The Crisis faced by Sameeksha Trust

During all the past months, since the resignation of the EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (brought about through an unceremonious way), I had reluctantly abstained from going public and joining the debate that is going on. Instead, I appealed in private correspondence to the Sameeksha Trust chairman Deepak Nayyar, as well as other members, to engage in self-introspection, review their relationship with the editors and staff of the EPW, and correct any imbalances that might have occurred. I expected the Trust members to be sober enough to take corrective steps, instead of re-iterating a stubborn confrontationist position.

Till now, I have not received any satisfactory reply from the chairman or any other trustee. I therefore feel compelled to reveal some of the contents of the correspondence that I had with the chairman, as well some information that was conveyed to me by a trustee (whose name I should not disclose because of its confidential nature). To start with, soon after the Sameeksha Trust’s first statement of July 20, 2017, announcing the circumstances leading to the resignation of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta from the editorship of EPW, I wrote a letter (dated July 21) to the Trust chairman Deepak Nayyar, requesting him to circulate it among other trustees. In that letter, I raised two questions. My first question, relating to the two articles that Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and his co-authors wrote exposing the corrupt deal between the Adani business group and the present government, was: “…the two articles (in question) appeared on June 17. The board of trustees must have read them, and apparently did not have any problem with them – till July 5, when the Adani group sent a legal notice to the Sameeksha Trust, the EPW and the authors, following which Paranjoy appointed a Supreme Court lawyer, Chandrachur Bhattacharya to send a reply to the Adanis, stating that the articles were truthful and could be corroborated by documentary evidence. His mistake, which he admitted, was that he did not seek prior consent of the trustees before engaging the services of a lawyer – an act of ‘grave impropriety’ according to the board of trustees. But what is surprising is why at the board’s meeting on July 18, the members asked Paranjoy to take down from the website the two articles – which till a few days ago seemed to be unobjectionable to the trustees ?”

My second question following from this, which I addressed to Deepak Nayar was: “ Why was the board in such a hurry to withdraw the articles, without waiting for Adanis’ reply to Paranjoy’s letter to the Adanis through his lawyer stating that the said articles were truthful and could be corroborated by documentary evidences ? ….Besides, no court of law had been moved as yet, and thus there is no criminal case till now. One cannot escape the feeling that a sense of panic gripped the board. They were reported to have told Paranjoy that he had `put them to great professional, personal and financial risk’ (Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s interview in The Hindu, July 20, 2017). Could the trustees clarify what is the risk they are afraid of ? A court case ? Expenses involved in such a long drawn out case (as far as I know , Paranjoy’s lawyer has agreed to fight it free. Besides, given the fame and prestige of EPW, funds can be raised from all over the world to fight a case which can be a cause célèbre) ? The Sameeksha Trust has come out with a statement saying that there is `no question’ of its `bowing down to external pressures.’ (July 20). I earnestly hope that the board of trustees lives up to this assurance, and ensures editorial independence of EPW.”

In response to the above letter of mine, Deepak Nayyar sent me a very polite reply (dated August 2) saying: “…I simply want to say to you that there is a lot of rumour and misinformation going on around on this matter..” He then added: “Let me assure you the question of Sameeksha Trust bowing down to external pressure of any kind simple (sic.) does not arise… We hope to issue a second statement soon. ” The second statement (dated August 3) that I received from him, just re-iterated the views expressed in the first statement of July 2 – without addressing the two main queries that I raised in my first letter to him.

Since then there had been a lot of letters addressed to the Sameeksha Trust by leading intellectuals (e.g. a former trustee Ashok Mitra’s letter dated July 31, 2017), and from the EPW editorial staff (dated July 25, 2017), as well as public statements of protests against the Trust’s behavior by eminent academics like Partha Chatterjee and Ram Guha. Incidentally, this is not the first time that the present board of Sameeksha Trust is facing a barrage of protests from the academic community. In January 2016, following the resignation of the then editor C. Rammanohar Reddy (again brought about by pressures on him by the Trust), some hundred academics from India and abroad sent a letter to the trustees, expressing their misgivings about the methods adopted by the present Trust in solving disputes with the editor. As far as I know, neither the chairman of the Trust, nor any other member of the Trust (to whom all these letters have been addressed) has till now responded to the concerns expressed by those correspondents. Nor have they responded through the media to the public statements made by Partha Chatterjee, Ram Guha and others, which appeared on web sites.

The lingering suspicion that I expressed in my first letter to Deepak Nayyar that the Trust must be buckling down under pressures from Adani, has now been confirmed by Romi Khoshla’s article in The Wire on August 22. He ends it with the sentence: “I did not feel any opaqueness during my dealings with the trustees when I sought their clarifications to write this piece.” In fact, he should have prefaced his article with that statement, before announcing: “Adani is no ordinary mortal, and is amongst the ten richest billionaires in India. It’s not a good idea to shoot a him from some one else’s shoulder…” He then advices us: “…in the present circumstances, it is worth considering sheathing daggers, containing the venom and understanding the sacrosanct boundaries of the legal frameworks…” In other words, we the EPW contributors, should henceforth not write anything that offends the ‘richest billionaires’ – an advice which apparently has the approval of the Sameeksha Trust, going by the `clarifications’ that Mr Khoshla claims to have received from it. Will Deepak Nayyar please confirm his claim ?

To conclude, a member of the Trust, in a recent confidential correspondence, told me that he – along with another trustee (both reputed academics) – had submitted their resignation letters to the chairman sometime ago. But the chairman is refusing to accept them. Can Deepak Nayyar please confirm this, and also clarify the reasons for his refusal ? Further, can I request him and his colleagues on the board to directly address the misgivings voiced by the EPW community, which spans a wide Indian and international spectrum of eminent academics, brilliant young researchers, courageous social activists – as well as independent minded representatives from the banking and corporate sectors ? They have raised questions in public about some of the actions of the Trust during the last two years. After its abject surrender to Adani’s threats, its present members should acknowledge their failure to live up to the ethics of courageous opposition to the Establishment, and professional norms of dissident journalism, which were laid down by Sachin Chaudhury and his friends when they started the Sameeksha Trust. Now that they have betrayed that trust placed upon them by the EPW community, if they have any iota of self-respect, they should resign from the Trust, and make way for new members who have more guts than them to resist the aggression of the corporate billionaires on EPW.


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