Economic and Political Weekly’s (EPW) 50th anniversary: A tribute…

EPW celebrates its 50 years of anniversary tomorrow. It transitioned from an Economic Weekly which started in 1949 to Economic and Political Weekly on 20 Aug 1966. For most students of Indian economy, the white and red journal has been a constant companion. It has also been a source of irritation as it comes out with new things to read every week!

Aniket Alam and C. Rammanohar Reddy pay a tribute to EPW on the eve of its 50th  anniversary:

In early 1966 more than 50 of India’s leading commentators, academics and senior government officials appealed for contributions of Rs.500 each to establish a trust that would publish a new journal of economics and politics.

Tomorrow (August 20) marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW).

EPW has become something of a global phenomenon over the past half century. Week after week it has presented informed commentary on the important issues of the day as well as research papers on a wide range of social science disciplines. Its authors have included everyone from political activists to Nobel Laureates, from lecturers in colleges in small towns to professors in the leading universities in the world, from members of non-government organisations to government officials.

EPW is actually now 67, and not 50. The Economic Weekly (EW), conceived and edited by Sachin Chaudhuri (an economist from what was then Dacca who had moved to Bombay), had begun publication in 1949 in the western metropolis. It quickly made a name for itself as a much sought-after platform for publishing opinion and research about India’s development policies and the politics around it. But that weekly, financed by the Sekhsarias, a group of cotton merchants, closed at the end of 1965 after differences between the editor and the publishers. Within a few weeks some of India’s leading academics and thinkers made the appeal to launch a new journal that would be edited by Chaudhuri and build on the legacy of the very influential EW.

The new weekly, with “Political” added to its moniker in acknowledgement of its widening intellectual mandate, was published by the new Sameeksha Trust. In this new, revitalised avatar the weekly blossomed.

Within a decade EPW had grown in the range of disciplines and themes it published. EPW’s pages hosted some of the most important debates, about economic strategies, change in village societies, foreign policy, political representation and ever expanding fields such as secularism and the politics of the Left. Then and later, some of India’s best gave their best work to EPW and EPW, in turn, helped launch many a career by publishing the first works of young writers.

What explains this success of the EPW, when world over independent “little magazines” rarely, if ever, manage to survive for a few years? One reason surely is the thriving intellectual climate in India of the first few decades after Independence when everyone put their shoulder to “nation building”. Later, the cross-disciplinary open-ended nature of the journal helped it grow and prevent being painted into a corner.

The editor has always been crucial in making EPW what it is. Krishna Raj, who took over as editor a few years after Chaudhuri passed away (after a brief interregnum when R.K. Hazari was editor), opened the pages of the weekly to an even wider range of authors, gave it its trademark left-wing flavour without closing it to other viewpoints. He went out of his way to encourage young scholars, got activists to write academically rigorous articles and got academics to sustain a public-political purpose to their work By the 1970s, EPW became a journal which a large number of people identified with, looked forward to reading each week and hoped to contribute to. Krishna Raj built up a team of EPW staff who worked to produce a veritable book-size publication every week, and of ever widening circles of contributors and subscribers who felt a sense of fraternal bonding with the journal. Together, these circles of committed authors, readers and employees provided the support which sustained the EPW even when conditions were hard.

Perhaps Krishna Raj’s greatest contribution lay in building up and nurturing this world of the EPW where everyone felt ownership of the journal. The legal form in which it has been published may be of a trust but it has really worked like the best of the cooperatives, with everyone a trustee.

There is always this confusion between Raj Krishna and Krishna Raj. Former is famous for his Hindu rate of growth comment whereas latter shaped EPW. There is another eminent scholar Prof K.N. Raj who set up Centre for Development Studies at Thiruvananthapuram. As history of Indian economic thought is barely taught in the country, we get all these names mixed up. What can be done really as such is the state of affairs.

Coming to EPW, the achievement is even more when we see how most economic thinking and publishing has moved to the west. It has managed to survive even this. Infact, Angus Deaton recipient of 2015 Nobel economics published quite actively in EPW. Even the Nobel Committee in summing Deaton’s work, cites three of his EPW papers. I doubt whether this happened in any of the previous prizes.

EPW has played an instrumental role in thinking around Indian economy for 50 years. Hope it continues to do the good work for many more years…


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