This book is one in the series, Manifestos for the 21st Century Series, published in collaboration with the Index on Censorship, where other books argue the Muslim case, the Jewish case and the Christian case. The books in this series have upset many, who feel the books are blasphemous or even seditious. To that extent, only free speech purists will be able to read the book without getting agitated or angry. I have had the opportunity to attend a Free Word event in London in October 2009 where Mr Tripathi and Ms Shamsie, author of the Muslim case, were speaking and faced much cross-questioning from the audience, not all of it laudatory or unabashedly appreciative.
At 116 pages, including references, the book is a quick read. But it has not been so easy to review it. I read the book about three months ago. Since then much water has flown in the Ganges, so to speak. The artist, MF Husain, the story of whose persecution in India runs through the book, has renounced his Indian citizenship and taken Qatari citizenship. The book opens with Husain's story, then proceeds to demonstrate how Hindu nationalists are systematically catalysing censorship and bans, and revising history to suit a narrative, which is entirely at odds with India's constitution (which creates India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic) and with India's and indeed Hinduism's history as an inclusive philosophical movement. By focusing on Rama as a deity, Hindutva seems to be constructing a discourse on "offence" which is inspired, for want of a better word, by monotheistic religions such as Islam, shunning the richness and plurality of the religion's mythology and traditions. Mr Tripathi constructs his argument using references and conversations with some of India's leading contemporary thinkers and historians, as well as influential cultural icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindra Nath Tagore. Indeed Mr Tripathi also cites Wendy Doniger, who is not the most popular western commentator on Hinduism but to be fair, Hindu nationalism revivalists in India also have help from native Belgian and American commentators so I say, fair play to Doniger.
This book is a snapshot of India's recent events. It is a book about India's present, not India's past but there is also a disturbing prospect of a future trajectory that is potentially reductive, exclusive and revisionist.
As I mention earlier, some readers, especially of the Hindu persuasion, may feel agitated, frustrated or confused while reading the book. Others will find it thought-provoking and may take on the opportunity to explore Hindu scholarship in detail. Mr Tripathi's is a perspective that needs to be shared widely. India cannot remain India Shining by excluding from its future narrative a good 20% of its people. I rate the book 4 stars because it will not be to everyone's taste and many are bound to take offence.