Acclaimed Indian authors Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra slammed Penguin Random House India, the British publishing house, after it announced the reissuing and publishing of a “new and enhanced” edition of Exam Warriors written by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even “as smoke from mass funeral pyres rose across India”.
To understand if the decision taken by Penguin Random House India was “preceded by any internal discussion about the company’s role in defending the moral and intellectual values of their society”, Mishra wrote a letter to Penguin Random House India CEO Gaurav Shrinagesh, which was published in the London Review of Books.
Mishra wrote that though publishers with international owners and affiliations were “relatively immune to the government’s coercive tactics”, in this “bleak” moment, Penguin Random House India chose to “enlist in a flailing politician’s propaganda campaign by publishing and promoting Exam Warriors“.
“I am sure you know of the desperation with which parents and children have been beseeching the government to postpone exams. Nor do I need to tell you of Modi’s recent record in office: the list is long, from his brutal crackdown in Kashmir to his super-spreading election rallies,” Mishra wrote.
“I am more concerned in this context, since Modi is now a Penguin ‘author’, with his government’s violent persecution of writers and journalists. The media organisation, Reporters without Borders, is not exaggerating when it describes India as one of ‘the most dangerous countries in the world’ for people who write and publish for a living.”
Relying to Mishra’s letter, Shrinagesh wrote that with Penguin’s presence in India for over 30 years, they publish a “diverse range of voices across genres” while leading a team where editors make “independent” publishing decisions.
“During these difficult times we continue to endeavour to make all our books available to our readers. We value every author’s views and opinions, as diverse as they may be and very much appreciate your note,” he wrote.
Roy, who is a vocal critic of the Modi-led Central government, told The Guardian that she would “like Modi and all his sayings and books to retreat into a Himalayan cave and never re-emerge”.
“Publishing Modi’s Exam Warriors is a similar form of self-abasement, made more ridiculous by the unresolved mystery about Modi’s degrees – a BA by correspondence taken at the age of 28 and an MA in ‘Entire Political Science’ from a university in Gujarat that never offered such a course,” said Roy.
Roy spoke about the “authenticity” of the claims of Modi’s degrees “that he has made on oath before he stood for the 2014 elections has been blocked by the universities, the election commission and the courts”.
“So we don’t know what (if any) exams this Exam Warrior took,” she added.
Over the last few years, publishers and literary events have been put under “massive pressure” by the Modi regime and its Hindu nationalist supporters, Roy said.
“Having bent and bullied almost every institution to their will, they now seek the respectability of being ‘mainstream’ authors invited to mainstream events. Many publishers and litfests have succumbed,” she said.
Initially released in 2018, Exam Warriors was described as a handy guide for students in India as well as across the globe that “will be a friend not only in acing exams but also in facing life”.
Keeping in mind the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that led to a “new normal” with all the uncertainties, the publishers claimed that the revised and updated version of Exam Warriors will “prepare readers not only for exams but also for life as a whole”.
The second edition, as claimed by Penguin Random House, proposes a “systematic approach to tackling challenges students face outside and inside classrooms, touching upon diverse themes such as competing with oneself, discovering oneself, time management, technology, gratitude and goal setting”.
Calling Modi “an inspirational leader for the youth”, Penguin Random House mentioned that the book will have a special “impactful” address from Modi for educators and teachers, “thanking them for their service and sharing some insights that will lead them to give their students an immersive and enriching learning experience”.
“The pandemic gave me the opportunity to take out some time to add new mantras in the new edition of Exam Warrior. Now it has few mantras for parents, as well as a lot of interesting activities related to the Narendra Modi App, which will help ignite the Exam Warrior in students,” said Modi in the statement issued by Penguin Random House India.