The Rule of the Rabble: * James W Laine speaks out in the LA Times:
“The last chapter is where I entertained what I called ‘unthinkable thoughts’ . questioning ‘cracks’ in the Shivaji narrative. I wondered, for example, why no one considered the possibility that Shivaji’s parents were estranged, given that they never lived together during the period the three were alive (1630-1664), and that the tale provided ‘father substitutes’ for the king-to-be. Why not entertain such an idea? What made it unthinkable?
As it turned out, the “owners” of Shivaji’s story had their own set of questions, delivered with a punch: Who should be allowed to portray this history? Should an outsider, working with Brahmin English-speaking elites, have a greater say in Shivaji’s story than Shivaji’s own community?
This is very, very different from the accusations made by the Maratha Seva Sangha founder, Purushottam Khedekar: “It has come to our knowledge that some passages in Laine’s book state that Shivaji’s renowned mentors, Samarth Ramdas Swami and Dadaji Kondeo, are his biological fathers.” But Laine doesn’t appear to have said this at all–he’s referred to Shivaji’s mentors as father-surrogates, which is a completely different thing. (More.)
I’m left with another question: should OUP have pulled the book? The publishers have received threats today from “some organisations” (no prizes for guessing who): they’ve demanded that OUP shut shop in Pune.
Given the irrationality of mobs, OUP might have felt it was doing the right thing by apologising for some of the comments made in Laine’s work. As a publisher, though, they should have either stood by their author, if they thought his work was accurate and unbiased, or issued another corrected edition. If they were trying to avoid trouble by withdrawing the book, guess what? The MSS targetted the Bhandarkar Institute anyway. They blackened Balukar’s face anyway. They’ve gone ahead and promised more of the same, despite the fact that the book was withdrawn. All that OUP has accomplished is to ensure that the unbiased reader no longer has access to Laine’s point of view. I can understand the publishers’ concerns: it must protect its staff and its other authors as well–but it’s dealing with people who will unleash their aggression irrespective of the response, placatory or not, from the other side. Perhaps we need to ask for more. If Laine is to be held accountable for his words, why can’t the hooligans who ransacked the Pune Institute be held accountable for their actions–and why can’t their leaders be held accountable for their threats?