Author Salman Rushdie’s visit to India is clouded in doubt, following the Rajasthan Government’s attempt to prevent his participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival beginning Friday.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot met Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to express his government’s reservations about Rushdie’s trip to attend the six-day festival, citing “security reasons”. Gehlot told Chidambaram that “people were not happy” about the writer’s trip to Jaipur. He said the people of Rajasthan who have made a representation to the state government on the issue “do not want” the author to come.
Gehlot’s meeting with Chidambaram did not seem to put a lid on speculation whether Rushdie’s visit would come off or not. Answering queries from the media, Gehlot admitted that since Rushdie was a PIO (person of Indian origin), “the government cannot prevent him from coming to India. Nor can it offer any advice to the organisers.” But, “the sentiments of the people” have to be kept in mind, the state chief minister hastened to add.
The organisers of the festival have responded in an ambiguous manner saying “Salman Rushdie will not be in India on January 20 due to a change in his schedule. The festival stands by its invitation to Mr Rushdie,” said festival producer Sanjoy K Roy.
While the Union Government has said it would not stop the India-born author from visiting the country of his birth, Gehlot’s move is being viewed by many as as an expression of the
Congress party’s concerns about the effect of Rushdie’s visit on the minority community in the country, particularly in the poll-bound State of Uttar Pradesh which has over 18 per cent Muslim population.
Rushdie has been a critic of hardline Islam, with his work Satanic Verses earning for himself a fatwah from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 that called for his killing. Rushdie went underground, and lived protected by the British police.
The Iranian government under Mohammed Khatami declared that it was niether for or against the fatwah, but the religious pronouncement was formally never revoked, and in 2005, Iranian supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini reiterated it.
One attempt to kill Rushdie resulted in the death of the man who was preparing an RDX bomb in London and he was declared a martyr and lionised by the Iranian government. On his part, Rushdie has never formally recanted, and has been increasingly critical of what he sees as fundamentalist Islam.
The Mumbai-born writer who received Brooker prize in 1981 for his second novel “Midnight’s Children” had earlier visited India without evoking any controversy.
In the eye of storm
* Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tells Union Home Minister P Chidambaram that Rushdie’s trip might lead to security problems
* Says local people ‘resent’ controversial author’s visit
* As Rushdie is a Person of Indian Origin, government can’t prevent him from coming to India, says Gehlot
* Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband had appealed to the government to decline the author a visa as he had hurt sentiments of Muslims in the past