India’s Most Controversial Books of 2016
Earlier this month at the Bangalore Literature Festival, bestselling author and literary popstar Amish categorically stated that no book becomes controversial without some involvement of the author himself or herself. He went on to add that India is tolerant of diverse views and that more often than not; controversies are orchestrated by artistes with the help of friends in the media, to gain publicity and increase sales.
While this might or might not be entirely true of all books and circumstances, and whether organic or manufactured, books and authors are no strangers to controversy. While some authors consider it an inconvenience to deal with all the negativity, others use the media storm and shine in the spotlight- books fly off shelves and online orders shoot up, authors appear on television debates, half-page interviews are lined up with the top newspapers, magazines profile the author, literature festival invites from across the country flood one’s inbox, etc.
Comparatively speaking, 2016 has been a quiet year in terms of literary controversies when juxtaposed with the stirs in politically-charged 2014 and 2015. However, we have compiled a list for all you bibliophiles, of the year gone by (feel free to add your own titles in the comments section)
Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub
Arguably the year’s most controversial release, young journalist Rana Ayyub’s brave documentation of her years as an undercover investigative journalist in post-2002 Gujarat created waves in publishing and political circles. The explosive book that does not flinch in naming and exposing top authorities in the current dispensation- including our current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP Chief Amit Shah, top police officials and bureaucrats, was initially rejected by all major publishing houses out of fear of taking on the powers that be. It was then that Ayyub decided to self-publish and she created a sensation.
With almost every mainstream media outlet blacking out even a mention of the book in their coverage, it was almost entirely marketed and distributed via the internet. Several online news sites carried reviews, excerpts and interviews. However, the number one factor that lead to the rise in buzz around the book was all the activity Ayyub’s account received on Twitter. Tweets from supporters praised the book and the trolls spewed hatred, which lead it to trend.
One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat
Chetan Bhagat is no stranger to controversy. Whether through his antics or his tweets, he manages to grab the attention of the media and it seems to work for him. His latest release, One Indian Girl, traces the personal and professional life of an educated, independent woman and Bhagat claimed to have wanted to spread the idea and concept of feminism to the masses. However, the book received serious disapproval not just from literary critics, but also from a large section of women, feminists and activists, for continuing to be sexist in several ways.
Additionally, when Bhagat tweeted asking his followers to upload pictures of the book from locations around the world, he was heavily trolled with people photoshopping the book into awkward places and situations. The one that gained most traction was an image of the book’s cover on a toilet paper roll. Bhagat however, claims he expected the reactions and said the trolls only helped him market the book by creating buzz and generating news content.
A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph
Yet another courageous book by perhaps one of contemporary India’s most respected investigative journalists, A Feast of Vultures chronicles various levels of corruption in India, the political-corporate nexus and the serious lack of good governance in the system. The book was so revelatory that it was scrutinized several times by the legal team of the publisher.
As expected, Joseph was not let go without trouble. Earlier this month, he was served a defamation notice amounting to Rs. 1000 crore. The civil defamation suit against the author was filed by Jet Airways and its Chairman Naresh Goyal, for talking about alleged financial links between the Airline Company and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.
Rekha: An Untold Story by Yasser Usman
One would generally expect any biography of a film star to be quite revelatory, as most of them lead such private, secluded lives. Add to that an enigmatic yet charismatic personality such as Rekha’s and the expectations multiply. Though Yasser Usman did not get to interview the evergreen diva herself, in the course of writing this book, he has managed to sketch a comprehensive and detailed perspective of the superstar.
Apart from the obvious attention and conjecture surrounding the relationship between Rekha and Amitabh Bacchan that has been covered in the book, the latest shocker is that of her having been molested. Though the book was released a few months back, filmmaker Nikita Deshpande recently tweeted an image of the page which talks of the incident, creating a flutter. Rekha was allegedly molested by actor Biswajeet who forcibly kissed an unsuspecting Rekha for 5 minutes, on the pretext of shooting a romantic scene.
Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen by Vaasanthi
Though not exactly controversial, this book shot into the spotlight post-December 5th 2016, the day J Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, passed away. A short biography of the actor-turned-politician, it charts her journey and is peppered with several interesting but unknown anecdotes revolving around the late AIADMK supremo.
This Unquiet Land by Barkha Dutt
Coming from someone who is arguably India’s best-known woman journalist and one of the most well-known Indian journalists of all time, expectations for this book were extremely high. This book released towards the fag end of 2015, but the controversy surrounding it stretched well into the new year-2016. The book itself did not create much of a flutter- it by and large revolves around the fault lines and divides that exist in Indian society. Having had a ringside view of politics, society and culture for years, Dutt chronicles her experiences and observations all through her career as a television journalist. So far so good. The problems arose when the troll brigade on Twitter and the right-wing keyboard warriors took it upon themselves to diss and discredit the book. Not only did they go to town with abuse against Dutt on Twitter, they also initiated a campaign to rate the book badly on websites selling the book. However, as in other cases, it backfired- this only helped the book and Dutt receive more attention than perhaps they would have otherwise garnered.
India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra
Though first published in 2012, this book, based on intense and comprehensive historical research on the freedom movement, came back into the spotlight earlier this year. Reason: a call for the book to be “banned, recalled and destroyed,” courtesy prominent Hindutva educationist and activist Dinanath Batra. Batra expressed his outrage against the book by writing to the immediate past HRD minister Smriti Irani. Batra even found support from Irani and other members of the BJP, who raised the issue in parliament. The main grouse against the book by Late Chandra being, the use of the term ‘terrorist’, while referring to figures such as Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen. Though Chandra passed away in 2014 and did not live to explain his stance, his co-authors and contributors to the book issued a clarification saying that the use of the term had got nothing to do with recent connotations to the word. Chandra meant to convey the connotation of Bhagat Singh and others being ‘revolutionary terrorists’, and not that of any negative sense of the word.