Economic and Political Weekly’s subscription list includes policy-makers, political thinkers, economists, universities and financial institutions in every part of the globe where serious reference material is valued. The world’s leading social scientists write for it and consult it. Known fondly as EPW, it is compulsory reading for lakhs of Indian students sitting for competitive exams.
The man who edited it for the last 34 years died quietly in his sleep on Saturday morning at the relatively young age of 66. Krishna Raj was a rare personality in a grasping world of top-flight academics, bankers and journalists. Repeatedly offered the enticing perks and goodies of a globalised world, he politely declined them all and, till a few months back, did a daily round-trip of 50 km on suffocating commuter trains from his tiny flat in a distant suburb to the EPW office in south Bombay. He stoutly maintained the independence of the journal by refusing any subsidies from funding agencies, corporations and governments.
Krishna Raj had been EPW’s editor for just a few months when I joined it as a raw assistant editor in 1970. By example, he guided me to be punctilious in editing and re-writing reams of submitted articles which had deep insights but were shoddily written. It always amazed me that so many eminent professors and “intellectuals” were such messy writers. While selecting articles for publication from among the dozens which flowed into the journal’s office every week, we weighed each article’s worth on the basis of its content (even if badly written) rather than going by who had written it. Many young men and women who later went on to become famous figures first saw their names and pieces in print in EPW or its predecessor, The Economic Weekly. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate, was just one of them.
When I showed him the initial drafts of my editorial comments on current affairs, Krishna Raj would suggest ever so subtly that I had missed some twist or intricacy which lay behind the tortuous moves of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. He had a sharp eye for ferreting out the cynical personal agenda or group interest which lurked under the publicly stated policy.
In his personal lifestyle, he was closer to the common man than most armchair progressives who wrote passionately about the miserable masses in EPW and elsewhere and then proceeded greedily to grab every jet-set opportunity they could lay their hands on. In his professional dealings, he was never tempted to push an agenda which would bring him personal fame or benefit. Unlike so many top journalists, he did not seek to become a parliamentarian, diplomat or official adviser. He listened to everyone but pandered to no one.
Jawid Laiq was an assistant editor with EPW from 1970 to 1975