ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dharma Kumar

Some years ago, Dharma Kumar wrote a letter to the EPW protesting against the increasing ‘hegemony’ of Marxist subjects and themes in this journal. As one who had been associated with the EPW, and its predecessor, for a very long time, she worried that a previously liberal forum, open to all points of view, was now being filled by tedious and poorly written essays of interest only to the Marxist. Dharma Kumar’s letter, as readers will recall, sparked a vigorous debate in these columns. She had her supporters, and her opponents too. The phone lines across the Atlantic buzzed busily for days, resulting finally in a counter-protest, signed by various Anglo-American academics, which suggested that Dharma Kumar’s letter was part of a right-wing campaign to destabilise one of the few independent left voices in the country. Other commentators drew attention, darkly, to the peculiar coincidence in time of Dharma Kumar’s letter and the appointment of Manmohan Singh as finance minister. This well-rounded conspiracy thesis also found support in an article written by Rajdeep Sardesai in The Times of India, which held that ultimately – or, as I should probably say, ‘objectively’ – it was, indeed, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that would benefit most from a one-paragraph-long letter written by a lady professor of economic history living in retirement in New Delhi.

That campaign was started willingly by Dharma Kumar. She intended to shake up the EPW, and she did. I believe the editor and his team did recognise the truth of much of what she said, and have acted upon it. Now, however, she is the unwitting agent of another controversy currently raging in the correspondence columns of the EPW. Two of the latest entrants to this debate write in terms dangerously reminiscent of the earlier one. Thus P K Lele writes of those who disapproved of AM’s essay on Dharma Kumar that it “does come as an unpleasant surprise how quick intellectuals who pride themselves on their attachment to liberty and freedom are on the draw in openly and aggressively calling for censorship to ensure that discourses they find unpalatable are denied currency”. Padma Prakash complains that the letters of protest would make unedifying reading for those “young researchers and professionals who would rather get on with their work and careers than be burdened with bygone ideological battles among personalities of an older generation”. Both Lele and Prakash are gingerly, euphemistically, suggesting that the criticisms of AM constitute a rightist attack upon the left. How could it be otherwise, when those upset with AM’s essay write from the Delhi School of Economics?

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