Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a veteran journalist who has the reputation of being a “true muckraker”, fiercely independent and completely non-partisan, has stepped down as the editor of the illustrious Economic and Political Weekly, reportedly over two articles on the alleged nexus between the Adani Group and Modi government.
The said articles have been removed from the EPW website (but have been archived, and also the republished versions continue to exist in The Wire.in), and Guha Thakurta has ended his 15-month stint with the five-decade-old research and scholarly journal that has for long been an important contributor to debates, discussions and detailed reportage, on “personal grounds”.
Guha Thakurta had co-authored the articles with editorial assistant Abir Dasgupta, and researchers Advait Rao Palepu and Shinzani Jain. One of the articles titled “Modi Government’s Rs 500-crore Bonanza to the Adani Group” dealt with how the Centre had in August 2016, tweaked rules pertaining to Special Economic Zones to benefit the Adani Group, whose promoter Gautam Adani is perceived to be close to the prime minister.
The other piece, titled, “Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?”, details how despite the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) reports on a handful of companies under the Adani Group allegedly dodged taxes and laundered money while trading in diamonds and gold jewellery, the Centre is reluctant to pursue the matter, and hasn’t filed a review petition in the Supreme Court looking into the matter.
The two matters require urgent investigation, but instead of the government bodies following them up, what we have witnessed is obstruction of justice by dangling defamation suits worth several crores in order to scare the trustees of the EPW. Guha Thakurta had earlier tweeted about the notice that the Adani Group’s lawyer had sent him, as well as Sameeksha Trust, the publishers of EPW.
Modi Government’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Co – this article in Eco & Pol Weekly elicited a legal notice https://t.co/sWtASiGuGz
— ParanjoyGuhaThakurta (@paranjoygt) July 11, 2017
Modi Govt’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Co – for which Economic and Political Weekly was served legal notice https://t.co/sWtASiGuGz
— ParanjoyGuhaThakurta (@paranjoygt) July 9, 2017
The EPW management has reacted to the mere threat of a criminal defamation suit in a legal notice from the Adani Group. This goes on to show how strategic litigations are being used by big corporates to curb free speech and discourage high-quality investigative journalism.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that there’s not a single stain of corruption on his three-year tenure in the Centre, we see a barrage of attacks on media, creeping self-censorship and a belligerent government clamping down on those trying to do their job well and ask critical, uncomfortable questions about the state of the political economy.
Not just the EPW, even The Wire.in had to remove two articles on the NDA head of Kerala and Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, sitting atop a mountain of conflict of interest, as he, despite owning companies with defence interests, is part of the parliamentary standing committee on defence.
In addition, his part ownership of Republic TV has also come under the scanner and Chandrasekhar promptly used the litigation route to get the articles taken down from the website. (Again, archived content can be found by anyone willing to dig deep.)
This is not the first time that Guha Thakurta has invited the wrath of big corporate behemoths. His book, Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis, had to fight a legal notice from Reliance Industries, and RIL wanted “all existing copies – hard copy and online versions – of the book to be destroyed and any further publication, distribution or circulation to be stopped”.
Once again, criminal defamation was used as a strategy, but fortunately, the book has survived and has become once again available with online retailers.
With 58 per cent of India’s wealth owned by the top one per cent of population, crony capitalism is thriving and how under this government’s regime. Despite PM Modi’s hard talk against corruption and claims of ending it altogether, all we see is a concerted attempt to delete every mention of such collusions.
Guha Thakurta is clearly not alone in being targeted, but the very fact that he had to resign from his crucial position as editor of the EPW as a form of protest against the censorship, is a signal of bigger and more ominous worries in times ahead. His resignation is a beginning of a long struggle towards press freedom, in which India ranks at a dismal number 138.