Rushdie, border tensions echo at Jaipur Literature Festival

January 22, 2013 - 3:51:24 am

Jaipur: There is no threat to the Jaipur Literature Festival, organisers said yesterday as a controversy arose over author Salman Rushdie and the participation of Pakistani authors at what is known as the ‘maha Kumbh’ of literature in Asia.

The buzz over Rushdie’s expected arrival in India tomorrow to promote the movie Midnight’s Children and India-Pakistan tensions are already finding an echo in this Rajasthan capital. 

It was Islamist groups on one side and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on the other, barely two days before the January 24-28 festival begins. While Islamist groups are demanding that the four authors who read from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses last time be banned, the RSS wants no participation from Pakistani writers, given the tensions following the killings of two Indian soldiers along the Line of Control.

Speculation was rife that Rushdie could take time out to visit Jaipur. The news of his likely visit spread in the pink city, recalling tensions of last year when the author had to call off his visit. 

A section of Muslim hardliners demanded a permanent ban on the four writers — Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi — who had read excerpts from Rushdie’s controversial Satanic Verses. Joshi and Thayil are on the list of participants this year too. 

The RSS, on its part, has protested the participation of writers from Pakistan — Mohammed Hanif, Jamil Ahmad, Pakistani-Canadian novelist M A Farooqui, British-Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam, author and poet Fahmida Riaz and journalist Sharman Ubaid Chinoy. According to the RSS, their participation was “not in the country’s interest at the moment”.

However, producer of the festival Sanjoy K Roy ruled out any threat from any hardline groups and said the “writers were on their way to the country”. 

“Just five people rabble rousing does not make any sense. The media should not play it up. Let people go to the people and speak to Muslim intellectuals to get a real picture. There is no threat so far,” Roy said and added that the festival this year would not be bullied by any group. 

In 2011, Rushdie, who was to attend a session on the last day of the festival, had to cancel his visit after clerics entered the venue to rally against his participation. He addressed the festival via video instead. When contacted, a culture ministry official, however, denied any threat to the Pakistani writers and intellectuals at the Jaipur Literature Festival. “Their visit is on course,” the official said.