Bloomsbury is realizing that India won’t take a clampdown on freedom of speech lying down.
Authors and readers are pledging to boycott Bloomsbury India after it withdrew from publishing a book on the Delhi riots following outrage from a leftist online mob. Prominent leftist voices had been bullying the publisher after an announcement of the launch of a book titled “Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story.” Leftists, none of whom had even read the book, had been objecting to BJP leader Kapil Mishra, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri and OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma being invited as Guests of Honour for the event. Even as the event took place, Bloomsbury said that it would no longer associate itself with the book.
But the backlash to Bloomsbury’s decision to pull out began almost immediately. Sanjeev Sanyal, India’s Prinicipal Economic Advisor and author of several books including The Ocean of Churn and Land of Seven Rivers, said he’d never work with Bloomsbury again. “A few weeks ago, I had raised the issue of how a tiny cabal controls Indian publishing and constantly imposes ideological censorship. We have just witnessed one example of how this insidious control is wielded,” he tweeted. “I have not read the book in question & have no idea if it is good or bad. However, this is obviously not a quality control problem but about censorship. I commit to never publish a book with Bloomsbury India,” he added.
Sanyal was quickly followed by Sanjay Dixit, who had a book releasing with Bloomsbury just next month. “This censorship by @BloomsburyIndia is unacceptable. I do hereby announce that I am ending my relationship with them, and will send Bloomsbury a notice to withdraw my book ‘Nullifying Article 370 and Enacting CAA’ due to be released on Sep 20, 2020. Let them paint themselves Red,” he tweeted.
JNU Professor and author Anand Ranganathan went a step further — he has published two books with Bloomsbury, and said he would return the advance paid to him by the publisher for his next book.
” I am appalled to see @BloomsburyIndia, publisher of two of my books, buckle under threats by fascists and withdraw the book Delhi Riots – 2020. I stand in complete solidarity with the authors. This is an assault on Freedom of Expression and on those who cherish this freedom,” he wrote on Twitter.
” A book is an idea, one you may staunchly agree or disagree with. And an idea cannot be destroyed. It cannot fall victim to threats and blackmail by fascists. Books last because ideas do. This decision by Bloomsbury should be condemned by ALL writers and readers. If Bloomsbury does not retract its decision, my co-author and I have decided that we will return the substantial advance paid to us by Bloomsbury for our forthcoming book. We cannot allow our book to be published by a house that does not respect Freedom of Expression,” he said.
Harsh Gupta, whose new book A New Idea Of India is slated to release soon, said that he wouldn’t publish any books with Bloomsbury going forward.
Others too said they’d never purchase Bloomsbury books going forward.
Bloomsbury’s move was widely panned as well. “I don’t care how foul this book might be: By withdrawing a publication because some people don’t like what it stands for, @BloomsburyIndia has just tossed more poison into the toxic brew we call our public life,” wrote Praveen Swami, Group Consulting Editor, Network 18.
The outrage around Bloomsbury’s decision is understandable — India’s constitution has adequate safeguards to ensure that material that violates Indian laws is penalized through laws on libel and slander. But a leftist cabal instead chose to bully a publisher into withdrawing from publishing a book that hadn’t yet been released, and no one had read. This can have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech in India — if only leftist-approved books are allowed to be published in India going forward, are we still a functioning democracy?