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Rushdie affair: The shame of it all

 | January 23, 2012

India’s ideals of democracy and secularism are damaged by the failure to assure Salman Rushdie that he would be safe in Jaipur.

COMMENT

The Salman Rushdie case has not only got stranger as the Jaipur Literary Festival enters its final days, but also shameful.

It now seems that the Congress government of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan played dirty to keep the Booker Prize winner out of his state by reportedly fabricating a threat to his life from paid assassins.

(The initial call to not let Rushdie enter Jaipur came from Islamic groups, which felt that his The Satanic Verses had hurt their faith.)

Rushdie said he had found on investigation that he had been lied to.

The India-born British author’s assertion came in the midst of snowballing controversy that included police warnings against those brave enough to openly exhibit their solidarity by reading out passages from Rushdie’s banned book, The Satanic Verses.

Interestingly, Rushdie also had his opponents. Best-selling writer Chetan Bhagat and Congress member of parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar minced no words when they declared that it was wrong to hurt religious sentiments. Every freedom is firmly tied to responsibility.

Admittedly, this is a point that can be endlessly debated. But what is certainly beyond dispute is that the government appears to have given in to sheer radicalism.

We have seen that years ago in the case of Toronto-based film director Deepa Mehta, who was virtually driven out of Varanasi by extreme right-wing Hindu political organisations. They felt that Mehta, all set to shoot Water (about the horrific plight of widows in the holy city’s “widow homes”), had scripted a work that was against Indian culture.

The view could not have been more hypocritical, given the fact that such homes had existed since time immemorial with widows leading miserable lives, in utter poverty and in humiliation.

India looked the other way when Hindu and Muslim fanatics hounded out the late (artist) MF Husain and Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.

Disgraceful

Rushdie’s case is particularly disgraceful. Attempt after attempt was made to stop the literary giant from flying into Jaipur.

First, the issue of his visa was raised. But when it was found that he did not need one, because as a person of Indian origin he was free to come and go, the Rajasthan police “invented” an “assassination plot”.

The “plot” turned out be far more amateurish than the pranks youngsters play. The two purported Mumbai-based killers cited in the security threat to Rushdie were unknown to the police.

The third “would be murderer” was Saqib Hamid Nachan, a former activist of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, now living near Mumbai.

Why did the police not arrest Nachan?

Gehlot tried his best to defend himself by saying that it was not his state alone that provided the inputs. There were half a dozen advisories from Mumbai in Maharashtra.

The blame game has begun, fingers are moving, fast and furious, pointing at just about every direction — with a call by social activist and Arya Samaj scholar Swami Agnivesh for an official probe.

Crying wolf

In all probability, the truth will never emerge. For it is inconvenient, and has perhaps to do with coming elections in several states and the need to garner as much Muslim support as possible for the Congress Party, which is desperately trying to come back to power in Uttar Pradesh, politically the most important Indian state.

A real worry, however, in this whole sordid business is the manner in which security has been transformed into a plaything in a country where hundreds of innocent men and women have lost their lives in terror attacks.

By crying wolf – like in the proverbial fairy tale – New Delhi and Jaipur (Rajasthan’s capital) have not only made a serious issue into a joke, but have also damaged India’s ideals of democracy and secularism by failing to assure Rushdie that he would be safe in Jaipur.

The nation’s heritage now stands battered!

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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