Ranjona Banerji: EPW’s Loss of Trust

25 Jul,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The selection (was it really an election, please, we’re all grownups here) of the new President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, formerly of the BJP, has really excited some of our media outlets and our various commentators. They have dissected in no detail at all the idea of what should be, of what Kovind should/ will/ might/ who knows brings to the office.

The President of India is one of those curious posts, full of gravitas in the trimmings but of very little power. A senior statesperson in advisory capacity is what he or she could be; a person who follows whatever the government tells him or her is also what he or she could be.

But if you have read most of the commentary in the past couple of weeks, you might have got a very different picture of Kovind and what he will/could/should et cetera do as President. Most of these have sweetly side-stepped Kovind’s main qualification – that is he a loyal Bharatiya Janata Party member, since he has not held any posts of much importance before this. He is neither a politician of repute (good or bad) nor an educationist nor a philosopher, nor a scientist nor a diplomat and so on.

But you would have got little idea of this while these commentators held forth on the president’s constitutional duties. Interestingly, several of these august commentators have very little to say about the constitutional duties of say, the prime minister of India or his Cabinet or the chief ministers of various states and their Cabinets. Nor indeed of the governors of various states who have taken it upon themselves to exercise far more than their Constitutional powers.

But from these high profile commentators, you would have learnt very little of all that. Indeed, best to stick to news stories which will tell you that his fellow politicians have nothing to say about Kovind because he has done so little. That, one assumes, is a qualification in itself.

 

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Meanwhile, the steadfastly serious publication, the Economic and Political Weekly, finds itself in a spot of bother. The EPW is required reading for academics, journalists and for people who take the issues affecting our nation seriously. It is run by the Sameeksha Trust, of which reputed names like Romila Thapar and Dipankar Gupta. Earlier this month, EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a very senior and respected journalist, published an investigative story into a possible import duty scam by the Adani group. For those who missed the bus, the Adanis are rumoured to be very close to the prime minister of India.

The trustees accused Guha Thakurta of “breach of trust” and “grave impropriety” because he did not inform them of a letter sent to EPW by an Adani lawyer and that he hired a lawyer to reply. To anyone with any idea of how this system works, this is a very flimsy excuse for “breach of trust”. Worse, the trustees said that Guha Thakurta could not work alone any more and would now have a “co-editor” presumably to keep him in check or spy and report. No wonder he resigned.

The issue has got further confused by former editor C Rammanohar Reddy, who has made some excellent points while also pointing out that problems with the trustees led him to quit as well. At the same time, he made it clear that he thought that the EPW had deteriorated or at any rate veered away from its original brief by carrying investigative stories. But then as he and others have pointed out, why hire Guha-Thakurta if not for his investigative skills?

Much of this looks like dirty linen being aired but it is vital that these issues are discussed, no matter how painful. Thewire.in has put up the articles that EPW took off its website as well as various commentaries and an interview with Guha Thakurta on its website. All are well worth exploring.

 

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