New Delhi, Feb. 23: Narendra Modi will be “Romancing Print” on March 2 but some printers, unwilling to be wooed by the Gujarat chief minister, have dropped out of a conference where he will be chief guest.
“The print and publishing industry cannot play Goebbels to Modi,” Indu Chandrasekhar, the founder of Tulika Books, wrote to the organisers of the conference in Delhi being held to exchange ideas on digital printing, motivating the self, art and design and exports.
Recalling the 2002 pogrom of Muslims, Indu said in her mail to Satish Malhotra of the Swan Press and Jacob George of PressIdeas Publishing that the publishing industry should not conduct itself like corporate groups and set aside ethics for “doing business” with Modi. She sent copies of the mail to other printers and publishers.
Indu also questioned his credentials to be the guest of honour at a printing meet.
But the organisers of the conference, titled Romancing Print and in its third year, made it clear there would be no rethink.
“Modi is extremely well regarded. Only a section is against him,” Jacob George said.
Indu’s mail was answered by Manoj Mehta of Utility Print Pack, associated with the organisers, who argued that the conference was not a “political meeting” and it was up to the invitees to take a call whether or not to attend.
V.K. Karthika, the publisher and chief editor of HarperCollins, was not aware if they had received an invite. But she said: “It is unnerving to find a man like Modi associated with publishing and printing. Perhaps his presence is meant to woo the literate middle class.”
Naresh Khanna, a Delhi printer and publisher, was among the early dropouts. In a mail to Swan Press’s Malhotra, he wrote: “It seems that in a bid to perhaps draw crowds rather than hold a conference with real content, you have been misled by Modi’s propaganda machine…. Gujarat according to all social indicators is not a leader in any category… including education or literacy which should be of pertinence to our industry.”
Some of the others who are dropping out, according to Indu, include Urvashi Butalia, feminist historian and founder of Zubaan Books; Chandra Chari, editor of the Book Review; Mandira Sen, director of Stree Sangh, Calcutta; Faheen Agboatwala, vice-president of Hi-Tech Printing Services, Mumbai; and Ramu Ramanathan of PrintWeek India, Delhi.
“Modi’s PR machinery is using the platform to legitimise his political status and the printers and publishers may be colluding, intentionally or otherwise,” said Indu, who plans to appeal to the MNCs sponsoring the show.
The BJP and Modi have embarked on a plan to catch the eyes and ears of an audience that goes beyond the “Hindutva” faithful and at “unlikely” venues. Modi’s first appearance in Delhi after his election victory was at a prestigious college for commerce. Party sources said they were “unaware” if Modi had literary inclinations. His website mentions that he had brought out an “e-book” of poems titled Aank ka Dhanya che (Blessed are these Eyes).
Malhotra of Swan Press defended the choice of Modi. “We try to call a couple of dignitaries to motivate the delegates. We are an apolitical body…. Modi’s brief is clear. He has to tell us how best to deploy management skills in the print industry,” he said.
But a preamble on the conference’s website let on that the organisers see Modi as a prospective Prime Minister. “His clarity of vision, sense of purpose and diligent perseverance shall take not only Gujarat but the nation ahead in the coming days,” it gushed.
The website also claimed he had the “remarkable ability” of transforming dreams into reality and a reputation for being a “hard taskmaster” and an “embodiment of strength and compassion”.
Sources associated with the conference said the invite went through a top Gujarati printer known to Modi but only after their “first choice”, Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, declined to come.
In its first two years, the conference did not invite any politicians.