War and Peace in Junglemahal: All you need to know about Biswajit Roy's book at the centre of the Bombay HC controversy

  • War and Peace in Junglemahal is a collection of essays that examines the Maoist violence and the government’s failed peace initiatives

  • The essays, edited by Kolkata-based senior journalist Biswajit Roy, have been contributed by activists and academics

  • Roy said in an interview yesterday, that the book aimed to be a conflict-resolution study, trying to understand the Naxalite Movement’s ground reality

Following the Bombay High Court's "War and Peace" comment on Wednesday about the book in the Vernon Gonsalves case — "War and Peace is about war in another country. Why were you keeping these books at your house?" — many assumed it referred to Leo Tolstoy's classic War and Peace. The next day, it was clarified that Justice Sarang Kotwal was referring not to Tolstoy’s work, but War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists, edited by Biswajit Roy. 

Justice Kotwal said on Thursday, 29 August, that "You have made your point about the books not being banned... I was reading the whole list from the chargesheet. It was written in such poor handwriting. I know War and Peace. I was making a query on the entire list that police has mentioned (as evidence)." Given the resulting interest in the book, here’s everything you need to know about it.

 War and Peace in Junglemahal: All you need to know about Biswajit Roys book at the centre of the Bombay HC controversy

War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists, edited by Biswajit Roy.

War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists, published in 2012 by Setu Prakashani, 548 pages, is a collection of essays that examines the Maoist violence and the government’s failed peace initiatives, offering a wide range of perspectives on the same, with discussions about the autonomy of grassroots movements and the meaning of living in a democracy. The publishers explain the context of these essays as:

“A large part of tribal homeland across India, from Dandakaranya in central India to Junglemahal in West Bengal, has been witnessing a civil war between the central/state governments and the banned CPI (Maoist). Half-hearted attempts have been made to hold peace talks between the warring sides from Andhra Pradesh in 2004 to Bengal in 2011 but have ended in killing of key Maoist leaders. As the blame game continues, civil society remains bitterly divided on which side has failed peace.”

The essays, edited by Kolkata-based senior journalist Biswajit Roy, have been contributed by activists and academics, including the mediators of the situation. The Times of India reports that these include: Mahasweta Devi, Amit Bhaduri, Sujato Bharda, Aditya Nigam, Nandini Sundar, Binayak Sen, Manoranjan Mohanti and Gautam Nawlakha. With an introduction by cultural historian Sumanta Banerjee, the book is divided into four sections:

Section I – Mamata or Maoists: Who failed Peace?
Section II – Experiences in Andhra, Chhattisgarh and Elsewhere
Section III – State and Note-state violence and Politics of Peace-making
Section IV – Voices from Junglemahal and Accounts of Activists

The first section dissects the failed peace talks in Bengal and the second looks at similar failures elsewhere in the country. The third section tackles the questions the possibility of negotiating peace talks between India and the Maoists, a nation-state and a proto-state.

Given the recent attention the book has received, the book’s editor Biswajit Roy said in an interview yesterday that the book aimed to be a “conflict-resolution study,” trying to understand the Naxalite Movement’s “ground reality” and reasons for the failure of peace talks. Asked about references to wars in other countries, Roy explained that the book included annexures of what was happening in other countries like Nepal and Columbia to understand how peace talks proceeded there.

He adds that as a journalist, "I have tried my best to focus on the issues which both the public and the policymakers in the government must look into." The book, he explains, also enquires about different failures that led to continued violence: "Were the governments failing? Were the Maoists or the armed groups failing? Did the mainstream media fail? Was the civil society failing?"

A 2012 review by Aman Sethi explains that among the rich archival material the book draws from are correspondence letters between the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Indian state, which Sethi describes as “an archive of corpses”. He adds about the book that “the primary preoccupation of the texts is the question of peace” and concludes his review with:

“The possibilities of escape have diminished in tandem with the expansion of the State’s horizon of control. Perhaps the truly radical project is not the creation of a better, more perfect, State but a lesser, more porous one.”

Following the flurry, the publisher Subrata Roy informed the Times of India that it hadn’t been reprinted after its initial run: “I have been receiving calls from around the country about this book. So many people want to buy it! I am now regretting not having reprinted it since it went out of stock two years after its publication in 2012.”

Updated Date: Aug 30, 2019 11:37:53 IST