Author takes to social networking site to criticize Indian authorities over Jaipur fiasco
The author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ said the government was “pandering” to extremist Muslim groups and failed to protect freedom of speech after alleged threats of violence forced him to withdraw from the Jaipur Literature Festival, the largest in Asia.
A subsequent appearance by the Booker-prize winner via video link at the Festival was also cancelled at the last minute after organizers received death threats and police warned of violence inside the venue. Local media, quoting eye-witnesses, said a group of Muslim men had infiltrated the crowd shortly before the session and were seen intimidating members of the audience to leave.
Organizers were aghast over how the group managed to enter the venue which had been secured by private security personnel as well as a police cordon.
In a TV interview Sir Salman said he believed the government had sought to stop him from appearing at the festival to win Muslim votes in its key Uttar Pradesh state election campaign and had fabricated intelligence reports of assassination plots to stop him to force his withdrawal.
He said the arts were under assault from both Hindu and Muslim extremists and that “if it goes on, India will cease to be a free country.”
India had been the first country in the world to ban his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, ahead of Muslim countries which denounced it as ‘blasphemous’, and today lagged behind countries like Turkey, Egypt and Libya which have lifted the ban.
Commentators said his forced withdrawal from the festival was a “black stain” on India’s reputation as the world’s largest democracy, while one adviser said it had raised serious questions over the festival’s future.
David Godwin, one of Britain’s top literay agents told The Daily Telegraph, “This is a watershed moment for the festival. How can it go forward and where can it go forward? It is an issue now and must be resolved. They have built a huge festival and it is terrible to see it jeopardised but these are serious issues.”
Sir Salman had originally been slated to be the festival’s headline author alongside the likes of Sir David Hare, Tom Stoppard and Oprah Winfrey but was forced to pull out after India’s most influential islamic seminary called on the government to stop him entering the country. Plans for him to appear at the end of the festival were also abandoned after police intelligence reports claimed a team of hired assassins were travelling to Jaipur to kill him; those reports were later revealed to be false.
– Vijitha Alles