a letter to me, it was a rejoinder from me which prompted him to open the EPW for debate. Most of the letters were supporting Krishna Raj and appreciated his dedicated work. I am reproducing his letter dated September 12, 1991, below.

Krishna Raj letter

My related letter is also given below as many readers may not have access to EPW archives, without payment – presumably a Reddy legacy.

Rejoinder to Dharmakumar min3. The Sameeksha Trust’s first mistake after Krishna Raj’s untimely death was appointing Rammanohar Reddy as the new editor – when the EPW already had a highly-competent associate or deputy Editor who had worked closely with Krishna Raj – and whose experience and perspective as an insider would have served better the interests of the EPW, as its new editor.

4. I do not see any way of salvaging the EPW. Interacting with the trustees makes no sense, as they may not be willing to see reason. Otherwise, Reddy would not have resigned because of differences on an important issue concerning the EPW’s past, which have a bearing on its future as well. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta also would not have resigned, no matter what he published as editor made sense or not.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former editor of the Economic and Political Weekly. (Image source: Tenzin Wangchuk/Facebook)

5. There have been references to Rammanohar Reddy converting EPW into a ‘peer-reviewed’ journal. I have serious doubts about this.

On one occasion, in my presence, Krishna Raj telephoned someone in RBI reminding him of an article with him which was pending with him (for comments), wondered how a weekly could be made into a refereed journal without causing delay and hardship to young scholars – and added, “that is why I go through all contributions myself and make use of friends like you.”

6. When N Ram went on his sanctimonious signature campaign after Rammanohar Reddy’s resignation, in a tweet, I had asked Malini Parthasarathy why he did not launch a similar campaign when she resigned as editor of The Hindu. When Paranjoy Guha Thakurta resigned, I had tweeted“Trusts are uncanny. MIDS is a classic case; Sameeksha Trust another; let Adiseshiah and Krishnaraj RIP.” If trusts are uncanny, editors with narrow worldviews with hardly any academic credentials use the journals they edit to promote their coterie. The EPW was a victim of this trend after Rammanohar Reddy became editor.

7. In the absence of the EPW, scholars have to remain content with in-house journals of institutions under the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) – whose print order may be 300 or 400 copies, of which a major part goes into faculty’s waste baskets. Yet, these dubious journals are flaunted as ‘peer-reviewed’ and publications in them are given weight in selection committee meetings.

The author was a Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, and is a commentator on public affairs. He can be found at [email protected]. His works can be found here.

Originally published in Youth ki Awaaz


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