As Dalrymple changes his mind on Rajiv Malhotra, JLF attendees must take on Dinanath Batra and the threat to books in India

22 January 2015

The Jaipur Literature Festival, or to give it its rightful name this year, the ZEE-Jaipur Literature Festival, has, like every other year, attracted a number of well-known authors. But this year in India is not like any other year. We have a new government in place, and the change from one dispensation to another is reflected in the festival as Tarun Tejpal gives way to Tarun Vijay.

Of course it is not incumbent upon the festival to reflect on this change; politics need not be the stuff of literature. But over the past year, a man named Dinanath Batra—who has the full endorsement of the current dispensation—has had considerable success in ensuring that publishers think more than twice about publishing anything that may annoy the Sangh Parivar, which is but a name for the vast amorphous machinery of Hindutva ideologues that drives the BJP. So even if politics does not concern the festival, its impact on literature should.

The facts about Batra are well known, but still worth repeating. In February 2014, after a four year legal battle, Batra successfully persuaded Penguin to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, and pulp the remaining copies. Soon after, in March, another publisher, Aleph, received a letter from Batra regarding a different book by Doniger, On Hinduism. Amidst proceedings that spread across many months and much confusion, Aleph—a much smaller publisher than Penguin—was able to ensure that the book was not withdrawn.

Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan.