New Delhi: A huge controversy had erupted Wednesday when news emerged that a Bombay High Court judge had questioned the presence of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the house of activist Vernon Gonsalves arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case.
However, the judge, Sarang V. Kotwal, clarified Thursday that it was not Tolstoy’s classic but another book titled War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists by Biswajit Roy that he was referring to.
‘Can’t a judge ask questions in court?’
The controversy erupted when the judge reportedly asked why Gonsalves kept “objectionable material” like a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace at his home. The remark kicked up a pan-India storm, especially on Twitter where #WarandPeace was trending.
However, during the hearing Thursday, Justice Kotwal is understood to have clarified that he was not referring to any particular book while posing questions to Gonsalves.
“I knew that Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a literary classic. I was reading the whole list from the panchnama attached to the charge sheet. It was written in such poor handwriting. I know War and Peace. And there I was making a query (on why Gonsalves had copies of these books) but did not want to suggest that everything was incriminating,” Justice Kotwal was quoted as saying by PTI.
“There were so many references to war and other titles. Before I went to War and Peace, I made a reference to Rajya Daman too. Can a judge not ask any questions in court?” he asked.
Lawyers say media created confusion
One of the lawyers representing another accused in the case confirmed that the book was the one written by Biswajit Roy.
“There’s a book called War and Peace in Junglemahal. That’s the book that was in the house search panchnama. The reporter misunderstood it to mean Tolstoy’s book,” the lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, told ThePrint.
“There’s no reference to Tolstoy in the house search panchnama. This is an entirely different book written by Biswajit Roy, which is on an entirely different subject matter.”
The lawyer, in fact, added that the judge’s remarks Wednesday were in reference to the entire gamut of books found by the Pune Police in Gonsalves’ home.
“He [the judge] was referring to the entire gamut of books and he read out this title. He didn’t read it out in full because it wasn’t properly legible. So people didn’t hear the rest of the title but he was referring to the entire gamut of books when he posed that question asking ‘why do you have these books’. It wasn’t with reference to any Tolstoy book,” the lawyer added.
Another lawyer involved in the case blamed the media for having spun the judge’s observations wrongly, and asserted that the issue was bigger than just one book.
“What the judge stated was a query regarding books found in his house… How can you pick only one Leo Tolstoy? It was a bigger issue… Today, that query was answered in court — that none of the books that were found in his house were banned… This (confusion) was created by the media,” the second lawyer said.
A reporter’s version of events
However, a reporter present in court on both days told ThePrint that the judge had questioned why Gonsalves was in possession of War and Peace, “which was about war in another country”.
According to the reporter, who did not wish to be identified, the judge began by taking the Pune police to task for not having been specific about the incriminating material in the books and CDs seized from the accused’s house.
“He asked how can he make out what’s actually in these. Vernon’s counsel then agreed, adding that anyway none of these books are incriminating as they are not banned or prohibited,” the reporter said.
However, Kotwal then questioned Gonsalves’ intent behind owning these books and CDs, based on their titles.
“The judge then said, and I quote him here, ‘what are you saying mister? The titles itself are very suggestive’. And then he read out a few titles, including Rajya Daman and a few others,” the reporter said.
“He said that these titles suggest that there’s something against the state. And then he came to War and Peace and asked why does he have War and Peace, and that this is about war in another country.”
The reporter said the judge clarified Thursday that he did know about Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and that he was simply reading out the list in the chargesheet. The judge also said the title wasn’t legible completely, so he just read out the part that was readable, while reiterating that he is fully aware of Tolstoy’s work.