Appalled and dismayed by recent events leading to abrupt resignation of EPW Editor Thakurta

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

About 150 researchers, writers, academics and activists from across the world have issued an open letter to the Sameeksha Trust, the charitable organisation that publishes the prestigious journal “Economic and Political Weekly” (EPW), taking strong exception to the trust pressuring its editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta to resign July 18. Those who have signed the letter include Ramachandra Guha (historian), Nivedita Menon (feminist writer), Nandini Sundar (Delhi School of Economics sociology professor), Zoya Hasan (professor emerita, JNU, New Delhi), Sumit Sarkar (historian, retired professor, University of Delhi), Geeta Kapur (art scholar), EAS Sarma (retired IAS officer), Farah Naqvi (writer and activist), and Ashok Chowdhury (All India Union of Forest Working People).  

Among the prominent academics from abroad from abroad who have signed the letter incude include Noam Chomsky (MIT professor), Laurence Cox (National University of Ireland and Fondation des Sciences des Hommes, Paris), Lawrence Shute (professor emeritus, California State Polytechnic University), Paris Yeros (professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Partha Chatterjee (professor, Columbia University), Patrick Bond (professor, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa), Yılmaz Akyüz (chief economist, South Centre, former director of  UNCTAD), Alicia Puyana Mutis (professor, Flacso, Mexico City), and Andrew Cornford (Geneva Finance Observatory).

“We are distressed that the board of the Sameeksha Trust has insisted that the Editor retract an article published in the journal,” the letter reads. “…The board of the Sameeksha Trust has dealt a strong blow to the journal’s credibility.”

Guha Thakurta stepped down from his position after the EPW’s management took down an article he had co-authored about an Adani Group firm. The company had sent a legal notice to the journal. “Legal notices have unfortunately become the standard means used to intimidate and suppress investigative journalism,” reads the letter. Text:

As long-standing well-wishers and members of the intellectual community served by the EPW, we are appalled and dismayed by the recent events leading to the abrupt resignation of the Editor, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

We are distressed that the Board of the Sameeksha Trust has insisted that the Editor retract an article published in the journal, and is preparing to introduce new norms for the Board-Editor relationship and appoint a co-editor. It is obvious that, taken together, these actions (mentioned by the Editor in interviews to the press and not denied in the statement issued by the Trust) would force any self-respecting editor to resign. By failing to distinguish between internal issues of procedural propriety in Board-Editor relationship from the much larger question of the EPW’s public reputation for integrity, the Board of the Sameeksha Trust has dealt a strong blow to the journal’s credibility.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s professional reputation has been primarily that of an investigative journalist of several decades standing. His well-known past exposés have delved into the malpractices of large corporations and the frequent complicity of state institutions in such corrupt practices. That such journalism could provoke retaliation by those investigated may be expected. These facts must have been known to the Board of Trustees of the Sameeksha Trust when they appointed Guha Thakurta as Editor just 15 months earlier.

It is one thing to wonder if the Editor may have erred in initiating legal action on behalf of the Trust without first consulting its Board, and quite another to withdraw an already published article from the journal. If the Board believes the article to be mistaken in its facts, it must issue a public apology and retraction. If it is only concerned that due deference was not shown to the Board, it must publicly stand by the article. By forcing the Editor’s resignation without clarifying its stand on the substance of the article, the Board has diminished the institution that it is mandated to nurture.

The fact that a legal notice was sent to the Editor and the publishers (Sameeksha Trust) of EPW, for an ongoing investigation on the tweaking of rules that have benefited the Adani Group, is not surprising. Legal notices have unfortunately become the standard means used to intimidate and suppress investigative journalism. When they translate into court cases that can extend over years, they obviously add to costs and further harassment of honest journalists. However, as long as all the published material can be adequately substantiated and verified, there is little reason to fear an adverse result from the judicial process. But publishers MUST stand behind and back their editors on this if the journals are to maintain their independence and credibility.

India is currently living through a dark period in which there are real concerns about freedom and independence of intellectual expression, both for academics and journalists, with significant corporate takeover of major media houses and increasing instances of overt and covert intimidation of independent thinking and debate. In this context, reports of what appears to be a capitulation by the Board of Trustees of Sameeksha Trust – removing the “offending” article from the EPW website and trying to impose humiliating terms on the Editor – are alarming. The EPW has a long and distinguished tradition of promoting independent and critical thinking that is vital in a democracy. We expect the current Trustees to be mindful of our inherited legacy that they hold in trust on behalf of us as scholars, analysts and activists in India and abroad, who have contributed to EPW over long decades.

They need to take immediate steps to restore the prestige and credibility of the journal and the Sameeksha Trust. This letter is therefore also asking the Trust, which (regardless of its purely legal status) is in the nature of a body accountable to a larger public, to create channels of communication between the Trust and the EPW community so as to strengthen the autonomy and integrity of EPW.

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