India faces a "real danger to freedom of expression", says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a veteran journalist, who quit as editor of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) after he was asked by the trust that manages the internationally respected journal to withdraw two articles critical of the government for favouring the Adani business group.
"I do believe that in India, there is real and present danger to freedom of expression, which you and everybody know is a fundamental right of every citizen" guaranteed by the Constitution, Thakurta told IANS in a chat over the circumstances that led him to quit the academic journal, known for its strong editorials, scholarly pieces and political commentaries.
The editor resigned on July 18, minutes after his meeting with the directors of the Sameeksha Trust -- economist Deepak Nayyar, who is chairman, historian Romila Thapar, sociologist Dipankar Gupta, former bureaucrat D.N. Ghosh, Ambedkar University Vice-Chancellor Shyam Menon, and CSDS director Rajeev Bhargava -- that runs the journal.
Thakurta, a well-known business journalist and political commentator, took over as the editor in January last year, succeeding C. Rammanohar Reddy, who ran the journal for 10 years.
He said the magazine had received a notice from the Adani group that sought an unconditional withdrawal of the two "defamatory and harmful" articles co-authored by him.
Thakurta had published the Adani notice and a reply on the magazine website alongside the latest article.
The trustees, he said, took "great umbrage" to his decision to engage a lawyer to represent the trust without seeking prior permission that was dubbed "an act of grave impropriety".
He said he conceded to a procedural error "for which I apologised".
But the chairman then asked him "to pull down the articles...right now" together with the notice from the Adanis and also the reply, he said. Thakurta said he got the article pulled down, but also immediately submitted his resignation.
Sameeksha later issued a statement saying Thakurta had breached their trust "in taking a unilateral decision on a matter where any decision could be taken only by... the governing board".
It said his resignation was accepted but remained silent on Thakurta's claim that he was ordered to withdraw the articles, maintaining that "there is no question of the Sameeksha Trust, an independent non-partisan institution, bowing to external pressures of any kind. It never has".
When contacted, trustees Gupta and Thapar refused to speak further on the issue.
Thakurta said he tried arguing with the trust that what the Adanis had sent was just a legal notice but then in any civil or criminal defamation case, "truth is the best defence".
"I stand by each and every sentence, each and every line, each and every observation made in that article. I have done my due diligence," said the journalist who has been writing on political economy for the past four decades.
He said he was not "personally disappointed or unhappy" over what happened because he had done his duty.
"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."
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at email@example.com)