Tolstoy or Biswajit Roy: How the books caused ‘War and Peace’ in Bombay High Court


The book War and Peace hit the headlines after a judge questioned an activist linked to the Koregaon Bhima case for keeping “objectionable material” such as a copy of that book at his home.

On August 28, Justice Sarang Kotwal was hearing the bail plea of Vernon Gonsalves, an activist accused of having Naxal links, at the Bombay High Court.

During the hearing, Justice Kotwal had asked Gonsalves, “War and Peace is about war in another country. Why were you keeping these books at your house?” The judge had also mentioned a CD titled Rajya Daman Virodhi and said that the title “clearly suggested” it has material against the state. “Why were you keeping this in your house,” he had reiterated his query to Gonsalves.

The judge’s remark was instantly linked to Leo Tolstoy’s classic tome War and Peace, stirring up a storm on social media.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said it was “truly bizarre” that anyone should be questioned by a judge for keeping a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

“Welcome to New India,” Ramesh said in a tweet, a day after the judge’s remark.

However, in a sudden twist in the tale, on the evening of August 29, the Bombay High Court clarified that it was not referring to Tolstoy’s War and Peace but a book with a very similar title – War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists edited by journalist Biswajit Roy.

“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. Basically, the handwriting was so poor it was hardly legible. There were so many references to war…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 (seized) was incriminating,” said Justice Kotwal.

What Biswajit Roy’s War and Peace in Junglemahal is all about

Published in 2012, War and Peace in Junglemahal – People, State and Maoists is a collection of essays by well-known activists and academics. The essays have been edited by Kolkata-based senior journalist Biswajit Roy.

Junglemahal or Janglemahal is the tribal-dominated area comprising of three districts – Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia – which was the hotbed of Left Wing Extremism between 2005 and 2009.

In an interview to The Times of India, an ailing Roy, somewhere in his mid-60’s, said that he was amused that his book had suddenly become the talking point. “The idea of the book was to foster conflict-resolution between Maoists and various state governments especially as the process seemed to be falling apart,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tolstoy’s classic novel chronicles the French invasion of Russia and the Napoleonic wars.

Is the book available to buy?

The book, which has grabbed attention across India, is available online in India and has seen a sudden surge in demand after the news.

One of the online platforms described the book as – “It examines the failed peace initiatives in the context of the governments’ elitist ‘developmental’ policies, doublespeak of the parliamentary parties and Maoists’ follies”.

However, it has not been re-printed since it went out of stock in 2014, said the publisher.