Will Bloomsbury India bear the brunt of de-platforming ‘Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story’

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On 30 August, BJP leader Kapil Mishra in his tweet celebrated the 30,000 pre-orders of the very controversial book on Delhi Riots. ‘Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story’ is apparently a “factual” account of the communal riots which broke out in the regions of North East Delhi on 23 February. Mishra even added in his tweet that he would buy 100 copies of the book and distribute them. On 23 February, the day when the riots broke out, he (Mishra) delivered a blasphemous speech urging people to take the law in their hands. The riots were also the result of Anti-CAA protests to safeguard the minority rights. Many of the BJP leaders including Mishra were visceral in expressing their opposition against the protestors. He on the fatal day  said, “we will not listen to the police if roads are not cleared after three days”. The riots killed 53 people and damaged a massive amount of property.

Kapil Mishra was also announced as the Chief Guest for the book launch that was then being published by Bloomsbury. The news spread across the social media where people accused the UK based publishing house of propagating anti-muslim agenda by giving a platform to the book. The book has been jointly written by Monika Arora, Sonali Chitalkar and Prerna Malhotra. According to the authors, the book is based on a fact-finding report which provides interviews and explores how the riots were well planned. Many on social media accused that the book provides “unsubstantiated allegations” against the Muslims and the so-called “Urban Naxals”. According to The Wire, the book blames ‘Tukde-Tukde’ gang and members of Pinjra Tod() for the violence.

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On 22 August, Bloomsbury India released a statement that it “supports freedom of speech but also has a deep sense of responsibility towards society”. It also made clear that they are no more associated with the book, bringing shock to the right-wing supporters. They accused the publication of sabotaging freedom of speech and expression. Several individuals also pointed out the dichotomy of the publisher for not barring a book on Shaheen Bag protests. The following day on 23 August, Writer-historian William Dalrymple incurred the wrath of right wing supporters for his alleged role behind the withdrawal of the book. Aatish Taseer even thanked Twitter for his efforts in putting a stop to this shameful bit of state propaganda”. Dalrymple also claimed to respond to Saket Gokhle’s tweet that he was “on it” to stop the publication of the book as were “several other Bloomsbury authors”. The same day another publishing house Garuda Prakashan announced that it would step in to publish the book. It also later confirmed that the book received 15,000 pre-orders in less than 24 hours. It was announced that the book launch will witness the presence of Nupur Sharma (Editor OpIndia), Vivek Agnihotri (Filmmaker) and Kapil Mishra (BJP leader). Authors like Sanjeev Sanyal and Anand Ranganathan announced to cancel all future collaborations with Bloomsbury if the decision isn’t retracted. Anand wrote, “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”.

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India has a long history of banning books which didn’t align to the ruling party’s ideologies. BJP, TMC or even Congress have done it in the past by using their powers. Some of those books include Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic, Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India and Katherine Mayo’s Mother India to name a few. Listening to the counterintuitive narratives or outright controversial ideas are the essence of democracy and a blow on it by stopping them to appear in the mainstream kills that essence. However, Bloomsbury’s decision for not publishing the book can’t be deemed as a hindrance in freedom of expression because it is a decision by a private entity and not the state. A private publication de-platforming a book is not a ban. But, the entire episode has put the publication in jeopardy and unearths their double standards. If the book was allegedly spreading fake narrative then Bloomsbury shouldn’t have agreed to publish the book in the first place. This reveals that they became concerned about the responsibility towards the public only when the incident came under widespread scrutiny. Hence, their decision to withdraw the book came from the extreme pressure created by the left faction which is quite questionable.

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Even authors like Amish Tripathy who aren’t associated with right wing ideologies condemned the decision. Joining him was Anurag Kashyap who is seen as a left-leaning filmmaker who said that “banning anything is suppressing” and “it does not matter if it’s made up of lies”. Amish wrote on Twitter, “If you are an author who believes that only books of your ideological side should get published, then you are an extremist. If you control the platform, then deplatforming is as bad as burning books. The answer to a book is another book. Deplatforming is sophistry”. Clearly, this publication house is losing the hold over fence sitter or even rational subscribers. A publication house controlled by some people of strong ideology is likely to lose authors of the other side. The incident has clearly exposed the biases and it would be interesting to note how Bloomsbury India fares in the future. The book, however, has surely grabbed many eyeballs, thanks to Bloomsbury’s decision and the number of pre-orders are enough to substantiate.

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