New Delhi: Over a week after staff members of Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) raised questions about Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s behaviour during his tenure as editor of the journal in a ‘confidential’ letter to the Sameeksha Trust board, Guha Thakurta has decided to break his silence, which he says has been “interpreted by some as my tacit acknowledgment of the claims made by some of my former colleagues.”
Guha Thakurta had on July 18 resigned as the editor of the EPW after the Sameeksha Trust, which owns and runs the journal, asked him to take down an article on the Adani Group’s alleged tax evasion. A week later, in a letter to the Trust board, eight of Guha Thakurta’s former colleagues demanded to know why the article had been taken down but also alleged that the former editor had “repeatedly undermined the review process” in the EPW, promised “higher payments to certain authors (his close associates), which would have been 20 times higher than the token amounts paid to our contributors” and made “inappropriate, sexual and sexist comments”.
In a statement issued on August 2, Guha Thakurta has countered the allegations and “categorically” denied the claim that he undermined the review process. He said he exercised his “prerogative as an editor” to shorten the review process in just a handful of articles out of the hundreds published during his 15 months as the editor.
According to Guha Thakurta, among this small number of articles was one that was “strongly recommended” by one Sameeksha Trust member. The article, once published, attracted a strong rejoinder, which was also published by the journal.
The same trustee, said Guha Thakurta, had also questioned the rejection of a particular article, which had led the former editor to request the reviewer to state his reasons. “While it is not normal practice in the EPW to specify the reasons for rejecting an article,” since it was a trustee who had complained, Guha Thakurta had been led to do so. Once the reasons became known, the trustee “retorted with a harangue questioning the decision of the reviewer,” Guha Thakurta said in his statement.
The former EPW editor also vehemently denied allegations of favouring his “close associates” by “promising to pay them substantially more” than what the journal normally pays its contributors. He stated that for two atypical articles that were specially assigned, the former editor had proposed payments of Rs 30,000 and Rs 20,000, “which I felt would be commensurate with the efforts they had put in”. A reason for these proposed payments was also that the journal had received a “generous grant,” a component of which was specifically earmarked for “corporate investigations” and “web exclusives,” which the two articles fell under.
The first investigative article was written by Subir Ghosh, who Guha Thakurta describes as “my co-author and close associate” in his statement, after more than a month of research. The second article was by Nihar Gokhale, who he describes as “a freelance journalist who could become my close associate,” and based on leaked internal documents of a bank. According to Guha Thakurta, he had also raised Rs 50,000 from one individual for corporate investigations. Following his resignation, this donation has been withdrawn and neither Ghosh nor Gokhale have been paid the amounts that “I ‘promised’ them,” Guha Thakurta said.
On allegations of misuse of power and lack of editorial oversight, he said that over and above the articles he authored or co-authored, he had been responsible for publishing nearly two dozen articles that can be described as “investigative”.
“I wish to state that not only did these articles attract more than the usual number of readers to the website of the EPW, but also that not a single fact published had to be retracted or were contradicted.”
Pointing to his own article on alleged over-invoicing of imported coal by prominent private and public companies, which his former colleagues said in their letter was published on the day Guha Thakurta joined EPW, he said: “That was also the day I received a copy of a document (on which the article was based) that had been sent to 50 different government establishments. I wanted the EPW to be the first to publish the news and indeed, after the EPW published the report, it was picked up by a number of Indian and international dailies and publications.”
He further added that he had made an attempt to accommodate the views of his former colleagues “even when I vehemently disagreed with them,” hence disagreeing with their claim that he had compromised the “egalitarian” work culture in the organisation. “They are indeed entitled to their opinion. I do not agree with them.”
Allegation of sexist language
Guha Thakurta also said that what “pained him the most” is the allegation that he has used inappropriate, sexual and sexist language in the organisation. He acknowledged that he had “inadvertently” and on only one occasion used a phrase in a conversation with a woman colleague that he says could have been considered inappropriate. “On realising this, I immediately apologised to her. Later in the day I followed it up with an email to her placing on record my apology for what I had said.”
Guha Thakurta further stated that he was unaware if any formal complaint had ever been made against him on the lines of the allegations in the staff letter that he had on occasion caused discomfort to his women colleagues, adding that it was being made into an issue likely as part of a “bigger agenda to malign me personally”.
Taking “particular umbrage” at the sudden blocking of his EPW email account, he said that it was contrary to the assurances that he would be allowed access for a few weeks after his resignation.
In his statement, Guha Thakurta also thanked his former colleagues for questioning the taking down of the Adani article and said that the action had rightly been perceived as an “encroachment on editorial autonomy”.
“The institution that is the EPW is far bigger than any individual and will always be that way,” he said. “Its survival and further development, I believe, is the responsibility of the larger EPW community that has sustained and nurtured it.”