Not everyone in India is enthused with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's democratic record. Photo: AFP / Diptendu Dutta

In an apparent attempt to avoid offending the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Oxford University Press has declined to print the Indian release of To Kill a Democracy, a book whose international edition was reviewed favorably by Asia Times in June.

“OUP has handed over the paperback rights to us and we hope to find an Indian publisher who will print and properly market our book here and make it widely available at an affordable price,” authors Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane told The Telegraph India late last month.

The authors were kept in the dark by OUP India until they made inquiries last month to the publisher about why it was taking so long for the book to appear in the country it had been written about – and for. The Indian release had originally been scheduled for the first week of July.

Chowdhury told Asia Times: “We have lost three precious months following the global launch and favorable media reviews. If OUP India had told us earlier that it was too afraid to print the book, we would have started looking for an Indian publisher early on and by now would have the book on the market. It’s disgraceful what OUP India has done to us.”

It transpired that a “second review” of the book had been ordered by OUPI after the “sales team felt the content is provocative.” In fact, OUPI may have developed cold feet after a scathing critique appeared in May in a publication called Organiser. That commentary strongly condemned articles by Chowdhury in Time magazine critical of Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The article said Chowdhury “clearly is politically biased towards political rivals of [the Bharatiya Janata Party] and Narendra Modi, and his book To Kill a Democracy: India’s Passage to Despotism is actually written with the nefarious agenda of creating despotism in India. In plain words – this is a deep-rooted conspiracy against BJP and Modi, which possibly may find places in other publications and broadcast networks in the Western countries as well as foes on India.”

Organiser is the mouthpiece of the Hindu-nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

In comments to Asia Times, John Keane took strong exception to “the juicy lines about ‘political chaos’ and the need for ‘despotism’ in the Organiser piece.” However, he said he was more concerned that the true aim of the book was being obscured by “the mess caused by OUPI.”

He said he and Chowdhury believe the arguments made in the book about how democracies die “are a fresh and highly relevant interpretation of why the world needs to worry about the fate of Indian democracy.”

As Asia Times noted in its June review, while the book certainly does not pull its punches regarding the role of Modi and the BJP in India’s slide toward despotism, it stresses that the Modi phenomenon is the result of a long process that began in the very early days of India’s independence from British rule.

Indeed, as OUP itself stated in its description of To Kill a Democracy, “It rejects the belief that India was once a beacon of democracy but is now being ruined by the destructive forces of Modi-style populism. The book details the much deeper historical roots of the present-day assaults on civil liberties and democratic institutions.”

Instead of sticking to the original plan, OUPI chose to import a very limited number of hardcover copies of the book for sale in India.

“That explains the long delays, the lack of publicity and the high price of 995 rupees [US$13.25] instead of the originally agreed 695 rupees,” the authors told The Telegraph. “Since we do not believe that this is an appropriate mass-market price, we have taken back the rights for the paperback and translations. 

“OUP has handed over the paperback rights to us and we hope to find an Indian publisher who will print and properly market our book here and make it widely available at an affordable price.”

Despite the controversy, both authors stressed to Asia Times that they appreciated the support and professionalism of the UK headquarters of Oxford University Press in getting the global edition of the book published.

OUP India did not respond to Asia Times’ invitation to comment.