Ramakrishna Hegde 1926-2004
HAVING had a fairly enduring relationship with Ramakrishna Hegde over a long period of time, I consider it an opportune moment to write about him, the times he lived in and left his imprint on, and on the legacy he has left behind. It is an unusual legacy that the generation which has followed ought to savour and build on. There have been few politicians who have left a mark as politicians, a fact that has special relevance at a time when the very idea of politics generates growing dissonance and despair. When both the persona and the institutions of politics are increasingly becoming objects of negative predisposition, not just on the part of the intellectually disposed but in the mass of the people inhabiting the social and political terrain, Hegde’s passing away has led to a widely felt sense of loss, producing in its wake not a little mourning, something that happens only among members of a family or a close-knit community.
Hegde lent to politics an aura of intimacy that was widely shared, something missing in the public arena of our time. Even the newspaper headings that announced his passing reflected this: a suave political personality, one with impeccable credentials, one that informed the ethical dimensions of political phenomena, all of which made him stand apart from the general mass of politicians and public figures.
Another characteristic that marked Hegde apart from the rest of public and political beings was the sheer charm and aesthetics of his very presence wherever he went. Hegde’s was a most attractive presence in the public arena. His death is more than just having lost a suave being in an otherwise unethical and opportunistic profession. It goes deeper, representing something close to a moral assessment. The sense of loss felt on receiving the news of his death reflected a degree of intimacy with his very being among so many, rare to find in the public arena. This is a quality which few have been able to measure up to.
But Hegde’s imprint on the time he lived in was not just through the dynamics of a key person, a leading personality in the political arena. Hegde also informed states of awareness among diverse beings and their engagement with the world around. There was not just Hegde the human being and political personality, there was also Hegde as a social phenomenon, the Hegde that informed political consciousness among those who came in touch with him, or simply received diverse imprints of his versatile presence. Hence my point about the sheer aesthetics of the way he touched the whole aura and antennas of his time. This went all the way from those who worked closely with him and felt his presence, to the much broader sweep of that presence across diverse beings and institutional spaces, across personal bonds and identities that this created. This is what makes Hegde such a unique phenomenon in India’s political history, at any rate the history our time.
It is to this whole interface of personal intimacies and institutional engagements, all of which left a Hegde-ian mark on the time he lived in, and the time he has left behind, that I wish to record my tribute. It is a tribute that is at once personal and political.
Krishna Raj 1937-2004
HE was the last of the titans. For all those of us who came of age in the late 1960s-early ’70s, critical of the lived experience of Indian state and society, but still retaining faith in the humanist, republican and non-sectarian values of the Constitution, the Economic and Political Weekly was essential reading. Alongside Seminar, then edited by Raj and Romesh Thapar, Mainstream by Nikhil Chakravartty, and Frontier by Samar Sen, the engaged commentary and scholarly discourse in these journals marked a high point of our activist-intellectual life. Without doubt, the EPW was the front-runner in this enterprise.
Maintaining the high standards set by his predecessor, Sachin Chaudhuri, Krishna Raj presided over the fortunes of the EPW since 1968. Only someone tasked with the responsibility of bringing out small journals – with minimal staff, limited resources and negligible state and corporate support – can appreciate the enormity of the effort in appearing, week after week, with quality material on a wide range of issues. And to have done this for well nigh four decades without promising either attractive renumeration or mass readership is close to miraculous.
Krishna Raj was a quiet, an almost obsessively self-effacing individual. An alumni of the Delhi School of Economics, his wide reading and knowledge never ceased to amaze. Nevertheless, his scholarship sat lightly on him. Readers, in all likelihood, may be more familiar with his scholarly wife, Maitrayee Krishna Raj, particularly her contributions to the ‘Review of Women Studies’ which she helped initiate, than him. Unlike many of his contemporaries in journalism, he was scarcely seen outside the confines of his spartan office, rarely giving interviews and never appearing on television. Not even when the EPW faced charges of sedition. He also, (another rarity particularly among editors) never wrote signed articles in his own journal. And for someone with an amazing circle of friends and collaborators, he rarely spoke, preferring to listen rather than imposing/asserting his personal preferences.
Nevertheless, his signature was apparent in every page of the journal – the editorials, the short commentary pieces, book reviews, reflective essays and the scholarly ‘special articles’. How he managed, day after day, to persuade an incredible range of contributors to deliver on every conceivable issue will remain a mystery. What is undeniable is that under his stewardship, the EPW became the vehicle of choice for anyone wanting to seriously communicate with the engaged scholarly community, in India and abroad, both within and across one’s field of expertise.
Even as more specialised (and prestigious) journals floundered in the face of diminishing contributions and readership, the EPW invariably had a long waiting list with contributors, many waiting for well over a year to see themselves in print. All because each knew that this was the surest way to arrive on the Indian scholarly and intellectual scene (the lively debates on the mode of production and imperialism).
Even though the EPW lost some of its early left-wing sheen, particularly in the post-reform years, it never gave up on its liberal, secular, humanist and progressive orientation. It must be the only journal to have been at different stages ‘attacked’ by sections of both the liberal and left-wing intelligentsia, the former accusing it of becoming captive to a ‘left’ cabal and the latter, more recently, of advocating and providing space, including editorial space, to ‘unorthodox’ engagement with issues of globalisation and privatisation. The last in particular ‘distressed’ many from the orthodox Left who read the shifts as capitulation to the neo-liberal orthodoxy. Nevertheless, both sides saw it as a mark of privilege to feature in the Weekly.
In many ways, these episodic controversies reflect the catholicity of the journal and its editor. It is never easy to rework earlier, strongly held, positions, more so when every shift of policy and perspective is translated in personal terms. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the activist/scholarly space with personality overshadowing principle. To have steered the Weekly through these troubled times and more, to have opened it out to a range of new concerns and writers – from historiography to popular culture, gender, environmentalism, management and labour, to name a few – without sacrificing interest in political economy and sociology is an effort worthy of the deepest admiration.
A word about managerial acumen. Most small/activist journals remain cash strapped and insolvent, forcing the promoters to rely on ‘questionable’ sources of finance. In part this is because publishers/editors are more comfortable with ideas than resources. How Krishna Raj and the trustees of Sameeksha Trust placed the journal on a more secure financial footing, bringing in not only larger advertisement revenues but also generating surpluses through the EPW Research Foundation, would make for an excellent case study in business schools.
Finally, the ability to hold together a team, train younger colleagues in low-profile, rigorous and value-based journalism too is a rarity. In times when most enterprises lose out to higher profile and better paying ventures, the EPW has managed to retain loyalty of its staff and expand both circulation and readership. It remains an essential part of all libraries –universities and research institutions, banks and newspapers, even NGO enterprises. Probably, it is the only weekly, contributions to which are accepted as part of academic curriculum-vitae, even though the EPW is no refereed journal. No wonder, the sudden and untimely demise of Krishna Raj is still difficult to register.
For generations now, researchers and academics, as also those interested in a serious engagement with the country, have mined the EPW archives. Undoubtedly, Krishna Raj is ‘impossible’ to replace – as much as an editor, friend, colleague, mentor and well-wisher. The Weekly will survive, as it must, a testimony to the enduring legacy of the man and his labours. In helping it to retain its vitality, even more, attain a more enduring presence, we will have repaid some of what we owe Krishna Raj and his project. He passed away quietly, without fuss, ‘much in keeping with his personality’. What he stood for should not be forgotten.