Salman Rushdie controversy

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012 made news for controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie. The festival started on 20/1/2012 and ended on 24/1/2012. Over the years Salman Rushdie had come and gone. He had attended one Jaipur Literature Festival. He had attended one seminar in Delhi. The events had passed off peacefully.

This time TV channels gave wide publicity to statements of some Muslim leaders, some clerics and some politicians. The statements began in UP where elections are going on and spread to other parts. No party wanted to offend Muslims and lose their votes. If the TV channels had ignored the statements there would have been no controversy. Once those leaders demanded Salman Rushdie should not be given a visa and it was widely telecast the controversy began. Salman Rushdie tweeted he did not need a visa to come to India. Being a Person of Indian Origin he had Indian Overseas Citizen card and could come to India anytime. If he had kept quiet the Muslim leaders would have thought he would not get a visa and stopped the protests. The Muslim leaders continued the protests and demanded he should be stopped from attending the festival. The organizers said the invitation stands. Ashok Gehlot, Rajasthan’s chief minister went to Delhi. Law Minister Salman Khurshid told him Salman Rushdie cannot be stopped from coming to India. Ashok Gehlot met P. Chidambaram and returned to Rajasthan.

Rajasthan police told Salman Rushdie hired assassins from Bombay are ready to kill him. Salman Rushdie believed them, cancelled his visit and tweeted about it. He did not want to put other people at risk. He hoped to talk on video link. That would have been the end of the matter but it was the end of the beginning.

Bombay police denied Rushdie’s claim. Bombay police had to save themselves. There was one question. If they knew the don and the contract killers why did they not arrest them? There was no don, no contract killers, just a threat fabricated to stop Rushdie from coming. Rushdie came to know Rajasthan police have lied to him and was furious. There was no co-ordination between Bombay police, Rajasthan police and Intelligence Bureau. This farce repeated when Bombay police contradicted Delhi police about Naqi Ahmed Sheikh. Delhi police said he was an informer. Bombay police said he had a role in triple blasts in July 2011.

Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi read passages from the book and they had to leave the festival. Some filed complaints against them. Hari Kunzru said he wanted to demystify the book. It was just a book, not a bomb, not a knife or a gun. Some authors led by Nilanjana Roy signed a petition to revoke the ban. Some said the authors did not read from the book but read from comments on the book and did not defy the ban. Rushdie tweeted regularly.

On 24/1/2012 video link to Salman Rushdie that was to take place at 3.45 p.m. was cancelled on police “advice”. Sanjoy Roy said “We have been bullied.” Police told him some people are ready to protest and they are in the crowd. May be there were no people in the crowd who would create trouble and Rajasthan Police lied as they lied to Salman Rushdie. The owner of Diggi Palace Ram Pratap Singh did not want video link. He wanted to save his property and the people. Aruna Roy, Shobha De, Javed Akhar, Tarun Tejpal, Mark Tully and some others spoke about the incident. They called it a pity, national shame or a black day. The police should have stopped protestors from coming close to Diggi Palace. Political Parties joined the fray. BJP and Left Front condemned the cancellation. However they do not have a good record in defending freedom of speech. BJP was opposed to many things that were supposed to hurt Hindu sentiments. Gujarat had banned Jaswant Singh’ book and BJP had expelled him for that book without reading it. Left Front hounded out Taslima Nasreen. BJP was quiet for long saying the matter was between Centre and Rajasthan, both places where Congress was in power. If Congress wanted they could have prevented the mob from disrupting Jaipur Literature Festival. When Shiv Sena said they will not allow Rahul Gandhi to come to Bombay the government provided him security. He came; he stood in a queue to buy train tickets, travelled in a train, took out money from an ATM, met some people and returned to Delhi.

At 8 p.m. NDTV 24×7 telecast Salman Rushdie interview. He called the whole episode a farce. When I saw the word exclusive on the screen I thought it was meaningless as many channels interview the same person and claim it is exclusive. But this was different. This was exclusive to NDTV 24×7 and other channels did not have Salman Rushdie interviews. CNN-IBN and Headlines Today showed clips of the interview.

It was foolish on the part of Muslim leaders to raise a hue and cry about Salman Rushdie. He and his book got publicity. The ban was 23 years back in 1988. Many who were not aware of the book came to know about the book. Sahmat invited Rushdie. The controversy dominated news channels and overshadowed other events.

Shiela Dikshit made a fool of herself. First she said Salman Rushdie is welcome in Delhi. He has won Booker Prize. He is a well known writer and there may be differences in opinion about what he writes. Later she said in a press release “No question of welcoming English writer Mr. Salman Rushdie as a guest in the capital.”

Many people find something or the other offensive but the Government of India should be careful about its protests and demands for apologies. The government demanded an apology from BBC about the programme Top Gear. There was no apology. The government protested to USA and demanded an apology from Jay Leno for his joke about Golden Temple as Mitt Romney’s summer residence. There are elections in Punjab. USA spokesperson said Jay Leno has freedom of speech under US constitution. It is fine for individuals and groups to protest but when India protests it gives prominence to people who do not deserve it and if there is no apology there is not much the government can do.

Salman Rushdie said the import of The Satanic Verses is banned under section 11 of Customs Act, there is no ban on its reading. In that case there is no ban on printing the book in India.

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