The National Book Trust has refused to allow a discussion on Avijit Ghosh’s book, Up Campus Down Campus, at the New Delhi World Book Fair, raising suspicions of the government acting preemptively to prevent dissent.
Writer-journalist Avijit Ghosh’s book, Up Campus Down Campus, set in JNU in the 1980s and an entirely fictional narrative, has been refused discussion at the New Delhi World Book Fair organised by the National Book Trust (NBT), the government publisher. The Indian Express reported that Ghosh wasn’t allowed to read at the last moment.
According to the Telegraph, NBT had asked for a copy of the book prior to the proposed discussion by Speaking Tiger, Ghosh’s publisher, and had described the denial of permission as “routine” and “unintentional”. Ravi Singh from Speaking Tiger told the Telegraph that the publishing house had applied for three slots for discussions but was permitted only two. “But they wanted a copy of the book on JNU. We submitted it last week, but they denied permission for a discussion of that book. They did not give any reasons,” he said.
Ghosh told The Wire, “The National Book Trust, who are the organisers of the World Book Fair, did not offer any reason to the book’s publisher, Speaking Tiger, for refusing to give a platform for a discussion on my novel, Up Campus Down Campus. I can, therefore, only speculate in the form of questions. Is it because the novel is about JNU, which has traditionally been the bugbear of the ideological Right, especially in recent months? Or, is it because AAP leader Ashutosh was the event’s proposed host. Probably it is a case of being guilty by suspicion, a pre-emptive micro-management of possible dissent.”
His hostel mate, Ashutosh of the AAP, had been invited for the discussion, which was to be on life on campus in the 1980s. But apparently, the very mention of JNU threatens the administration.
Ashutosh told the Telegraph, “The book is about a student’s experience at JNU, but the NBT chairman is so paranoid about JNU that he did not allow a discussion.”
However, Baldeo Bhai Sharma, chairperson of the NBT, has denied that it had anything to do with JNU. He told the Indian Express that no publisher had been allowed more than two slot and that, “It’s all programme-based and has nothing to do with what it is about, not even if it has something to do with JNU.”
Sharma has headed the NBT since 2015 and was the editor of the Sangh Parivar’s mouthpiece, Panchjanya, in 2008. The NBT comes directly under the purview of the Ministry of Human Resource Development.