Months after emerging as the toast of literary circles for winning the Sahitya Akademi award for a novel considered one of the most detailed descriptions of life on the coast, a reputed Tamil writer is facing ostracisation for extending support to BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi.
Joe D’Cruz, who won the award for his book, Korkai, explained his position in a Facebook post titled, “Why do I want Mr. Narendra Modi to be the Prime Minister of India?”. In it, Modi is presented as a visionary and a dynamic, strong and decisive leader who can develop the coasts of Tamil Nadu.
This triggered angry reactions from literary circles here and, soon afterwards, the contract to publish an English translation of his earlier work, Aazhi Soozh Ulagu (Ocean-ringed World), was withdrawn by the publishing house, Navayana. Publisher S Anand termed D’Cruz’s comments “appalling and disturbing”, and added: “…there cannot be a place for such an author in a political publishing house like Navayana.” The translator, V Geetha, a noted feminist writer, also distanced herself from “anyone or anything linked to Modi”.
“What I said was purely a personal opinion, based on what I have seen during my visits to Gujarat in the last three decades. Just because I write about common folks on our coasts, I cannot be categorised as a sympathiser of any political ideology,” said D’Cruz.
Born in the fishing village of Uvari in Tuticorin, D’Cruz completed post-graduation and MPhil in Economics, and is the vice-president of a shipping firm in Chennai. But the childhood links to the village remained. His two main works — Aazhi Soozh Ulagu that came out in 2004 and Korkai — were celebrated for bringing out the invisible threads that make up the coastal community.
The first book was about fishermen who use catamarans while the second dealt with those using sail boats.
D’Cruz said he had been approached by Navayana to publish the English version of Aazhi Soozh Ulagu, and when the Oxford University Press approached him later, he had to reject the offer. “My work is so sub-regional that I worked closely with the translator for over two years to ensure the culture, language and lives of the coastal community are captured in the English version. And now they have withdrawn it just before it was to be published because of my personal comment on Modi,” he said.
“People criticising me were my friends till a few days ago, but an individual opinion has made them my enemies. I am more hurt about that than as a writer,” he said.
In its website, Navayana, Anand and Geetha justified their decision, and attached D’Cruz’s tribute to Modi.
“It is both appalling and disturbing that D’Cruz, who captured the rich and unique history of the seafaring community of Tamil Nadu…should call a fascist like Modi a ‘dynamic visionary’… Navayana is more sad about Joe’s decision than about having to withdraw from this publication. But we are glad we came to know Joe’s stand before the novel was published,” said Anand.
Geetha, in a statement, said: “He is entitled to his political opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. Modi in my opinion is not only a political disaster, but downright evil…. I still stand by his novel… and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for a politics that is fascist and dangerous.”
The controversy has split the literary-activist community in Tamil Nadu. According to A Marx, a Leftist activist, Navayana was well within its rights to withdraw publication of the book. However, a section of writers defended D’Cruz. “This is blackmail. They pretend to have just heard about his political stand, but Joe has been talking on similar lines for over a year,” said writer Charu Nivedita.