Yet Another Instance of Leftist Bigotry: Navayana Punishes Sahitya Akademi Awardee Joe D’Cruz for his Endorsement of Narendra Modi

It was reported today that Delhi-based publisher Navayana has chosen to cancel its agreement with Sahitya Akademi Awardee Joe D’Cruz (‘JDC’ for short) for the release of the English translation of the author’s first Tamil novel “Aazhi Soozh Ulagu” (Ocean Ringed World). Reason? JDC’s vocal support on a social networking site for Narendra Modi’s candidature for the post of the Prime Minister clearly did not go down well with the publisher. Here’s how Navayana’s head, S.Anand, chose to defend his decision to cancel the release of the book:

It is both appalling and disturbing that D’Cruz, who captured the rich and unique history of the seafaring community of Tamil Nadu in an epic tale spanning three generations, should call a fascist like Modi a ‘dynamic visionary.There cannot be a place for such an author in a political publishing house like Navayana. Navayana is more sad about Joe’s decision than about having to withdraw from this publication. But we are glad we came to know Joe’s stand before the novel was published

Here’s how the translator of the book V.Geetha supported Navayana’s decision:

“I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D’Cruz’s statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can’t forget Gujarat 2002—no one must be allowed to, either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life, and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for a politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation.”

So, according to Navayana and the translator, since it is a publishing house with a clear cut political ideology, no author who differs from its ideology can expect Navayana’s support for the release of her or his book, even if the contents of the book are not at loggerheads with Navayana’s political preferences. Navayana’s decision would have been consistent, if not condonable, with its political stance if JDC’s book was a eulogy of sorts of Modi. After all, an avowedly Leftist publishing house which includes Kancha Ilaiah’s work as “the best of socially engaged writing from South Asia” cannot be expected to publish books which show Modi in favourable light, given that the Left is anything but liberal and does not brook dissent or diversity even within its ranks.

But is JDC a supporter of Hindutva? Here’s what he says:

I am committed to social justice. I love my people, my country, my roots and culture. I have nothing to do with Hindutva

Was JDC’s decision to support Modi sudden and based on hearsay?

“It is not a decision taken overnight. My work takes me to all States in the country and I have been visiting Gujarat for the last 12 years and have had first-hand experience of witnessing the development. He rose to this level from a humble beginning and is fully aware of the needs of the people. He speaks his mind and does not indulge in lip service like some fine orators in other political parties”

If JDC is not the quintessential Hindutvawadi nor is his opinion based on hearsay, what is it about his position that irks Navayana? Here’s the answer in JDC’s own words:

“It is a clear case of crass intellectual dishonesty and blackmail. It is the publisher who came forward to translate the work and signed the agreement. The translation is over and the book is ready for release. Now they have sent me an e-mail, saying that they could not release it because of my political stand. Why should one assume that I am a Leftist because I am writing about the poor?

The question posed by JDC, to me, is the nub of the problem. The binary Leftist worldview of Navayana refuses to digest and accept the fact that a devout Catholic Christian author, who writes about and for the poor, can possibly support Modi and call him the benefactor of the poor.

Also, this episode brings out several important behavioural traits of the Left in India. First, intellectuals, regardless of their religious backgrounds, are expected to religiously toe an anti-Hindu, anti-Hindutva and anti-Modi stance. For instance, caste-related issues are used to perpetuate myths about caste relations and to prevent social cohesion among Hindus, but never to further the cause of unity and reconciliation. Any attempt at bringing about unity is typically met with the allegation of “Vedic/Brahminical/Hindu assimilation” with the alleged object of “Brahminizing” other castes. One wonders how long it would take us to undo the damage caused by this bogey…

The second aspect of Leftist behaviour that this episode brings to fore, which is a corollary to the first, is the ever-present threat of isolation and ostracization should any Hindu or non-Hindu intellectual take a position that is remotely out of sync with the accepted Leftist world view. Such is the bigoted nature of this clique that fellowships, teaching positions, writing assignments and speaking opportunities, all come with the caveat that “thou shall not be Right“, and if you do say or write anything remotely favourable to a position that is not Left, you shall be stripped of all these privileges and branded “communal” and “fascist”.

The third behavioural trait is the branding of all talk of development as “fascist”, and appropriating to the Left the sole right to represent the interests of the poor. As JDC rightly asks, why should everyone who speaks for the poor necessarily subscribe to the Leftist point of view? Why can’t such an issue be free from one’s ideological proclivities? After all, if the idea is to better the lot of the poor, how does the ideological hue matter if the means employed results in improving the quality of life of the masses, and is sustainable in the long run? How long will ideological prejudices come in the way of doing something concrete and workable for the poor, instead of using their lives as case studies to peddle theories on development for self-edification? These are larger questions that people must ask of the Left particularly since their model, if the last 10 years are anything to by, has miserably failed in delivering the goods, besides leaving the economy in shambles and killing the India story.

The fourth trait, which I think is stark and hard to miss, is the brazen hypocrisy of the Left in its selective invocation of free speech. Our readers may recall that free speech was recently invoked to castigate and condemn a leading publishing house for the pulping of Wendy Doniger’s trash called “The Hindus” which passes off for scholarship on Hinduism in the West and among the Indian left. Unending scorn was poured on the publisher and the episode was used to trivialize and demonize legitimate Hindu sentiments as “regressive/fascist/bigoted” and everything else diabolical under the sun.

Why shouldn’t the same yardstick be applied to Navayana’s decision, which is evidently based on ideological grounds? Will Ms.Arundhati Roy write a long whiny hyperbolic tirade in her usual sanctimonious tone to Navayana accusing it of betraying the cause of free speech? Would she be kind enough to ask Navayana if its decision was an independent one, or was Navayana asked to make an example out of JDC to deter all those in the academia who think favourably of Mr.Modi’s work for the poor in his state?

Finally, a point I had made in my last post titled “Why Does The Popular Mood in Delhi Favour Mr.Narendra Modi?” finds support in this episode. Here’s what I had written:

“Also, contrary to what Sagarika Ghose and her ilk would have us believe, Mr.Modi’s core constituency is not restricted to Hindutva-wadis or NaMo-wadis or “Internet Hindoos” anymore. The average voter, regardless of his faith or caste, who has no interest in or patience for ideological issues, and whose primary or even sole concern is the quality of life she or he can provide for her/his family, is as much a part of Mr.Modi’s core constituency as the Hindutva-wadi. This, I suspect, is the reason for AAP’s growing sense of despair and frustration which it vents in the only manner its Maoist members know and are capable of- violence.”

Joe D’Cruz supports Mr.Modi not because he believes in Hindutva (in fact, he doesn’t), but because he believes in Mr.Modi’s ability to improve the quality of our lives. Modi’s message of development for all has clearly found takers in unexpected segments, which rattles Leftist think-tanks like Navayana.

As for the legal options the author may have against publishing house and the translator, this is entirely a matter of arrangement between the parties and the options depend on the terms of the agreement. However, if the publishing house or the translator hold the rights over the translated version and choose to withhold access to JDC’s book, one is not without remedy under the law.

Personally, I am of the opinion that Right Liberals should pool in their resources and help release the book to send a message to entities like Navayana. We, at CRI, would be more than happy to contribute our mite to this noble endeavour.

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J. Sai Deepak

Engineer-turned-Advocate, High Court of Delhi. Founder of the "blawg" "The Demanding Mistress" (