How did EPW start? One of the promoters was disillusioned with a hyped LSE graduate!!

EPW celebrates its 50 years and guess what? There is hardly any mention of it in the media as the people seem to be busy obsessing with new Indian central bank chief and write one flowery piece after the other (here is another rebuke). #EPWat50 hardly has any comments. So much so for Indian economy soothsayers that no acknowledgement is even made of the journal which has carried the burden all these years. One could disagree with EPW for its content (too left wing for the market oriented media) but one should atleast make some mention of it.

Anyways, here is a superb piece from Ashok Mitra (former editor who is 88 now!) who details the story behind the journal. Before EPW, there was Economic Weekly which started 17 years earlier in 1949. To cut the story short there was a person named Sachindra Narayan who was really good at economics and based in Dacca. Sachin was quite a character who got really well with people. He moved from Dacca to Mumbai and his brothers joined him.  One of his brother Hiten who once went on a trip with a LSE trained economist to UK:

Something unexpected occurred in 1948. Hiten went to the United States (US) with a group of industrialists and businessmen to explore trade prospects between the US and newly-independent countries. An eminent economist with the highest degree from the London School of Economics and who was teaching in Madras (now Chennai), was picked up by the Birlas to edit an economic weekly published from New Delhi. He was also part of this group of businessmen. Hiten was deeply disappointed with this gentleman. In him he could find no spark of brilliance and on returning to Bombay kept cajoling Sachin to agree to edit an economic weekly. He insisted that if that rather dull so-called economist could edit an economic periodical, he, Sachin, given his depth of knowledge and circle of friends and acquaintances, would surely be able to produce a far superior periodical.

Sachin succumbed with great reluctance and his friends in academia from all over the country were delighted. Hiten discussed the problem of financing the proposed periodical with his business friends and a family of traders known as the Sekhsaria Group agreed to provide the entire equity capital for the new venture. With finances no longer the problem, Sachin had to concentrate on the shape and contents of the proposed new weekly. It was his personal decision to have two distinct halves of the journal—the first half would consist of editorial articles, commentaries and discussions on contemporary events, while the second half would have a 100% scholarly flavour with learned papers on economics and other social sciences. It was typical of him to carry anonymous editorial pieces written by eminent scholars and others from all over the country.

The first issue of the Economic Weekly (EW) was published on the first day of January 1949.

Wow..So EW/EPW started due to Hiten finding lack of depth in his LSE traveller. Nothing could be more ironical than this!

Despite continuous financial struggles the journal continued. Mr. Mitra has quite a few anecdotes on the survivor-ship bit. It is quite amazing.

This is something which might interest people. It was EW’s angry editorial which played some part in first and last time when a RBI Governor resigned!

Let me give you two specific examples of how seriously the EW was taken by officials those days. The year was 1956. TTK was the Finance Minister and Benegal Rama Rau was the Governor of the RBI. On a specific issue, the RBI Governor’s decision was nixed by TTK with some caustic comments. Sachin wrote an angry editorial suggesting that if Rama Rau had any self-respect, he should not swallow the offensive remark of the Finance Minister with quiet fortitude. Within 24 hours of the publication of the editorial, Rama Rau resigned. TTK had been taught the lesson of his life.

The second instance I recall relates to the time I was in Washington DC between January 1959 and January 1963 as a member of the family of the Economic Development Institute. I went to a reception arranged by the Indian Embassy to celebrate 15 August 1959. A smart aleck belonging to the IFS, presumably of the rank of First Secretary, was pontificating to a group of American journalists in a relatively loud tone that the then Defence Minister of India Krishna Menon was the main culprit preventing the development of friendly relations between India and the US. He added that plans were afoot to expel Krishna Menon from the government. Sachin had insisted that I must send a couple of articles for the EW on whichever subject I thought fit. I sent a note on what had transpired at the Independence Day reception. It raised a furore in Parliament and Nehru himself had to intervene to pacify the upset MPs. Besides me, among the anonymous contributors to the EW were two persons with the same name, Samar Ranjan Sen, a diplomat who was stationed in Moscow and Samar Ranjan Sen, an economist and civil servant.

Lots of other stories there. Highly recommended..


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