India will have a “bully” of a government if Narendra Modi is elected as Prime Minister, Booker-prize winning author Salman Rushdie has claimed.
“I am pretty concerned about a Modi-run government. The indications that it would be a fairly bullying government are already there. We have already seen journalists and writers being bullied and the BJP has not taken power yet,” Rushdie remarked at the opening ceremony of the 10th annual PEN World Voices Literature Festival in New York on Tuesday.
“You already see even more worryingly a kind of self-censorship setting in, people worry that they are going to be bullied and therefore try not to do anything that will attract the wrath of the ‘Modistas’,” he said.
Self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist Mr Modi is widely expected to be named the leader of the world’s largest democracy on 16 May.
His impending ascension to the post has divided Indians at home and abroad, given Mr Modi’s handling of the bloody communal riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002.
‘Midnight’s Children’ author Rushdie, 66, was one of a number of high profile personalities of Indian extraction, including sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor and filmmaker Deepa Mehta, who wrote an open letter in Britain’s Guardian newspaper last week, declaring that the election of Mr Modi would “bode ill for India”.
Rushdie said there has never been a politician “quite like Narendra Modi in India” and that time would tell if the experience of India’s highest political office would serve to “moderate” Modi who Rushdie described as a “hardliners hardliner”.
Rushdie continued: “If freedom of expression is under attack, if religious freedom is threatened and if substantial parts of society live in physical fear for their safety, then such a society cannot be said to be a true democracy.
“In contemporary India, all these problems exist and they are getting worse. The attack on literary, scholarly and artistic freedom has gathered force. This already lamentable state of affairs looks likely to become much worse if it, as seems likely, seems probable, the election results bring to power the Hindu nationalist BJP”, he added.
Rushdie said free speech and religious freedom in India are increasingly under attack and writers and artists are being targeted for their work just because a section of the population deems it offensive.
The author cited the recent example of the banning of American author Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ by Penguin India following a complaints by hard-line Hindu groups.
Authorities in India had “failed lamentably” in their duty to protect free speech, he said.
“The climate of fear that has consequently being created is such that the hooligans’ and censors’ work is now often done for them by the collapse of those who ought to be free speeches defenders.
“India is in the danger of betraying the legacy of its founding fathers and greatest artists like Rabindranath Tagore.”
– With inputs from PTI