Satans at work

We will never really know if ever there existed a credible threat to controversial writer Salman Rushdie’s life if he had chosen to attend the just concluded edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

It may also not be known who from the Rajasthan officialdom communicated the existence of such a threat to Rushdie, if indeed there was one. But what we do know is that the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan repeatedly went public about receiving at least half a dozen intelligence alerts from Central intelligence agencies, the most outlandish of which was the one that claimed that supari killers from Mumbai’s underworld were on their way to Jaipur to target Rushdie. A mention was also made of a threat from another source – the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
Was Rushdie pressured into a situation to opt out? The events that unfolded over the five-day  festival didn’t leave much doubt to arrival at any other conclusion. First, the state government chose not to directly communicate the threat to Rushdie.

On the contrary, it engaged the festival organisers to convey its message. Second, one would have expected the government to take necessary security measures to protect the writer. The state security apparatus was apparently so weak as to raise its hands in helplessness when the existence of the supposed threat to Rushdie and its sources were well known to it in advance. At no stage either before or during the event, the state government ever expressed its readiness to call the bluff of those who posed the threat.

The fact is that Rushdie was politically inconvenient to the political establishment in Jaipur and Delhi. The reason is the upcoming Assembly elections in five states, particularly Uttar Pradesh. In the midst of yet another attempt to reclaim the support of Muslim constituency in UP that it had lost over two decades ago, the Congress did not want to be seen by its political rivals in the state as being soft on Rushdie, whose book, ‘The Satanic Verses,’ it had banned in this country. How else do we explain the state government’s refusal to even allow Rushdie make a virtual appearance at the festival via the video conferencing facility?

We might take pride in our Constitution that protects individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression, but the Rajasthan episode shows yet again that governments without backbone can make a complete mockery of it and put our cherished democracy in jeopardy.

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