Ideologies blowing about in journals

Independent opinion journals and their editorial orientation

Over at The Awkward Corner, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha pays tribute to Sachin Chaudhuri, founder of the Economic Weekly, the forerunner of the journal we now know as Economic & Political Weekly. That venerable institution turns sixty this year, and has undergone both a cosmetic facelift (and one hopes, one in terms of editorial orientation as well) in recent years. It is perhaps the only journal in the world that publishes scholarly papers by eminent members of the Planning Commission and letters to the editor by Naxalite noms de guerre.

Niranjan links to Ramchandra Guha’s 1999 essay on the history of independent opinion journals in India where Mr Guha writes “Verily could (the editors of Seminar and EPW) claim to have followed the Tagore-Gandhi mantra, thus modified: ‘I want the ideas and ideologies of all kinds of Indians to be blown about in my journal as freely as possible. But I refuse to let it be blown off its feet by any.'” That is a lofty objective, and it is arguable whether India’s independent opinion journals were able to avoid the ideological seduction of the socialism that was prevalent in those days.

At The Indian National Interest and Pragati we make no such claims of loftiness. We believe that the Indian republic presents the best hope for the well-being, prosperity and happiness (yogakshema) of all its people, and therefore, its survival and security is supremely important. We advocate economic freedom, realism in international affairs, an open society and a culture of tolerance. But Pragati and INI are both “products of independent minds, who—transcending ideological pigeonholes—are united in our determination to see a better future for our nation.”

Ideologies are important—bad ones can kill, and worse. So allowing all kinds of ideologies to be blown about sounds lofty, but there is hardly any virtue in sitting on the fence in matters of public policy. However, pigeonholing (the pressure to follow and yield to dogma) is dangerous, because it is the first stop on the road to fundamentalism, and public policy—not least in a country as diverse as India—cannot do without pragmatism. But pragmatism itself is rudderless without firm ideological grounding.

One reason I am personally hesitant to describe our political philosophy in a word or two is because doing so runs the risk of getting pigeonholed. I took the risk when in “liberal nationalism” I made an attempt to construct a coherent framework of where we stand. But I refuse to let it blow me off my feet *.

6 thoughts on “Ideologies blowing about in journals”

  1. Nitin –
    The last sentence of your article should read:
    “But I refuse to let it blow me off my feet.”

  2. I am surprised by your support for the view that EPW allows ideologies of all kinds to blow freely. One look at it should be sufficient to dispel any such notions of ideological equanimity. The editorials and commentaries lean heavily to the left even when they are not outrightly espousing communist claims – there can be no question that the magazine as it exists today is a bastion of the far left, the only difference from People’s Democracy and The Hindu editorial section being that it is more willing than those publications to oppose the establishment communists (read the CPI(M) government in West Bengal). There is seldom any article that supports what you call economic freedom or a realist international policy (the foreign policy its writers espouse for the most part is blind anti-Americanism and the only pro-liberalization article in recent times I can think of was written by the government advisor, Arvind Viramani and it was, I believe, a study rather than a commentary). It may be a venerable institution but it must be emphasized that they do not stand for realism in international affairs or economic freedom nor do they, as an editorial policy, appear to allow such winds to blow through the pages of their journal.

    As you point out,your write-up provides the primordial elements for a new ideological framework. Of course, it can hardly be described as anything comprehensive but if Pragati’s ideas on various issues beyond foreign policy are to be taken seriously, that is exactly what you will need.

  3. Bobcat,

    What you say about EPW is undeniable. But they are welcome to sell their ware in the free market for ideas and yes, to also make claims to or portray themselves as keeping to those lofty ideals. Readers will notice the dissonance.

    For me, I was pleasantly surprised when they published my rejoinder to Achin Vanaik’s diatribe against realism.

  4. No offence meant, but quoting Guha on the neutrality of EPW is like quoting Hugh Hefner on the aesthetic appeal of Playboy.

  5. OT,

    Much as I applaud your analogy and much as I detest Guha’s sloppy intellectual work, I do think that he has shown some independent streaks–far more than what is common among writers of a particular ideological bent.

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