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Publisher on 'red' bandwagon

Publisher on 'red' bandwagon

Sandhya Jain
The Pioneer
March 28, 2000
Title: Publisher on 'red' bandwagon
Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 28, 2000.

Serious-minded academics and writers have for some time now been concerned at the subterranean but nevertheless quite impregnable alliance between leading publishing houses and a certain genre of scholarship and penmanship in the country. But so far the evidence has been indirect, either in the form of a cold rebuff privately delivered to individual authors under the pretext of an undefined editorial policy, or in the type of works actually published and marketed by these august institutions.

Recent events involving a leading publishing house have, however, helped bring the issue into somewhat clearer focus, at least to discerning observers. The first was an entirely in-house affair concerning management policy towards married couples working in close proximity. Here, it may be said in fairness, the management appeared to have a case. Certainly, the matter did not warrant the kind of column inches it garnered in newspapers and magazines across the city. Yet the story - including valuable publicity for the couples' proposed business venture - was skillfully orchestrated in the print media across several days.

The most noteworthy aspect of the episode was the manner in which virtually all historians of a particular ideological school ganged up to berate the publishing house, even threatening to withdraw their patronage from it. The reason for this astonishing academic trade unionism was generously acknowledged in the various write-ups on that well connected couple. It was the gentleman, it transpires, who fathered the notion of publishing Indian authors in India, while the lady commissioned the works (no doubt of a certain 'approved' intellectual persuasion). Still, it is gratifying to know that even in this dog eat dog world there are some who acknowledge their patrons.

In the second instance, however, the publishing house itself has emerged as the vanguard of Left academia. In an act of unprecedented defiance, the Oxford University Press has simply refused to comply with the Indian Council of Historical Research's two-month old directive to return the manuscripts of two controversial volumes of the Towards Freedom series for academic review.

There are several aspects to OUP's recalcitrance, and the dispassionate observer would be able to easily distinguish its role as catalyst and activist in the ICHR-Towards Freedom controversy. To begin with, when the ICHR first requested OUP (3rd Feb. 2000) to withhold all work on the 1940 and 1946 volumes, OUP suo moto tipped off the authors about this decision, triggering off the present hue and cry in the media. Indeed, OUP's role in this regard was vigorously appreciated by the aggrieved historians, who went to town with press conferences, public lectures, newspaper articles, and even demonstrations; so it cannot now issue disclaimers in this regard. And since ICHR, and not the concerned historians, is the copyright holder and client in the Towards Freedom series, OUP's conduct is, to say the least, highly questionable.

What is more, throughout these weeks, OUP failed to return the manuscripts. It would appear that it was only on being informed early this month that the services of Coordinating Editor Dr. Basudev Chatterjee had been terminated, followed by another reminder from ICHR for restitution of the impugned volumes, that OUP finally deigned to reply.

The reply is a masterpiece of evasion, innuendo, and tacit rejection of the ICHR command, and appears to have been framed after much deliberation. In the face of ICHR's public declamations that the manuscripts were not routed to OUP through its Publication unit (the inviolable official route), OUP merely affirms that it received the manuscripts in August and December 1998, but does not reveal how it received them. ICHR's desire to review the volumes prior to publication is similarly met with the breathtaking claim that OUP has "duly approved" of both, and has even typeset and prepared page proofs of one, and is in the process of typesetting the second.

But the piece de resistance is OUP's statement that ICHR's request to withhold publication is simply not in order! Asserting that "the ICHR decision of publishing these volumes was implicit when the final manuscripts were handed over to us", the OUP is virtually trying to arm-twist ICHR into consenting to publishing tomes that may have glaring errors of the kind already noticed in the edition for 1943.

With hindsight, it would seem that OUP has enjoyed a rather cozy relationship with the hitherto Left-dominated ICHR, which made it possible for it to dispense with formalities such as receiving a manuscript through prescribed channels. The termination of the services of Coordinating (and de facto) Editor Dr. Basudev Chatterjee, coupled with ICHR's decision to invoke certain formal clauses in the legal agreement, must have sent the alarm bells ringing in the organization. Hence the desperate attempt to morally blackmail ICHR by claiming that the volumes are at the threshold of being printed, and that considerable investments have been made in the process.

Even if this were true, the OUP has no right to refuse to accommodate the legitimate concerns of the client and copyright holder on a matter of such extreme national sensitivity and importance. Matters such as losses incurred can, and are, settled through mutual negotiations. In this instance, however, the OUP has taken some liberty with the truth, as the concerned historians had utilized ICHR facilities to have the selected documents for each volume fed into the computer, and had handed over the same to the publisher on a floppy disk, though this was OUP's responsibility under the formal agreement. Hence, far from incurring costs, OUP actually benefited at ICHR's expense. However, such pecuniary gains are the least of my concerns.

My point is that OUP appears to have taken an ideological position on the critical issue of how India is to record the history of its freedom struggle for posterity. The concerned authorities in India must take due note of this, if necessary by taking up the matter with the parent body.

Left historians meanwhile, remain unabashed at the exposure of their deeds of omission and commission. When Dr. Basudev Chatterjee was re-assigned the volume for 1938 (originally prepared by Dr. P.N. Chopra), Dr. Mushirul Hasan was given the 1939 volume (also submitted by Chopra). Chatterjee has since published his three-part volume without acknowledging Chopra's contribution, but Hasan's is nowhere on the horizon. I would not have mentioned this had Hasan not launched a vituperative attack on the HRD Ministry's "mindless ideological crusade.rise of intolerance.the bizarre ICHR episode." in an article on brain drain! (Indian Express, 22 March 2000).

Hasan bemoans the appointment of professors "without expecting them to write a book." He should know. In ICHR's Sources on Nationalist Movement Series, conceived in the early 1970s, only Dr. B.L. Grover submitted his volume (1899-1902) for the period 1858-1905 under General Editor Prof. Bipan Chandra. Neither Prof. S.R. Mehrotra (1858-85) nor Chandra himself (1885-86) submitted their volumes, though each historian was paid in full, in advance.

Four volumes for the 1905-1919 period with Prof. T.K. Ravindran as General Editor, equally divided between Dr. Sumit Sarkar and Ravindran, have also failed to see the light of day, though the Annual Report for 1974-75 states that "work on all these volumes is reported to be nearing completion." Finally, in the eight volumes for the 1919-37 period with Prof. Bimal Prasad as General Editor, the major defaulters include Prasad himself, Prof. Bipan Chandra, and Dr. Gopal Krishna.

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