Salman Rushdie, the author of the controversial novel Satanic Verses is expected to pay a quiet visit to the five-day Jaipur Literary Festival that begins on January 20.
Organisers of the festival, which has become popular for being a gathering of celebrated writers, have apparently conveyed the concerns of the Centre and the state government to Rushdie who is understood to have agreed not to attend the inaugural session of the festival on January 20 and, instead, visit the festival quietly, especially to attend Writers’ Ball, an exclusive and restricted event for writers.
Namita Gokhle, one of the organisers, told DNA that though they understand and respect various cultural sensibilities and religious feelings of people, they cannot curtail space for creative people.
She confirmed that Rushdie won’t be present at the inaugural ceremony but did not specify if he would be coming only for the ‘restricted’ event.
But the assurance did not stop Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot from meeting the Union home minister P Chidambaram and indicating apprehensions of law and order and security problems.
Doing some plain talk, Gehlot told Chidambaram that a section of people from Rajasthan do not want Rushdie to come and that they have already made representations to the state government.
“I don’t have any official information about whether Rushdie is coming or not. There is no official communication to us… There is a reaction among the locals, they don’t want Salman to come,” Gehlot said after the meeting.
He added that no state government will want a law and order situation. “I have informed the Centre about the prevailing sentiments. The chief secretary is in touch with the organisers of the literature festival,” Gehlot said.
He, however, clarified that Rushdie was a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and the government cannot prevent him from coming to India.
The announcement of Rushdie’s visit to the festival is being opposed by India’s top Islamic seminary Darul Uloom of Deoband, which has appealed to the government to decline the author a visa as he had hurt sentiments of Muslims in the past.
The Congress, meanwhile, washing its hands off the entire controversy maintained that it was a matter for the government to decide.
“This is a matter for the government to decide, and we believe the authorities are seized of the matter,” said party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
He conceded that the party’s state unit in Rajasthan has opposed the proposed visit of the controversial author. “The government would take these views into consideration, but whether they are guided by it or not is a different matter,” added Singhvi.
But the party also strongly feels that in spite of the political overtones, it would have no impact on the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. “The Muslim clergy may have taken a stand, but this is not an election issue so we do not feel that there would be any fallout at all on our chances,” said a party general secretary.