Revival of raid Raj
Bottom line in publishing
Letters to the Editor

 
 
REVIVAL OF RAID RAJ 
 
 
 
 
The regime of Indira Gandhi introduced a new instrument of coercion of suspects. For the lack of a better term, it can be called fourth degree interrogation. The major prong of this instrument is raid by income-tax officials on the home and offices of a suspected person. The sole purpose of the raid is to put pressure on the person. Indira Gandhi is dead and gone and memories of the tyranny that she imposed are now 25 years old but as the recent raids carried out on players and an important cricket official demonstrate, the vestiges of the Emergency remain a part of the government’s attitude and practice. The matter needs to be looked at from its fundamentals. An IT raid is carried out to discover undeclared wealth and assets. What is discovered during the raid cannot constitute guilt but can only form the basis for further questions. The suspect might, in fact, be able to answer questions about the source of the wealth and also show that he had paid or intended to pay tax on the assets. The mere discovery of wealth does not in any way constitute an offence. But this is not the way IT raids in India are seen and represented. There is an a priori stigma attached to raids and they inevitably lead to a public trial by the media that is tantamount to bypassing the due processes of law. The IT raids are supposed to be very hush-hush but there is always a leak to the media which leads to reports in newspapers and on television. But the explanations offered by the so-called suspect never get known. Neither do post-raid actions taken by the IT department. The raid becomes an instrument to inflict public disgrace. It constitutes in many cases a transgression of the rule of law.

The recent raids are cases in point. There is prima facie evidence that some cricketers are involved in match fixing, betting and bribery. The Central Bureau of Investigation is reportedly carrying out a full enquiry into the matter. The timing of the IT raids and the list of persons raided suggest that the IT raids and the CBI investigation are related. According to statements made by IT officials who carried out the raids, vast amounts of wealth were discovered in the houses of players. The implication is that this wealth came from matchfixing and other corrupt practices. Theoretically, this may not at all be the case. The wealth may well have come from legitimate sources and may also be accounted for. Possession of wealth is not a crime under Indian law. Yet this is precisely the spin that is given. It is the job of the CBI to prove that some cricketers have fixed matches and taken bribes; an IT raid preempts such a proof by exposing the players to a public trial. There is something as unfair in this as the fixing of cricket matches because both play around with public trust and credibility.

The IT raids on cricketers were clubbed together with a raid on the offices and home of Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. This is most unfortunate. Nobody has suggested that Mr Dalmiya was involved in match fixing. By raiding him with the players so suspected, the IT officials have tarred Mr Dalmiya with the same brush. This again is a deliberate and cynical manipulation of public opinion. Mr Dalmiya may or may not be guilty of tax evasion but that has nothing to do with the CBI’s investigation. The IT department, with the backing of the finance ministry and the co-operation of the CBI, has perpetrated what can only be called a witch hunt. They have moved in a manner designed to try, and pass verdict on, a group of people who are only under investigation. This is the way the government machinery used to move when India was under a regime that had little or no respect for democratic rights and the independence of the legal system. But even 25 years later, the shadow of Emergency refuses to disappear from the corridors of power.    


 
 
BOTTOM LINE IN PUBLISHING 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
There’s a wonderful line in Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August to the effect that in India, whether you want to take a walk or just wash your arse, you have to first register with the government. Amazingly, if you want to become a publisher, it isn’t compulsory to first register or get a ration card. There’s a reassuringly minimalist interface between Indian publishing and the Indian government. State intrusions into this sector are normally restricted to the occasional bout of mindless censorship by which bureaucrats demonstrate the ubiquity of their tentacles. You can publish books without owning a ration card, and the fact that this situation dates to before liberalization shows that book publishing is seen by the Indian state as a commercially negligible activity which it wouldn’t be worth its while to try bleeding.

But there’s a catch: to sell a book you have to put an international standard book number on it. And where else would you find an ISBN but in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of decaying files, mouldering jute carpets and tea-drunk babus which is where I went in search of my first book number as an independent publisher.

How many independent publishers are there in India? When I went for an ISBN to the ministry of culture, of which the copyright wing handles these, I discovered that nearly 8,000 publishers have registered themselves as users of ISBNs. All these users are not publishers, but the hypothesis that the majority of them are is reasonable: no one with his sanity intact would otherwise go near the ministry of culture.

Many of these publishers extend family bookshops or book distribution agencies into smallscale publishing ventures. At book fairs they throng in amazing numbers. They are not goaded by fame, their ambitions are quotidian. Partly, the decision to branch out into book publishing has something to do with family genes and traditions; partly it is connected with the attractions of book making; and partly, it is not a bad business proposition for the entrepreneur who has identified a niche market.

In my own case, those reasons were marginal. The organization for which I worked had changed. Several older employees, like myself, had joined in order to enjoy making books. We had, for much of that time, shared the office with colleagues who had the same ambition. Our salaries were modest but our mentalities were in tune: we were in publishing to make books and, as a consequence, a vaguely comfortable sum of money.

This shared organizational vision had altered in unsettling ways. The company was under pressure from its owners to enlarge the Indian market for books published in the West, adapt Western texts and dictionaries to Indian contexts, pay higher royalties for such adaptations, and show larger profits. Resources for sales personnel handling imports had crept higher, budgets for locally resourced academic material and editorial personnel were reducing on the pie-chart.

The Indian country manager’s job was to ensure the desired market expansion and profitmaking. His job description was different from those of his predecessors: the organization was now in publishing to make money. In the new dispensation, the books were incidental and the profit was central.

A publishing management which reinvents its philosophy in this manner changes its culture and functioning. For those directing such a company, it seems frustrating that books take so much time and trouble to make, involving overheads and painfully slow dealings with “infuriating” authors. The notion that the processes of book publishing are among its most attractive features, and that the idea of pleasantly long-drawn interactions with writers has brought thinking people to this profession, seems outlandish to this “brand manager”-equipped organization.

The idea of a successful editor changes radically: he is no longer a well-read dilettante with uncommon language skills who intervenes in scripts to improve them linguistically and structurally. He is now a business person, a “line-manager” who “invests in order to create revenue by the rapid and optimal development of products for our largest markets”.

When decoded, this marketing jargon turns out to mean that publisher-proprietors will employ editors who can acquisition bestselling textbooks, preferably in management, science, technology, medicine and English language teaching — the sectors where there is money. In my own organization, the new topdogs wanted more and more medicine and management textbooks — “like Samuelson”— they said, a reference to the bestseller in economics published by a rival.

These managers represent a conceptual change in publishing. The potential for the vulgarization and commercialization of a “cultural” profession has always existed and been manifest in different degrees within some sectors of publishing. School textbooks, college guidebooks, and management mugbooks have long been subject to forms of intellectual subordination. But the excessive commercialization of attitudes has infected other sectors which seemed relatively immune until now: children’s books, serious fiction, dictionaries, and the social sciences.

In conservation biology, there is a strand of social Darwinism which argues that each species of life “must pay for itself to survive.” The elephant can live if it yields something to the ivory trader, the whale must grease the palms of Japanese fishermen with its blubber. Apply this crass principle to the world of books and you get the new form of publishing manager who wants every species of book to pay for itself-or else perish. Thatcherism and Reaganomics accentuated this variety of social Darwinism by privileging moneymaking above education, books and cultural production. In the world of publishing, these chickens have come home to roost and are busy laying eggs.

Changes in communication technology, the arrival of giant media corporations, and new definitions of the social purpose of books have combined to alter the dominant mentalities in publishing. The speed of communication technology has meant that each book can be made in a quarter of the time it once was, which in turn has meant that editors can be pressurized to produce many more books per annum than was the case. Media conglomerates have swallowed up small publishers into their black holes and regurgitated them as corporations fluttering flagship imprints.

The social purposes of the book have been redefined via mammoth publicity drives and hype, so that a book now seems less connected with the aesthetic pleasures of reading than with the commercial pleasures of buying, consuming and being displayed in the well-appointed home. A bookseller told me a story which illustrates this cultural pattern: a customer told him he had five metres of empty bookshelves, for which he wanted “any good books”. When asked “which good books?”, the customer replied, “Arre, Shakespeare-wakespeare, Dickun-shickun, but leather binding is compulsory.” The bookseller supplied the customer with five metres of Shakespeare and Dickens in red morocco.

Publishing companies in Europe and the United States have been taken over by a philistine crowd of revenue-managers and accounts-administrators who, metaphorically speaking, want customers to order books by the metre. Sensible people in publishing have always known that making books and making money are interconnected. A conservative notion of manuscripts as foetuses which take nine months of nurture before being brought into the public sphere has to combine with the generation of a surplus from sales of these infants. This used to be a truism. But the new mantras in publishing are simpler: make the books fast, make the money faster, and tolerate the fact that there’s a blasted author.

This gives publishing a corporate identity. It gives publishing personnel a corporate swagger that swells their sense of worth in the wonderful world of consumer products. As for me, like the milling throngs of small publishers visible only at book fairs, to stay with a culturally sane notion of bookmaking it seemed sensible to become one of them.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Thorns in the oasis

Sir — Communists in West Bengal are under the impression that candid confessions at regular intervals strengthen their support base. Following the tradition, Buddhadev Bhattacharya has recently admitted that political violence was on the rise in the state, only months after he claimed that the state was an oasis of peace (“Buddhadev political pill to stem clash”, July 19). He, however, did not care to elaborate how the oasis has suddenly turned into a hotbed of violence, only warned that “the police and the administration may come down heavily on the armed gangs of miscreants”. This is evidently a veiled threat to the Trinamool Congress. Can the home (police) minister mobilize his forces to save his seat?

Yours faithfully,
Shefali Guha, Calcutta

Groundless beneath

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s diatribe against the National Democratic Alliance and the prime minister is in bad taste and exposes his political morality (“Drowning in deception” July 17). He is next only to Subramanian Swamy in this respect. Politicians should indulge in objective criticism on specific issues and not in character assassination.

A contrast is provided by the finesse with which his colleague, Jairam Ramesh, writes. One can find maturity, objectivity and professional impartiality in his columns. Aiyar tells us about the Cauvery water sharing fraud by the Karnataka government. Now that Karnataka has a Congress government, why doesn’t he and his leader, Sonia Gandhi, persuade the state to behave equitably in sharing the Cauvery waters? The fact is that water sharing has become a political affair.

River waters are the common property of all the states and no state can claim a special status simply because a river originates there. Tomorrow Coorg may demand and get a hill state and then what happens? Will the Karnataka government then give up its claim on the Cauvery because the river originates in Coorg? It is time politicians became more people friendly and worked jointly with one another for the common good.

Yours faithfully,
S.Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar criticizes Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses although he has not himself read the book (“No ground beneath his feet”, June 20). He also calls Rushdie a British Muslim who makes a living out of insulting Islam. Where was Aiyar when M.F Husain painted a nude Hindu goddess? Why was Husain then not seen as an Indian Muslim making a living out of insulting Hinduism? The truth is that Aiyar’s secular world, like that of some others’, is one which operates on the principle of protecting minority sentiments only. It is this pseudo-secularism that has landed his party in the gutter.

Yours faithfully,
Sajan Kumar, Calcutta

Sir — Whenever Mani Shankar Aiyar talks, he tends to become a Congress loudspeaker. He has no reason to dump the blame for calling the All Party Hurriyat Conference to dialogue squarely on L.K. Advani (“The Kashmir imbroglio”, July 4). The imbroglio was a creation of Jawaharlal Nehru.

It was at Nehru’s instance that M.K. Gandhi agreed to the proposal for the partition of the country. Nehru was gunning for the prime minister’s post, as is clear to all today. In fact, Nehru was the one who first internationalized the issue by raising it at the United Nations, a blame that is customarily passed on to Pakistan. Yet, Aiyar is hugely indebted for his political career to Nehru’s Congress. The reasons for his bias are understandable.

Yours faithfully,
Dines K. Mukhopadhyay, Midnapore

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph, 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]

Readers in the Northeast can write to:

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