Atmosphere vitiated, but publishing escapes heavy hand of politics, say insiders (Part II)

By Saket Suman,

New Delhi : With the new weapon of choice to intimidate publishers being the legal injunction, industry stakeholders contend that they have escaped the heavy hand of direct political intimidation — perhaps because a critical book is not as potent as a critical TV channel or newspaper.

“The impact that books are capable of having (certainly in English) in India is perhaps in reality limited. Print and television are the more immediate and higher-impact media,” noted Thomas Abraham, Managing Director of Hachette India.

He also believes calling publishing a “sacred space” is a “tad over-hyped. Because unless you’re the Sahitya Akademi or an NGO/Trust, you’re primarily a business”.

He said while part of the business is to publish freely, but it has to be done within the limitations of existing laws. “Though, when push comes to shove, our laws (certainly a few draconian ones) don’t seem inclined to defend freedom of speech, even if our courts have generally had a good track record there,” he said.

“We must publish without fear,” asserted Chiki Sarkar, publisher at Juggernaut Books. “It’s an issue we feel passionately about. But it’s hard for many… (the legal process involving defamation) is long and often cumbersome. Many publishers do feel they have to make pragmatic choices, and why blame them. As it is, the industry doesn’t make a lot of money.”

Sarkar also noted there has been pressure and censorship across all political regimes.

“I remember Vaasanthi’s bio of Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu Chief Minister) being shut down by the subject. And, of course, (Wendy) Doniger happened during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) tenure, although it was unconnected to that regime. (“The Hindus: An Alternative History” was withdrawn by Penguin before the current government was elected to power in 2014.)

But “I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army” by journalist Swati Chaturvedi, an explosive expose of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s social media strategy, did not face any trouble. “Shadow Armies: Fringe Organisations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva” authored by journalist Dhirendra K. Jha too sailed through.

The book maintains that BJP’s advance from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 282 in 2014 has been accompanied by the burgeoning of fringe organisations such as the Sri Ram Sene, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Aikya Vedi which have forcefully, even rabidly, propounded the Hindutva cause.

There has been talk that ever since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government came to power, freedom of speech is under threat in India — and parallels are drawn with “Indira’s emergency” and “Hitler’s dictatorship” by opposition leaders and members of the intelligentsia.

In the publishing space, though, many do not quite agree with that contention — at least openly.

“We haven’t had a situation around the publication of a book that has had any pressure from any group — political or otherwise. It is important to mention here that while all voices and opinions should be published, it is equally important to publish them within the governing laws of the country,” Ananth Padmanabhan, Chief Executive Officer, HarperCollins India told IANS.

“In the past we have experienced pressure when both parties have formed the government, so this is not a particularly new phenomenon. As publishers, it’s our role to publish well-researched, good quality books, Priya Kapoor, Director of Rolli Books told IANS.

She said it was one of the responsibilities of the publishers to publish sensibly. “In the past, we have had court cases which have gone on for years, legal notices and pressures of all kinds — and in most cases we have gone ahead with the publication of the book after assessing the risks involved,” she said.

Abraham said calling the present situation as Emergency-like is “overstating” it.

“Certainly, illiberal forces are more vocal, and the political scene is much more vitiated, but the shackles that exist and that can be brought to bear as pressure from the past 50 years or more — I’m referring to outdated, and vaguely-stated laws that can be made a tool of stifling expression,” Abraham said.

Books extremely critical of the ruling regime, including Modi himself, do get published.

For example, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy, in which Modi is supposedly referred to as “Gujarat ka Lalla”. More recently, in “Memory in the Age of Amnesia”, filmmaker Saeed Mirza lashed out at Modi — without naming him, reminding readers about the “scar” of his career, the Gujarat riots — that has been overlooked.

“A man has been installed as the Prime Minister of my country,” Mirza writes, “who represents a political and ideological mindset that I oppose and find deeply disturbing. His contentious and questionable journey to the pinnacle of power has been documented thoroughly and no amount of wizardry of words… by admiring political pundits and fans and his own, personal amnesia of what he did to arrive at where he is, can erase that history. The scar is permanent,” Mirza, 74, noted.

(This is the 2nd and last part of article on freedom in book publishing. Saket Suman can be contacted at )

Injunctions, defamation suits emerge as new weapons against authors, publishers (Part-I)


  • Explore tags ⟶
  • book

Also read-


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Stories

Karnataka to drop paras from text book that allegedly hurt sentiments of Brahmins

Bengaluru: Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister S. Suresh Kumar on Thursday directed the Commissioner for Public Instruction (CPI) to take steps to drop relevant...

Bloomsbury India withdraws publication of book advertised by Kapil Mishra

Sudhanva Deshpande, who runs Leftword Books, said, "this book has blood on its hand".  By Hasan Akram New Delhi: Following widespread criticism, Bloomsbury India has decided...

Modi highlights ‘importance of stress-free examinations’ in new book

New Delhi : Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has focused his attention on the "importance of stress-free examinations" and has called on the young...

Five books to look forward to in January 2018

By Saket Suman, New Delhi : After a significant year for publishing in India, the upcoming month of January in 2018 will set the literary...

We are Gau Mata country: Himanta on DMK MP’s comment

Guwahati : Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday said India is a “Gau Mata” country and asserted that there is no dispute...

‘Here to make it easier for Muslims in India to go to Makkah, Madinah”: Saudi Minister of Hajj

New Delhi : Saudi Minister of Haj and Umrah Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah on Wednesday said “We are here to make it easier for...

31 years after Babri Mosque demolition: Perpetrators rule India

By Shamsul Islam Criminal Hindutva perpetrators instead of being punished rule India The RSS-BJP government of India led by a seasoned RSS whole-timer, Narendra Modi has...

Indian Army Major dismissed for ‘ties with Pakistani intelligence operative’

An Indian Army Major, who was recently dismissed from service by the President in October, is alleged to have been in contact with a...

Postpone probe into madrasas: UP madrasa board to Yogi govt

Lucknow : Following the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to initiate a probe into the availability of basic facilities and competent teachers at state-funded madrasas,...

Turkey, Qatar sign 12 agreements, issue joint declaration after high strategic committee meeting

DOHA, Qatar : Turkey and Qatar on Monday signed 12 cooperation agreements in various fields and the joint declaration of the 9th meeting of...

Anti-terror case: NIA searches in 5 J&K districts

Srinagar: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Tuesday carried out searches at several places in five districts of Kashmir valley as part of a...

Almost 1.9M Palestinian displaced across Gaza Strip since Oct. 7: UN

ISTANBUL : Almost 1.9 million people, or over 80% of the population, have been displaced across the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, the UN...

Modi will become PM for third time: Badruddin Ajmal

Guwahati : All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief, Badruddin Ajmal said that the BJP’s victory in the three state Assembly elections have proved...

Saudi Arabia gears up to deliver world-class services to Hajj and Umrah performers

By Tareq Wahab In recognition of its historical obligation and with a deep sense of honor, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques government has...

Afghan tragedy unfolds in Pakistan

By Asad Mirza For the last two months the international attention has been focussed on the continuing Gaza crisis, yet in its background another human...

2022 sees 24% rise in crime against women, minors, SC/ST: NCRB report

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recently released its comprehensive data for 2022, shedding light on the surge in crime against women, children, Schedule...

Hindu young women will lose rights if they marry Muslims: Karnataka BJP leader

Dakshina Kannada : BJP leader Malavika Avinash asserted that Hindu young women who marry a Muslim would lose their rights. She also raised questions about...

Is the party now over for Mayawati and BSP in UP?

Lucknow : The Bahujan Samaj Party has miserably failed to arrest its downslide in politics. The BSP failed to open its account in Chhattisgarh, Madhya...

FIR against Kafeel Khan for ‘objectionable’ content in his book

Lucknow : A case has been registered against Kafeel Khan, a former doctor at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur, and five unidentified people...