EPW editor’s exit: 101 academics write, Dreze quits board

The group of EPW contributors have expressed concern about the “unusual circumstances” that, they have “heard”, led to Reddy’s decision.

Written by Udit Misra | New Delhi | Updated: January 16, 2016 8:04:13 am
epw1 The group of EPW contributors have expressed concern about the “unusual circumstances” that, they have “heard”, led to Reddy’s decision.

In A letter signed by 101 globally acclaimed academics and contributors — including Angus Deaton, the 2015 Economics Nobel Prize winner, and Montek Singh Ahluwahlia, former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission — the Board of Trustees of the Sameeksha Trust, which runs the Economic and Political Weekly, has been “requested” to “reconsider its decisions” which led to its editor, Rammanohar Reddy, publicly announcing his resignation last week.

The group of EPW contributors have expressed concern about the “unusual circumstances” that, they have “heard”, led to Reddy’s decision. The opposition is not just from outside. At least one board member, Jean Dreze, economist and professor in Ranchi University, has already resigned on the same issue.

Reddy resigned in December, but the information became publicly known only last week. Dreze resigned three weeks ago, after his efforts for reconciliation were allegedly stonewalled by the board chairman, Deepak Nayyar.

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The letter states that they are writing to the board as “proud members of the ‘EPW community’ that has benefited from the existence of this unique and high-quality journal” and essentially makes two appeals. One, Reddy, who has been the editor since 2004, be allowed to complete his term (his tenure was supposed to end on March 31 this year). Two, Reddy should be included in the process of finding his replacement.

The timing of the letter is important because the process of interviews for the new editor, according to a source closely involved with the developments, is supposed to start next week.

Multiple sources confirmed that the relationship between Reddy and the board had soured since November 2015. According to a source, Reddy’s decision to produce a documentary film celebrating the 50th anniversary of the journal in 2016 did not go down well with Nayyar.

It was not about money; Reddy had arranged for funding of the project as well — about Rs 70 lakh. The board felt it was bypassed and eventually shot down Reddy’s proposal in favour of another proposal mooted by Nayyar. This, according to the source, led to Reddy getting miffed, “as, perhaps, was to be expected”. Reddy, according to the source, tweeted his disappointment, which further widened the rift between him and the board. Eventually, Reddy resigned after he was kept out of the process to choose his successor.

Responding to queries, Nayyar said: “For some time now, Ram Reddy has wanted to step down to retire from his position as editor of EPW. Initially, he had said that he would like to do this on March 31, 2015, but at the persuasion of the Trust he agreed to continue for some more time. However, in February 2015, he informed us that he would like to step down and retire no later than March 31, 2016. At its meeting in April 2015, the Trust agreed to his request and constituted a search committee of three trustees to help the Trust select and appoint his successor. The search committee has consulted widely, as also considered all the suitable candidates suggested by Ram Reddy, and is nearing the completion of its work. We hope to be able to appoint an editor soon who would start on April 1, 2016. For more than a decade now, Ram Reddy has been admirable as editor of EPW and made an enormous contribution. And we have planned for a smooth transition.”

The EPW is considered to be the best-known academic journal coming out of India covering a wide variety of issues — not just economy and politics — including history, linguistics and anthropology. In its current avatar, it started in 1966, but its journey started in 1949 as the Economic Weekly. Globally renowned academics, across disciplines, like Nobel winner Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, M N Srinivas as well as Deaton have chosen to get their work published in EPW.

The Sameeksha Trust is a charitable trust registered under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950 and its members have been academics and public personalities of eminence. Even at present, apart from Nayyar and Dreze, the board includes globally renowned academics like historian Romila Thapar, sociologist Andre Beteille among others.

“You must understand that EPW is a unique journal… In India, no other publication can replace it. And given the constraints on mainstream media, India needs EPW more than ever,” said Ramchandra Guha, noted historian and one of the signatories.

“This is an appeal, not a protest, to the board which has some of the most respected people in it. It is a matter of retaining EPW’s institutional integrity and the editorial freedom that it always had,” said another signatory, Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics in JNU.

“Reddy resigned in December last week. While speaking to us after the resignation, Reddy said he always wanted to end his stint this March. He said he had enjoyed a very cordial relationship with the board, but on the issue of the 50th anniversary, he had some differences with the board. While he would be staying on till March 2016, as planned, he would no longer be associated in any way with EPW after that,” said an EPW employee on condition of anonymity.

It is learnt that before things soured, Reddy was supposed to move into a consulting and mentoring role as editor-in-chief — also mentioned in the letter by contributors — but he refused to do so after the disagreement over the anniversary celebrations.

Reddy could not be contacted.

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