The Delhi high court has fined Bihar's chief minister for appropriating a scholar's book and passing it off as his own
Bihar chief minister is fined for passing a scholar's book as his own
PLAGIARISM IS A pretty common failing. Journalists, academics, scientists have all been guilty of this. Sometimes, it is an expression or a sentence or two that is lifted. At other times, it is a paragraph or more. There have also been cases, not so common though, of an entire chapter being appropriated. But rarely has one heard of an entire book written by another being brazenly passed off as one’s own. In this case, it is a wily politician who has done the unthinkable, by a man who has proved himself adept in changing alliances and political ideology to remain in power.
Meet Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has been fined `20,000 for appropriating a scholar’s work and publishing it as a book that he had authored. In recent weeks, Kumar has been in the headlines for changing horses midstream when he dumped his ally Lalu Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, who was responsible for bringing him back to power in the 2015 Assembly elections, to once again team up with the Bharatiya Janata Party. In politics, such turnabouts are the norm; and don’t invite moral censure. But Kumar is now in the news for something he cannot shrug off lightly.
In 2009, Atul Kumar Singh, then a doctoral fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University (jnu), was taken aback to find his PhD thesis Role of State in Economic Transformation: A case Study of Contemporary Bihar of 2006 was being released as a book titled Special Category Status, A Case for Bihar with Kumar as the author. Although Kumar later said he had only endorsed the book, he had in a press interview before the book’s high-profile release by economist Meghnad Desai claimed: “I have written a book on conditions prevailing in the state and to convince the nation about the need for granting special status to Bihar...”
After Singh threatened legal action, Kumar’s office changed tack and said the book was brought out by the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (adri) and that the chief minister was just endorsing it. adri then began hounding him, Singh said, after he reinforced his right as the sole and exclusive author. In other words, his copyright had been violated. In 2010, Singh moved a petition in the Delhi high court against Kumar, adri and its director Saibal Gupta.
In an interlocutory application, the chief minister said he had no association with the other defendants and that his name should be removed as defendant—he is named as the first defendant—because he had only endorsed the book. Since there was no cause made out for instituting and maintaining the suit, he had been impleaded with “mala fide” intention.
However, the court rejected his contention and noted that two of the scholar’s supervisors from jnu had certified his work as original. The facts were, therefore, cumulatively sufficient to give the plaintiff the right to sue Kumar, it said. It also said “...the present interim application [by Nitish Kumar] is sheer abuse of process of law. Same is dismissed with cost of `20,000”.
The chief minister’s counsel has been quoted as saying the order would be challenged, but it would seem that the damage has already been done to Kumar’s reputation. That is, if anyone was in doubt after reading his initial claim of having authored the book and his later retraction. The plaintiff has also claimed damages totalling `25 lakh from the other defendants.
When the case was filed by Singh, Gupta had made some extraordinary attempts to defend Kumar. In an interview he had claimed Singh’s work was advocacy material for Bihar and “we could have got maximum leverage if the name of the chief minister was associated with this.” But Kumar, he said “has no academic pretensions. If he really wants to write a book, he can get the best minds to help him.” Indeed.
RITIKA BOHRA / CSE