THE politics of the latest attacks by Hindu nationalists on Indian authors is not terribly hard to divine. One extremist bunch, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an outfit often banned by India’s government, has threatened Arundhati Roy, a prize-winning Indian novelist turned political activist. Ms Roy’s crime? That in recent weeks she dared to speak out in favour of protesting (Muslim) Kashmiris, some 110 of whom have been killed in a police crackdown that began in the summer. Ms Roy’s call for an inquiry into those deaths has lead the RSS to demand that she be charged with sedition. Hindu Nationalists reportedly attacked Ms Roy’s home in Delhi at the end of October, determined to settle scores personally.
This followed a similar move by another Hindu outfit to ban a book by Rohinton Mistry, an Indian-born Canadian novelist. In this case the thuggish Shiv Sena, a powerful political party in the western state of Maharashtra, has fiercely objected to Mr Mistry’s “Such a Long Journey”, a novel that has become part of the university curriculum in Mumbai, the state capital. At issue is the fact that the book lampoons Bal Thackeray, a Mumbai kingpin who founded the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party over four decades ago. Aditya Thackeray, his grandson and a student in Mumbai, helped to whip up a storm against the novel, ultimately encouraging the university to drop the book from its classes. Even the chief minister of the state has called “Such a Long Journey” abusive.
But why make a fuss now, considering the book was published nearly 20 years ago? It seems that the young Mr Thackeray has political ambitions of his own, and this was a handy way to draw attention to his Hindu nationalist credentials. Indeed, Shiv Sena has a reputation for being tetchy towards even moderate Hindus who dare to suggest that Muslims or Pakistanis might have views worth listening to. Early this year when Shah Rukh Khan, a Bollywood star, pointed out the stupidity of leaving Pakistani cricketers out of the Indian Premier League, the elder Mr Thackeray threatened to disrupt the release of his latest film.
Hindu nationalists work up a lather in such cases to put pressure on the Congress party, which looks powerful at the national level but much less so at the state level. If Congress slips in Maharashtra, where a property scandal could yet bring down many of Congress’s leaders, the likely political beneficiaries would be Hindu nationalists of various stripes, including Shiv Sena and the Thackerays.
As for Mr Mistry, the 58-year-old author has published just three novels, but each has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. Though slow, he is an elegant writer. When his last novel, “Family Matters”, came out in 2002, The Economist praised him as “one of the best of the Indian writers in English”. His publisher is eagerly awaiting his latest book, which is nearly finished. A new book would raise Mr Mistry’s profile among critics and readers, and perhaps stiffen the spine of Mumbai university.
Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2010/11/hindu_nationalists