The Challenge of Editing the EPW-I

BY C. RAMMANOHAR REDDY| IN Opinion | 10/08/2017
In 68 years, the Economic and Political Weekly has gone through significant changes, mirroring the changes in India. Its uniqueness cannot be over-stated,
says former editor, C. RAMMANOHAR REDDY, in a two-part reminiscence.
Rammanohar Reddy with a copy of EPW

 

The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is a unique institution in India and perhaps a unique phenomenon in the world of global publishing.  This may sound like hyperbole but look at what it has been doing in its 68-year history. (The Economic Weekly or EW was published between 1949 and 1965 and then the EPW was launched in 1966 under a new organizational structure).

All these decades EPW has been appearing week in and week out with commentary on current affairs and research articles in the social sciences. You have weekly news magazines and you have monthly/quarterly/bi-annual academic journals; but you cannot think of a publication anywhere in the world which combines the two in one place every week. (The natural sciences have Nature but not the social sciences.)

While a comprehensive history of EW/EPW is yet to be written, there have been a number of brief recollections by the many participants who made this journal. And earlier this year I wrote a summary account titled “EW/EPW: The Little Magazine That Grew up” in Seminar which drew on whatever I had heard and read over the years .[i]

The history of EPW is a fascinating one at many levels.

The life of the journal has been more or less co-terminus with that of independent India. It was launched in1949 with the specific purpose of intervening in debates on economic policy in a country which had just become free from colonial rule. Its pages over the decades therefore told the story of an India as it was changing.

The journal was also a forum for academic discussions on what to do and not do. Later it was one of the few publications in the country that documented the innumerable injustices of social, economic and political violence, and frequently questioned state actions.

"The life of the journal has been more or less co-terminus with that of independent India"

 

The EPW’s editorial view has almost always been a critical one, though it has also given space to a range of perspectives. The most interesting part of EPW’s history is that it has survived and grown over nearly 70 years as a labour of love of a handful of individuals, most notably the two editors who served the longest – Sachin Chaudhuri and Krishna Raj.

Since EPW was a “small magazine” in all respects, there were always financial and organisational challenges.[ii] A very tight budget meant that not many people could be hired for the editorial and administrative staff and when they were, they could be paid only meagre salaries, much lower than what even journalists were themselves paid until the early 2000s. And all this was in Bombay/Mumbai where living costs were high.

Again, as in all small publications, the editor of EPW has had to be more than the editorial head. He (and it has always been a “he”) has to produce the weekly in all senses of the term. Working with his colleagues, he has to commission, select and edit/rewrite articles. He has to dirty his hands with production, watch the finances and motivate the staff.

 

Since birth, an unusual structure

There is an unusual structure to the journal which has remained roughly the same since its birth.

In the first decade of Economic Weekly, the journal under Sachin Chaudhuri was essentially a publication that discussed the economic policy agenda in the new republic. The EW offered comment and analysis on economic issues; it also published reports from correspondents in India and abroad.  It covered commodities, agricultural markets and the stock exchanges as well. It was more like what would today be called a magazine on public policy.

However, it already had a section called “Special Articles” that was in the second half of the journal and was devoted to publishing essays and reports. Sometimes a speech, sometimes a report of a field investigation and sometimes an extended essay, these Special Articles were really not research papers. It was only in the second decade of EW’s existence that the Special Article or research section began to acquire more importance. Slowly, academic papers in economics, and then sociology and political science as well were published.

The character of the journal then began to acquire its unique twin identity:  the first half was commentary on current issues and the second half an academic or research section.

This identity of EPW was more firmly established when Krishna Raj was editor (1969-2004). The Special Article section was strengthened, senior academics from a range of disciplines began to publish their best work in the journal, young academics aspired to write for it, and fierce debates took place on its pages.

Yet this did not mean that commentary section was neglected. Indeed, as the sociologist Partha Chatterjee has recently pointed out, the 1970s and 1980s were when EPW became known for publishing detailed investigations of rights abuses, caste violence and state violence which no other publication wanted to publish.  It was these reports that established EPW’s reputation as an independent, critical and Left voice.

The EW/EPW’s impact on public policy was perhaps greater in the 1950s and early 1960s when it was more of a mainstream publication. But it was in the 1970s and 1980s that its academic reputation, as it were, was established, even if there was always a section of academia which looked down on EPW for not being a “peer reviewed” journal as understood in professional journals. That did not matter; it was still the preferred journal for publication by Indian social scientists.

 

Focus on economics

Both Sachin Chaudhuri and Krishna Raj came from economics (so did R.K. Hazari who was editor for a brief two years in the late 1960s). Chaudhuri graduated from Dacca University in the 1940s with, Ashok Mitra tells us, the reputation of being an outstanding student in what was at the time one of the best Departments of Economics in pre-Independence India.

The former was also a man of the Bengal Renaissance and he would not be constrained by economics. He dabbled in many things before finding his voice as the founder-editor of EW and then EPW. However, his deep understanding of economics was reflected in his editorship.

"With all three of the first editors being academic economists of one kind or another it was inevitable that the publication would focus on this discipline"

 

Krishna Raj too had a grounding in economics, in the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) when it was at its peak. However, the story goes that the late KN Raj, his teacher at DSE, observed that Krishna Raj was much better at asking questions and would therefore make a good journalist. He had also shown an interest in journalism even as a student and so when K N Raj’s friend Sachin Chaudhuri was looking for an assistant editor, he suggested Krishna Raj who joined EPW in the early 1960s and became editor in 1969.

With all three of the first editors being academic economists of one kind or another it was inevitable that the publication would focus on this discipline. This was also the original mandate of the journal.

However, both these editors saw the journal as much more than one devoted to commentary and research on economics. For them, the journal was many things: a weekly for extended comment and analysis of current developments, a forum for debate on policy agenda, a voice of dissent (for Krishna Raj in particular), a multi-disciplinary journal where social scientists from different disciplines could speak with each other and, of course, a journal where the latest research in India in the social sciences could be published.

 

Community participation

There was also a distinct “community participation” in the manner in which EPW was put together every week from Sachin Chaudhuri’s time. In the 1950s, KS Krishnaswamy (who retired as Deputy Governor of the RBI in the late 1970s and was chairman of the Sameeksha Trust between 1999 and 2005) is said to have walked over from the RBI office every day during the lunch break and later in the evening to help produce the journal.

This was just one example and he was not the only one. Sachin Chaudhuri tapped into a network of contributors from across the country to write for the journal. Krishna Raj made this much more of a feature of EPW when he drew on a large number of readers and writers for contributions, suggestions, editorials and even help in refereeing papers. Everyone seemed to respond and was ready to help in the endeavour.

The payment for articles was either non-existent or a token honorarium was paid for the reports and commentary. People wrote not for the money but because they wanted to be part of EPW and they knew that what they wrote would be read widely.

Even during my time as editor it was not uncommon for contributors to send back the cheques we mailed them – not in pique at the small amount but because, they used to say, “we write because it is EPW; we do not want payment”.

 



[i]For the recollections of K.S. Krishnaswamy, Deena Khatkhate and most important of all the many by Ashok Mitra in EPW 4 February 1967, February 2004, 3,10 and 17 January 2009 and also 2 January 1999, 11 November 2006 and 20 August 2016. My summary account in Seminar was based in part on these reflections and on other oral reflections. See Seminar Number 692, 2017

[ii] The financial and organisational challenges are described in the 2017 Seminar article. The Sameeksha Trust which publishes EPW was set up with small donations from writers and readers of the old EW. From day 1 therefore the EPW had to depend entirely on whatever income it could collect from sales and advertising. Until the late 1990s or so it was very much a hand to mouth existence. No government or private agency has ever supported the EPW on a regular basis. The RBI provided an annual grant of Rs 10 lakhs for a few years in the late 1990s though that was meant essentially for the newly established EPW Research Foundation. Then in 2006 and 2007 the Planning Commission of the time gave two grants of Rs 25 lakhs each to the Sameeksha Trust. From the little that I could make out from past records, the first major attempt to build up the corpus was made only in the early 1990s, when the trustees were able to persuade some public sector financial institutions and a few private enterprises to make one-time donations. Some individuals also stepped in at the time. The next round of funds collection in the mid 2000s was substantial and in many ways secured the future of EPW for a decade. In 2006 one philanthropist, Rohini Nilekani, made a large donation of Rs 2 crore (plus a matching grant of Rs 2.5 crore in 2007) to the Sameeksha Trust. Around the same time, the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust provided a total of Rs 1.6 crore over three years towards investments such as computer hardware and software, digitization of the archives since 1949, acquisition of space for an office. etc. A couple of financial institutions also chipped in at the time. Other than this the only donations to the corpus have come from individuals who have been associated with the EPW for decades as writers or readers and wished to support the institution with one-time donations. This in sum is the extent of outside support. EPW’s annual budget when I left in 2016 was over Rs 5 crore, of which only 5- 10% was met by interest income. The rest came from subscription and sales (55%) and advertising (40%)

 

C. Rammanohar Reddy edited the Economic and Political Weekly  between  2004 and 2016.  He is currently a writer and commentator based in Hyderabad and Readers' Editor at Scroll.in.  He was Assistant Editor, Deccan Herald (1988-93) and Associate Editor, The Hindu (1993-2004).

 

 

The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring. Your support is vital for this website. Click here to make a contribution.
Subscribe To The Newsletter

Slate reports that  according to regulatory paperwork filed on August 14, 21st Century Fox paid out about $50 million in the fiscal year that ended on June 30 to cover costs related to a slew of sexual-harassment and discrimination settlements at Fox News. The New York Times  reports that $50 million is $5 million more than what the company said it had paid out as of the end of March. For more on this story see here.                           

Thanks to the Hindu and TOI one knows what it was that the Tripura CM said that DD found unpalatable. Indian Express's long story taken from PTI does not give details, nor does the CM's speech figure in IE's inside page round up of CM's speeches. PTI is known for self censoring stories related to media. The IANS story taken by the Hindu gave more details.         

View More