“The EPW is an institution, and an institution is far bigger than an individual”: An Interview with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

25 January, 2016

On 23 January 2016, the Sameeksha Trust—a charitable trust that publishes the Bombay journal the Economic and Political Weekly—appointed a new editor for EPW: the senior business journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. This announcement was made barely a week after C Rammanohar Reddy, who has edited the weekly since 2004, resigned from his post. This decision was reportedly prompted by his disagreements with the members of the trust. Reddy will be handing over his editorial responsibilities to Guha Thakurta on 1 April. Yesterday, Atul Dev, a web reporter with The Caravan, spoke to Guha Thakurta about this development, the recent controversy and his plans for the future of the country’s most venerated scholarly journal.

Atul Dev: How would you evaluate the EPW as a reader?

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: To me, the Economic and Political Weekly has been a unique institution. One of its kind in the world, I would say. One part of the magazine (and now of the website) offers scholarly, researched, footnoted articles on several subjects. Then there is another part—the front of the magazine—which is more topical, more newsy and analytical. It offers a wide range.

There are many writers—social scientists, researchers and writers of significance in this country and around the world—I have come to know from the pages of the Weekly.

AD: When did you hear about your appointment?

PGT: I received a phone call yesterday afternoon when I was in Mumbai. I was informed by Professor Deepak Nayyar and DN Ghosh [the chairman and managing trustee of the Sameeksha Trust, respectively] that the search committee comprising Professor Nayyar, Mr Ghosh and Romila Thapar [the historian and a member of the Sameeksha Trust] had decided to appoint me as the editor of the EPW. They also told me that my appointment had been approved the members of the Sameeksha board. They had interviewed me earlier on the 21 January. We spoke at length that afternoon.

AD: Your appointment comes at a time when the EPW has been in the news for an apparent rift, if I can call it that, between the editor Rammanohar Reddy and the trust. Have you spoken to Mr Reddy?

PGT: No, I haven’t yet. I got to know yesterday afternoon when I was in Mumbai, and I had to rush to Kolkata because of an emergency. I haven’t had an opportunity to speak to him, but I hope to soon. And more than just speaking, to be interacting closely with him in the near future. I hold Rammanohar Reddy in very high esteem. I think that under his stewardship the EPW has grown from strength to strength. I also think he is an outstanding writer, editor and human being. I look forward to learning from him. It is a very humbling experience and a huge responsibility to be stepping into his shoes.

The differences between him and a section of the trustees are all in the public domain. I have learned about it as much as you have from the media. So I really do not have anything to say about this.

AD: Because it was in the public domain, we know that one point of difference appeared to have been the fiftieth-anniversary celebrations. Has the board spoken to you about this?

PGT: See, these are early days. I have only been informed yesterday that I will be taking over that position on All Fools Day. So at this juncture, I do not think I can say anything. All I know is the same as everybody else; I have been reading the same newspapers and websites that you have. Beyond that, I really know nothing.

And the trust has said that it will be consulting with the EPW community about how best to mark the anniversary. I am still an outsider, but I think it is a very good way of doing things.

My hope is that if there were some differences of view in the past, maybe we can put it behind us and move ahead.

AD: But you are confident about getting editorial autonomy as the editor.

PGT: I think that if you read through what even Ram Reddy has said on record in his interviews—he has been quite clear about this. The editor has always been independent and autonomous.

The EPW is an institution, and an institution is far bigger than an individual. That individual may be an editor or even a member of the board of trustees. I feel honoured and proud and privileged to be a part of that institution.

AD: What is the direction that you hope to take the EPW in now?

PGT: Again, these are early days, but I think the issue would be: how can it be strengthened? How can it be made stronger than it already is? All I can say is that I can endeavour and I can try my level best.

Another thing is that the contents of the Weekly must reach out to as big an audience as possible. It is a challenge to have more and more young people read and engage with the Weekly in an intensive way. And if the publication can reach out to a wider audience in different languages that would also be great.

This interview has been edited and condensed.