Imperilled by the Pandemic, the Economic and Political Weekly Must be Saved

The EPW is a unique and rich trove of sophisticated arguments and counter-arguments – and of fundamentally important data-sets.

The eminent development economist Michael Lipton once urged Africans to develop a pan-African journal modelled on India’s Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). He explained the EPW’s enormous contribution – sharing studies among social scientists, historians and others throughout India and across the world, and making their insights available to policy makers and non-specialist readers. There was nothing like it, not just in Africa but elsewhere in Asia or in Latin America. African efforts to follow its example have not succeeded and Africa is severely disadvantaged as a result.

Recently, news has emerged that – amid the current pandemic – the EPW faces a grave financial crisis. It badly needs contributors to provide funds to keep it going. Without these, India and readers around the world will lose something of immense value.

The EPW has always published commentaries by people with diverse views. In its early days, its determination to promote debate sometimes led to strange, amusing incidents. On one occasion, its editors got a senior economic advisor to the government to write an anonymous article explaining in detail why a proposed policy made good sense. When no one submitted dissenting arguments, it persuaded that same advisor to pen another anonymous commentary that offered details on why that policy was misguided!

Over time, as it grew in strength, such tactics became unnecessary. Articles from different perspectives poured in. Debates flourished. The EPW became a rich trove of sophisticated arguments and counter-arguments – and of fundamentally important data-sets.

Some of the giants of Indian social science published classic studies in it. Rajni Kothari’s seminal work on the ‘Congress system’ in India’s politics appeared there. So did crucial work on village society by M.N. Srinivas and his associates.

Such rich analyses soon attracted leading scholars from outside India as readers – and as contributors who knew that the EPW’s strength ensured that readers not just in India but across the world would see their work.

Also read: EPW Is in a Rut. It Needs a Fresh Look at Itself in This Fast-Changing World.

As its reputation grew, and as the social sciences and humanities in India blossomed – thanks in no small part to the EPW – it began publishing important studies in an enormous range of fields. Consider these examples: public policy and political economy (as we might expect), but also econometrics, finance and banking; the corporate and energy sectors; the environment; both the rural and urban sectors; health and education; poverty, food security and nutrition; livelihoods and social justice; caste, class and changing social dynamics; human rights and issues of dignity; labour and employment; state-society relations; the state, markets and the media; minorities, majoritarianism and communalism; political and sectarian violence; political parties; elections; political decay and criminalisation; cultural issues including identities and gender; citizenship; federalism and democratic decentralisation; legal and constitutional issues; external affairs, globalisation and the international order; information technology.

The list could be longer, but this is an astonishingly broad range of topics. No journal, in India or the wider world, can match this. And the quality of the material that it published was remarkably high. It earned the EPW immense respect as a major international journal.

That is apparent in several ways. For example, the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex has the finest library on international development outside the World Bank. The most important social science journals that are in heavy demand are kept in a special ‘reserved’ section, and can be signed out by readers only for short periods. All but one of them are publications from Europe and the US. The one exception is the EPW.

Also read: EPW’s Governance System Could Use a Complete Overhaul

It has also received immensely impressive ratings from Scopus, the world’s largest database of peer-reviewed literature. In 2015, the EPW’s overall ranking was highest among 37 Indian social science journals, and second highest among 187 Asian journals. It was ranked highest among 38 journals in Asia for studies of economics, econometrics and finance and 37th among 881 journals globally. It was placed highest for sociology and political science among 23 Asian journals, and a splendid 17th among 951 journals globally. To have achieved this in competition with better funded publications in richer nations is quite stunning.

Its survival in the teeth of the financial strains caused by the current pandemic is a matter of the greatest urgency.

Contributions to the independent Sameeksha Trust, that publishes the EPW, can only be made by Indians and PIOs.  Click here for details.

James Manor is a professor in the School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is the author of numerous books including Power, Poverty and Poison: Disaster and Response in an Indian City (1993) on the 1981 hooch disaster in Bangalore.