More than a decade after he took charge of the Economic & Political Weekly, C Rammanohar Reddy is stepping down as editor of the prestigious journal, amidst reports of friction with the board. Reddy announced his departure to his colleagues last week and on Wednesday sent an email to the journal's huge support group, saying he had had a satisfying and challenging tenure. Reddy will remain editor until the end of March.

"Now it is time to hand over the journal to an Editor who has fresh ideas ," Reddy wrote in his email. "A decade and more is a long time for anyone to head a journal and all publications do need to renew themselves. The Sameeksha Trust has constituted a Search Committee which I hope will identify a candidate for the post by the end of March. I am sure that whoever is appointed, he/she will build on what we have done and give EPW a new vigour."

Reddy's departure may have been expected – staffers say he had been talking about stepping down for a year now – but also comes as something of a surprise since he had been preparing a number of special projects to commemorate the journal's 50th anniversary. These plans, in fact, reportedly resulted in some differences between Reddy and the board of the Sameeksha Trust, the charitable trust established in 1966 to publish the journal that came to be known that year as the Economic & Political Weekly.

Unique reputation

The journal is a policy-heavy weekly magazine that features contemporary analysis alongside academic papers, and holds a unique reputation in Indian academic circles. Most of India's top academics have at one time or the other been published in the journal. Despite its small circulation, EPW is closely followed by thousands of students, academics and policy-makers who look to it for serious analysis of contemporary issues. Despite its often-strained finances and limited salaries, it has survived for half a century now.

"If EPW goes, the nation’s conscience goes," said historian Ramchandra Guha, who has written for and about the journal in the past. "It’s not like an ordinary news magazine. There is no comparable journal in the entire world. And it is so because of Ram Reddy. He has been outstanding for EPW and I don't think the board – which meets once in every three months – understands and appreciates just how much he means for the journal."

Reddy had ambitious projects planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the journal, due later this year, including three special volumes and a documentary film commissioned to recount the publication's history. However, that the board was unhappy about the way Reddy made his decisions and wanted to micro-manage this process, Guha said. Instead, Reddy decided to step down.

"I'm a little worried about what transpired," Guha said. "I do know that Ram Reddy was intending to take a consulting position even if he did step down, but now this has happened. In 2004, [after previous editor Krishna Raj died], the Board appointed a search committee and contacted many people in the wider EPW committee to suggest names. This time they seem to have done it in secret, many on the board also do not know, and I'm a little worried that the board is being so secretive. I hope my fears are unfounded, but I do not know if the board understands how much of EPW's reputation rests on Ram."

Personal reasons

Eminent historian Romila Thapar, who is on the board of the Sameeksha Trust, denied these suggestions, saying Reddy's departure had nothing to do with the anniversary plans.

"Ram Reddy two years ago said that he was finding the commute [between Mumbai and Hyderabad, where his family lives] difficult," Thapar said. "It was decided that he would be relieved of the editorship on March 31, 2016, this date was fixed a year ago. There is no connection between this and the discussions about the anniversary. That process is on-going. Whatever is going to happen is under discussion, no decision has been made."

Thapar added that the board is now carrying out the process of looking for a new editor and said that it would be not be "ethically correct" for her to comment on Reddy's editorship while he is still in charge. Attempts to reach other members of the board, including calls and emails, have been unsuccessful. Scroll will update the story with any reactions that come in.

Reddy told Scroll that he had informed the board in April last year that he wanted to leave the magazine, because he has been "exhausted after a decade in a high-intensity job" and because his family has been in Hyderabad, while the newsroom was in Mumbai. He said that the board asked him to stay for a year, to which he agreed. Reddy did not mention any disagreement regarding plans for the anniversary.

His email announcing his departure also did not mention a disagreement with the board, and staffers said that he had been planning to step down for some time now.

"He’s been telling us for some time, for almost a year," said Kalpana Sharma, who is a consulting editor at the journal. "He's been commuting back and forth between Mumbai and Hyderabad – where his family lives – and he wanted more time with the family, so I think now just seemed like the time. And the good thing is, he set it up very nicely and made sure that the journal isn't dependent on just one person... He's created such a good team that whoever comes in next will find a well-functioning machine."

Significant contribution

Reddy took over the journal after the death of Krishna Raj, who ran it for 35 years, and helped cement its reputation as a publication that managed to include both contemporary analysis and important academic work. Over his decade-long tenure, Reddy worked to increase the corpus of funds available to EPW, moved it out of rented office to a permanent address and took the journal online to greatly massively increase its reach. He also widened the scope of its coverage, drawing from a wider set of contributors and adding more commentary about things like the environment and the media.

Reddy's email to the wider EPW community said that he has no idea what he will do once he has left the journal, adding that he will think things through after the end of March.

Guha said he hoped the board would find a way to ensure Reddy would still be involved in the journal. "Next to Krishna Raj he’s been the most influential editor the journal has had...," Guha said. "I think it’s important that he be retained as a consultant or a member of the board. It would be a way to assure the wider community of which EPW is a part. EPW is very special, because of the people who have stayed with it all along. It’s sustained by the goodwill. And that goodwill will dissipate if the trust goes. All of us trusted Ram Reddy... Retaining him is one way of safeguarding that, ensuring continuity."