Editors resign before launch of new journal. What went wrong?

The editors of a new journal resigned earlier this month, claiming that one of the publishers had cold feet about launching the journal. The publishers, however, tell a different story.

To be honest, we’re a bit confused about what happened.  

The editors—Apoorvanand Jha and Dhruva Narayan—claim that India’s Council for Social Development (CSD), which was publishing the journal in collaboration with SAGE, attempted to stall the launch of the journal after expressing concerns about the content. As a result, both editors have decided to resign from the journal, Samajik Vimarsh, created to publish social science findings in Hindi. An article published in The Wire quotes the director of the CSD, Ashok Pankaj, saying that the council had decided to shutter the journal.

But SAGE told us that the CSD has not interfered in the editorial process and both publishers remain committed to launching the social science journal. The only hold-up, according to SAGE, has been registering the journal with the government’s Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI)—a legal requirement for all journals in India. The CSD website also states that the publisher remains firmly committed to bringing out the Hindi Journal after meeting the legal requirement.”

Here’s the longer version of the story:

In 2015, the CSD decided to create the journal. According to Apoorvanand, a professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi, the journal was supposed to launch in January 2017. He and Narayan, managing editor at Daanish Books, had the content for the first issue ready to go.

But delays registering the journal with the RNI stalled the launch. According to a statement about the new journal posted by the CSD:

[SAGE] is pursuing the registration process. Once the approval comes, the publication will commence. [SAGE] has informed us that the approval is likely to come by the Middle of December 2017.

Apoorvanand does not dispute that the initial “delay was caused by the government” during the journal registration process, he told us via email. But, according to Apoorvanand, the delay on the part of the government “led the CSD to have second thoughts about the direction of the journal.”

Apoorvanand told us that “the President [of the CSD] himself communicated this apprehension [about the journal’s content] to me” but that these doubts were only “conveyed in personal conversations.”

According to Apoorvanand, he and Narayan decided to resign because they believed the CSD was trying “to stall the publication process” and deliberately undermine “our authority as editors of the journal.”

In their resignation letters, which The Wire uploaded and which Apoorvanand confirmed were authentic, he and Narayan describe various ways in which the CSD tried “to wriggle out of its commitment using various technicalities.”

Apoorvanand explained that the CSD asked to review the papers slated for the first issue because the council worried that the articles expressed anti-government views. Apoorvanand told us:

We were not ready to allow the CSD to screen the content of each article … They wanted to see what was going in the journal, and we thought such screening would impede editorial integrity and autonomy. We decided we couldn’t do that; and that’s why we quit.

The publishers’ side of the story

SAGE forwarded us comments on behalf of the CSD director, Pankaj. In the comments, Pankaj explained that “the CSD management does not decide the contents of its journal,” the editor of the journal does.

SAGE was able to secure the journal’s title in August 2017—a key step in registering the journal with the government. According to Apoorvanand, the publisher told the CSD and editors to publish the first issue while SAGE continued to pursue the RNI number. Apoorvanand, however, declined to send us email correspondence between the editors and SAGE, which he says support this claim.

Indeed, SAGE claims the journal is moving forward as planned, contradicting Apoorvanand’s allegation the process has been stalled by CSD.  A SAGE spokesperson told us:

The inaugural issue is to be published as soon as the RNI approval is received and legal formalities are completed.

Even the editors’ accounts of what happened diverge at one point. In Narayan’s resignation letter, he explains that a representative at SAGE suggested the editors hold a review article after speaking informally with a ministry official who had raised objections.

Apoorvanand, however, has repeatedly told us that “there was no interference from SAGE at any stage:”  

[SAGE] didn’t ask us to withdraw the review about which the ministry man had raised objection. It was our decision to move the review from the first number to the second number. Sage never tried to influence the editorial decision.

The SAGE spokesperson informed us that no such conversation ever took place:

We have no record of any such conversation, informal or formal. To the best of our knowledge there is no recommendation from anywhere on any article being controversial or for any article being asked to be reviewed and or dropped from publishing in this journal.

Apoorvanand told us that he and Narayan informed the authors that “they are free to use their articles the way they want:”

Meanwhile, we are exploring options to launch a journal of this kind from some other platform.

Pankaj told us that the CSD is recruiting a new editor of Samajik Vimarsh who will decide the content of the first issue.

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