Opportunism: In Rushdie Conundrum
When four authors participating in the festival read out passages from Rushdie’s banned book at the Jaipur Literature Festival, they were asked to write statements that they did so on their own accord. Finally on last day of the festival, the controversial author’s video address was also disallowed by the government. The government did capitulate to wishes of religious fundamentalists who succeeded in getting themselves heard while stifling the voice of the author, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
(Above): Salman Rushdie
Reading, recitation and debating have never been as enjoyable as at the ongoing fifth chapter of Jaipur Literature Festival.
Yet quaintly the Jaipur Literature Festival had many more things in store besides the literary rendezvous.
It brought to bare the Indian state’s pliability at the hands of undemocratic fundamentalists that attempted to use ruse of religious sentiments to smother voices of expression, dissent, and protest that should ever emanate even from the likes of free thinking literati.
Deobandis of an influential Islamic seminary in India demanded that the government deny Salman Rushdie permission to enter India if it wanted to avert a grave law and order problem.
Though he did cancel his Jaipur visit on behest of a certain email to him from the Rajasthan government that talked of threats to him, he voiced his doubts about the veracity of security reports.
When four authors participating in the festival read out passages from Rushdie’s banned book they were asked to write statements that they did so on their own accord.
Finally on last day of the festival, the controversial author’s video address was also disallowed by the government.
Seemingly the government did capitulate to wishes of religious fundamentalists who succeeded in getting themselves heard while stifling the voice of the author.
Satanic Verses by Rushdie carries the ban since 1988 when citing blasphemy, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the then religious leader of Iran issued fatwa on Rushdie and publishers of the book.
While this fatwa was lifted in 1998, the Indian ban on the book remained intact.
Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was the first to come up with the ban presumably to appease some Muslims while also confessing that book was not objectionable though it contained some passages that could be potentially misused by other forces.
How ironic is it that a growing economic power like India that accords highest level of security to important personalities and even politicians of criminal antecedence would claim helplessness while tackling ‘other forces’ as in the case of Rushdie’s Jaipur visit.
Moreover, Rushdie has been a regular visitor to India and has even attended two previous chapters of the same festival at Jaipur.
Not once was any sort of violence reported during his visits.
(Above): Salman Rushdie [Photo: Daniel Mordzinski]
Many pinpoint the call for preventing Rushdie’s visit to be liked to the assembly elections that are to take off in the important state of Uttar Pradesh.
The United Progressive Alliance, led by Congress at the Center and Congress state of Rajasthan, well understands the importance of Muslim vote bank in these elections.
All political eyes are out to win Muslim votes in U.P., a deciding factor in 180-190 constituencies in this state.
And the Congress led by prime ministerial hopeful Rahul Gandhi could not be any less concerned about this.
So if this is not political opportunism or appeasement trick then what is it, ask a majority of political analysts.
Queerly, the ones opposing Rushdie’s visit have never been true representatives of the Muslim community either nor have they ever been interested in the Jaipur Literature Festival since the time it was instituted.
Coming back to the state, it seems the country’s state apparatus has dipped further on the scale of liberal thinking since the time the ban was initiated.
In such a scenario when things seem to be moving toward total censorship will it be possible to expect a review of the ban or let citizens decide for themselves or have freedom to discuss their own religion?
How do the Deobandis know whether the book is irreligious?
Did they read the book, which stands banned, or are they going by mere hearsay?
In reading the banned book have they not gone against the tenets of the Constitution of the India?
By what measure do these fundamentalist organizations have the right to pass judgment when there is a valid legal process that can be well utilized?
Time and again the state has waged wars with extremists to uphold fundamental rights of the land.
Indian state has also guaranteed safety and asylum to foreign nationals like Taslima Nasreen and Dalai Lama.
But then when it comes to its own born, M.F. Hussian and Salman Rushdie, the Indian state seems to have simply failed.
While the acclaimed artist Hussain could not return to India after his exhibitions were vandalized by Hindu extremist groups and multiple cases were registered against him on Indian soil, Rushdie was denied his fundamental right of expression and disagreement even on a video by the country’s political system that was more willing to listen to dictates and threats of religious zealots.
As far as Indian Muslims are concerned, they have far more economic problems to deal with.