There is a “real danger to freedom of expression,” warns Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a veteran journalist, who recently quit as the editor of the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). He resigned after he was asked by the trust that manages the internationally renowned journal to withdraw two articles critical of the government for favouring the Adani business group.
“I do believe that in India, there is a real and present danger to the freedom of expression, which you and everybody else know is a fundamental right of every citizen guaranteed by the Constitution,” Thakurta said when asked about the circumstances that led him to quit the academic journal, known for its strong editorials, scholarly pieces, and political commentaries.
"If I cannot play the role of an antagonist, if not an adversary, to those in power — be they politicians, bureaucrats or corporate captains — then I am failing to perform my duties and obligations as a journalist. It is not my personal battle, it’s a battle which has wider social and political ramifications,” Thakurta told IANS.
The editor resigned on July 18, minutes after his meeting with the directors of the Sameeksha Trust — economist Deepak Nayyar, who is the trust’s chairman, historian Romila Thapar, sociologist Dipankar Gupta, former bureaucrat D N Ghosh, Ambedkar University vice-chancellor Shyam Menon, and ex-CSDS director Rajeev Bhargava — which runs the journal.
Thakurta, a well-known business journalist, and political commentator took over as the editor in January last year.
He succeeded C Rammanohar Reddy, who ran the journal for 12 years.
Thakurta said the magazine had received a notice from the Adani group seeking an unconditional withdrawal of the two “defamatory and harmful” articles co-authored by him.
However, instead of withdrawing the articles, Thakurta published the notice and his reply to it on the magazine website alongside the latest article.
The trustees, Thakurta said, took “great umbrage” to his decision to hire a lawyer to represent the trust without seeking their prior permission. The act was dubbed “an act of grave impropriety”.
Thakurta said he acknowledged the procedural error and duly apologized.
However, the chairman Deepak Nyar asked him to pull down the article, along with the notice from Adani and Thakurta’s reply to it, immediately.
Thakurta got the article pulled down. However, he soon submitted his resignation.
Sameeksha later issued a statement saying that Thakurta had breached their trust in taking a unilateral decision on a matter “where any decision could be taken only by the governing board.”
Although the trust confirmed that it accepted his resignation, it remained silent on Thakurta’s claim that he was ordered to withdraw the articles.
Instead, the statement said, “There is no question of the Sameeksha Trust bowing to external pressures of any kind. It never has. It is guided solely by the objectives of maintaining the ethos, quality, and standards of EPW, while ensuring spotless propriety and ethics in the working of its staff.”
When contacted, the trustees Gupta and Thapar, however, refused to speak further on the issue.
When asked about his meeting with the trust, Thakurta said, “The interaction between the trustees and me went beyond what I consider a procedural lapse on my part,” Thakurta said.
“I stand by each and every sentience, line, and observation made in that article. I have done my due diligence,” said Thakurta.