NEW DELHI―On Tuesday, a group of officials from the Election Commission and the Chennai Police seized copies of a Tamil language book about the Rafale deal titled ‘Rafale: The Scam That Shook The Nation’ authored by a little known engineer S Vijayan and published by a small Tamil publishing house named Bharathi Puthakalayam. A planned book release meeting in a Chennai based bookshop of the publishing house was also denied.
“This is outrageous. I have learnt that they have confiscated some 500 copies. It has gone viral on social media. I don’t know on what law the meeting was prohibited by the Chief Election Commissioner. Under what law have they confiscated the book? I think the institutions are being bent,” N Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group of Publication was quoted as telling news agency ANI in this NDTV report about the attempts to stop the launch.
Due to prominent media coverage, the issue received widespread attention and the authorities relented within hours ensuring that the book could be released officially. Speaking with HuffPost India, the Editor (Publication) P K Rajan asks, when a film on Mr Narendra Modi can be released “after election rules have come into force, why can’t a 48 page booklet?”
He also felt that the action of seizing all books was a “knee jerk reaction” provoked by the fact that the book made accessible the details of the Rafale “scam” to ordinary people in Tamil Nadu in simple Tamil without any jargon. The publication house “won’t be cowed down by this intimidation”, he said. However, he conceded that he was worried that the author of the book, S Vijayan, could unnecessary intimidation.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Could you tell us briefly about your publication, the book and what exactly happened yesterday?
Bharathi Puthakalayam is a Tamil publication house. It is 18-19 years old. We are a Left publication house. We publish books during elections and at other times as well. We have published books about the Sterlite issue, Koodankulam, Kalpakkam and many other issues which are topical and of interest to Tamil speaking people―particularly those who cannot read English. So this is our legacy. So thus, we published a book on the Rafale deal. We are a small publication house with skeletal staff. We have not done any investigative journalism. We don’t have anybody to do that. We do not have any wherewithal to do that. We have only taken information from what is there in the public domain―our friends in The Hindu, particularly Mr. Ram have written about this extensively. The only thing we have done is made it (“Rafale scam”) accessible to people here in Tamil Nadu who can read only Tamil. Without any complicated jargons etc. This is very precise, very clear to ordinary Tamil speaking people. I think this is what has triggered a knee jerk reaction (from the officials)
The only thing we have done is made it ("Rafale scam") accessible to people here in Tamil Nadu who can read only Tamil. Without any complicated jargons etc. This is very precise, very clear to ordinary Tamil speaking people. I think this is what has triggered a knee jerk reaction (from the officials)
This cat and mouse game has been going on for a week. Every time we fixed up a venue, a hall, we would get lame excuses and denials the next day and we would be denied the opportunity to organise the book release. So finally, when the last venue was denied to us, we were forced to announce that the book release will be happening in our own showroom, here in Chennai. Since they could not do anything else, they sent the flying squad of the election commission here in our book showroom. One Mr. Ganeshan in Thousand Lights Area who was leading the ‘Flying Squad’ number 1 of the Election Commission had come with some police personnel. When we objected to this, he pulled up all the local inspectors and so on. It looked like a raid in a small shop of maybe 300 square foot. They checked all the racks and took 140 copies from the showroom and some more copies in our small godown. They said they would also like to check for copies with the printers.
They said you cannot have any event after election norms and rules have come into force. We are not sure about it. Certainly this was not expected because in the earlier days as well we have done book releases and we have never got any permission from the police for this matter. Especially when it is happening in our own premises―a 300 sq ft shop in which hardly 20 people can stand so we didn’t feel there is any police permission required for this. Still they insisted that the event should not happen. Though that itself it is undemocratic, we can understand that. But they said you cannot sell any political book after election norms have come into force. This we are unable to accept and understand even. We said that’s not the case. All our books are political. In our opinion all books which have been written are political. An apolitical book is yet to be written in this world. But they were not ready to accept these things so they said you cannot sell this book. And we said that’s not possible. They said we will be seizing the books. We said, ok you seize the books and give us a receipt so that we can take whatever legal recourse is available to us. So they seized whatever copies were available in the showroom saying we cannot sell the books. The books are already available in various parts of Tamil Nadu so they said they will be issuing a chargesheet to us and they were gone. Fortunately, our media friends who were there, they flashed this all over Tamil Nadu and India because of which the Chief Election Commissioner in Delhi and here in Tamil Nadu also intervened. They said we have not given any directive to stop any book release function or seize any book. This is how it ended. After a long day’s work, the book was finally released by N Ram of The Hindu group. But people who were supposed to get the first copies were unable to turn up but anyway, the release function happened yesterday night.
So this is what happened. Apparently, this was an attempt to threaten and intimidate. But we have been doing this for the past two decades so we have a legacy and we are not going to be cowed down by this intimidation.
Why do you think it was intimidation?
Because, how can somebody come to a bookshop and say you cannot sell this book? Nothing illegal about it. It (the material in the book) is already there in the public domain. If they say you cannot have an event because of law and order etc―which itself is a very flimsy ground―(it is understandable) but if somebody says you cannot sell a book which is not illegal; not going to break communal amity or class amity; the book is not asking anybody to vote for somebody or not to vote for somebody. So, what is it? If it is not a threat not intimidation, what is it?
There is a feature film on Mr. Modi which is going to be released. When that can happen after election rules have come into force, why can’t a 48 page booklet? We understand something similar, but on a lower scale, happened yesterday in Delhi with our fraternal publisher Leftword. It had organised a book release by A G Noorani on RSS. They have also undergone such a similar ordeal there. So I don’t think it is an isolated mishap. It is all part of an intimidation process which is going on. And fortunately, because of the goodwill we have and the democratic tradition we have here in Chennai, news flashed by the media and its support, it all ended in a fiasco for them. I don’t know why they are afraid of a small book. But this is what happened.
There is a feature film on Mr. Modi which is going to be released. When that can happen after election rules have come into force, why can’t a 48 page booklet?
Did they give you any written order or communication? If yes, what did it say?
Yes, there are two. One saying the election rules have come into force, you cannot have any event. That was one, Second one is about confiscating copies which were available in the showroom. So there are two given by the flying squad. Later on they gave back the confiscated books and got a receipt from us about it. There was supposed to be a chargesheet yesterday evening but it didn’t come.
Chargesheet for what?
Charge Sheet for selling political books after the election rules have come into force. I don’t know what is a political book, what is a non-political book.
But what exactly was the charge according to them?
Violating the Model Conduct of Conduct by selling political books.
So after the outrage, you do not expect to hear back from them?
We do not know because what happened yesterday is itself a culmination of the attempts which happened for a week. So whether this is the end of the story or the interval we do not know. But people like you, too, have to think about this. If somebody can enter into a bookshop and say, “This book is political and should not be sold”, tomorrow they can come to my house and say it is a political book and it is not supposed to have sold and you are not supposed to have bought and read. I mean what argument will we have and what will be the end?
We hear that the members of the flying squad have been relieved from their posts. Is that true?
Yeah, this is what we hear about as well but we do not know. This was reported in The Hindu. He (Mr Ganesan, who led the flying squad of the election commission) is only an instrument in the hands of we don’t know who.
So you don’t think it was the case of an officer acting on his own but acting on orders?
No, I don’t think he was acting on his own. Last one week’s events we have to take into account. We went from venue to venue fixing them for the book release function. The next morning someone would call us and tell us that is not available for some flimsy reason. Three-four venues were denied to us where we had done events in the past, including during the election time.
And why is the author not available for speaking to the media?
If it is really required only then we will pull him to the scene. This issue has nothing to do with the author or what is written in it. It is only about publishing the book at the time of election.
Could you tell us a bit about the author?
He is a technical man. Working somewhere. We cannot reveal more than this. I don’t think we need to write anything more than that. Nothing extraordinary or anything new is there in the book or about him.
Why are you being circumspect while revealing anything about him? Is he in danger? Are there any threats?
It (causes) unnecessary intimidation to others also. Because all our friends who normally give their venue to us, they are forced to say no to us, they are very much unhappy to say no to us. So we don’t want this thing to happen to others.
I didn’t understand your answer. Are you apprehensive that the author will also face threats?
We do not know. We do not want to speculate about it. The experience of the last one week with the friends and venue owners who usually do not say no to us...we don’t want to increase the playing field by bringing in other characters and making them available to this kind of intimidation.
By other players you mean the author as well. Right?
Well, it all implies...yes.