Salman Rushdie video link cancelled, writer slams politicians

Jaipur, Jan 26 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS):  A Muslim protest over his over two-decade-old writing against Prophet Mohammad and resultant capitulation of the Rajasthan government scuppered the video chat of Salman Rushdie with the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) gathering on its concluding day on Tuesday,  prompting the British Indian author to call the episode stifling of free speech and Indian politicians as a clan in bed with extremists.
 The video conference, which was scheduled after Rushdie announced that he was not coming to the festival owing to warnings from authorities in Rajasthan of Mumbai underworld hired assassins being contracted to kill him, was called off by the owners of the venue and the organizers of the festival on the advice of the Rajasthan police, citing law and order concerns.

The owner of the venue, Ram Pratap Singh, said that he has decided not to allow the video link.

Sanjoy Roy, JLF organizer, said, “It is unfortunate that once again we are being bullied and have to step down.”

He was in tears as he spoke the words about how they were pushed to the wall by the administration.
In an interview to NDTV, Rushdie had strong words against the Indian politicians.

“And now I find an India in which religious extremists can prevent free expression of ideas at a literary festival, in which the politicians are too, let’s say, in bed with those groups to wish to oppose them for narrow electoral reasons, in which the police forces are unable to secure venues against demonstrators even when they know the demonstration is on its way,” he told the interviewer.

He said his “overwhelming feeling is a disappointment on behalf of India, which is a country that I have loved all my life and whose long-term commitment to secularism and liberty is something I’ve praised for much of my life.”
“This decline in public standards, and in the liberty of ordinary Indian citizens to engage in discourse, to hear differing points of view, that’s the thing that makes me saddest. Of course, I’m very sad not to be there, but, as I say, I am sadder on behalf of the country in which this is happening,” he said.
He said he thought the whole thing was fantastically fishy.
“I think that from the moment, the way in which the Congress Party, wherever the Congress Party led government, or in Rajasthan, or wherever; the way in which Congress officials, and many other party officials of other parties, all stated their opposition to my coming, I felt quite clear that some way would be found to prevent me from coming. And in the end, sadly it was,” he told the channel.
He also tweeted after the cancellation saying: “JLF Threat of violence by Muslim groups stifled free speech today. In a true democracy all get to speak, not just the ones making threats.”
To a question on whether he would come back to India, Rushdie, who claims he does not need a visa to come to India, said: “Most certainly, most certainly and many times, so deal with it.”
Muslim group protesters demonstrated against the conference on Tuesday.

The demonstrators under the banner of Milli Council assembled outside the venue of the festival and demanded the cancellation of the video link.

Earlier on Tuesday, the organizers of the festival had reportedly said that the writer will not break any law with his video address at the JLF.

Rushdie was scheduled to join the festival at 3:45 pm via a video link.

Jaipur-based Milli Council is one of the organisations that had filed a complaint against writers who had read out from Rushdie’s controversial book -‘The Satanic Verses’.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has invited Rushdie to the capital, media reports said.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh told reporters:  “Rushdie row is not linked to Uttar Pradesh elections.”

He claimed that Congress is against any kind of fundamentalism- be it of the Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs.

Writer Shobhaa De tweeted: “It’s ‘official’ – we have buckled!No Salman Rushdie Videolink at JLF.India ‘officially’ proves to the world that it lacks freedom of speech.”

Earlier, Rushdie expressed his outraged over what appeared to him a “ploy” by the Rajasthan Police to keep him away from the JLF to quell protests by a few Muslim groups.

The Booker Prize winning writer had to cancel his planned visit to JLF on Friday after what he said the authorities warned him of possible bid on his life by hired assassins of Mumbai underworld.

But with the Mumbai police denying ever coming up with any such news, Rushdie said he sees the entire episode as a ploy to keep him away from the festival.

He was told that Mumbai underworld assassins were engaged to kill him, but the Mumbai Police later rubbished the news saying they had no such input ever.

An angry Rushdie on Sunday tweeted citing a news story in The Hindu: “‘Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie”. I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”

State authorities however dismissed Rushdie’s charge that the state police had invented a “ploy” to keep him away from the Literature Festival, saying that it had received intelligence inputs that the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was planning to target him during the festival.

“Salman Rushdie’s allegation on Rajasthan police is completely baseless. The state government had received reactions and inputs from intelligence agencies, individuals and organisations in this regard,” Rajasthan Principal Secretary (Home) G S Sandhu said in a statement.

Rushdie’s decision to stay away from the festival triggered protests by the intellectuals in India who had gathered at the literary carnival in the historic city of Jaipur to take part in what is now Asia’s biggest such festival.

They slammed the Indian authorities for failing to offer protection to the London-based writer who was in hiding for years earlier following the threats by the Islamic fundamentalists.

The scheduled visit of Rushdie was under cloud ever since an Indian Islamic seminary protested his invitation to the festival, though he had graced it in the past without a whimper of protest.

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