The Gentle Colossus: Krishna Raj and the Economic and Political Weekly

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Ramachandra Guha in Caravan:

THE BRITISH HISTORIAN EP THOMPSON once remarked that “India is not an important country, but perhaps the most important country for the future of the world. Here is a country that merits no one’s condescension. All the convergent influences of the world run through this society: Hindu, Moslem, Christian, secular; Stalinist, liberal, Maoist, democratic socialist, Gandhian. There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East which is not active in some Indian mind.”

Thompson may have been reading the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), the Bombay journal where these thoughts and influences converge and meet. Rich in information and glowing with polemic, its pages are an index to the life of India. On subjects as varied (and important) as the economy, caste politics, religious violence, and human rights, the EPW has consistently provided the most authoritative, insightful, and widely cited reports and analyses. Among the journal’s contributors are scholars and journalists, but also activists and civil servants—and even some politicians.

Like other such journals around the world, the EPW commands an influence far out of proportion to its circulation. It has shaped intellectual discussion in India, and had a profound impact on policy debates. Can one see it, then, as an Indian version of the esteemed New York weekly The Nation? There are some telling similarities. For one thing, both are appallingly bad looking. The well-loved columnist Calvin Trillin said of the Nation that it was “probably the only magazine in the country [that] if you make a Xerox of it, the Xerox looks a lot better than the original”.

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