‘Insinuating that Rushdie stayed away due to fear is both devious and immoral'

With writer Salman Rushdie alleging that he was duped by the Rajasthan police into believing there was a plot to assassinate him, social activist Swami Agnivesh told The Hindu he would demand an official probe into the matter.

The Hindu reported on January 22 that intelligence officials in Rajasthan “invented” the story of an assassination plot to dissuade the writer from visiting the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).

“I've investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry,” Mr. Rushdie said on his Twitter feed.

“I would like to demand an immediate official probe into the matter and the rest of us here must sign a petition calling for the probe and in support of Mr. Rushdie. The government has acted very deviously. It is impossible for me to believe that the government of this State is incapable of assuring the safety of just one individual. Insinuating that Mr. Rushdie stayed away due to fear is both devious and immoral. We should all rise up against this policy of appeasement of extremism and we should show this by asking the visitors to the festival to sign a collective document denouncing what has happened,” Swami Agnivesh said.

He said Mr. Rushdie should have been allowed to come to India as planned and given adequate protection. At the same time, the government should have allowed those wishing to protest to hold a peaceful demonstration outside. “That is how democracy works. The government by its spineless actions and its suspected cheating has brought shame upon India. The whole world is talking about it.”

Several writers and publishers raised their voices in support of Mr. Rushdie including publisher S. Anand who suggested that the Festival authorities had not shown enough support either for Mr. Rushdie or for the four authors who stuck their necks out by making a gesture of defiance, reading from the banned book.

JLF co-director Namita Gokhale said she was saddened by such charges. “What is most hurtful is that the festival has over 265 authors and writers who are being sidelined due to this. The police and the State government have been cooperating with us...we have the responsibility to ensure the safety of those who are attending the festival,” agency reports quoted her as saying.

Diplomat and writer Pavan Verma appeared to take a different stand when he suggested that a writer — who took the kind of risks Mr. Rushdie had — should be aware of the possible consequences and be prepared to pay. Popular author Chetan Bhagat also appeared to reflect the same sentiments although differently: “He is a hero as far as his other writings are concerned, but writing something that attacks somebody's god is not the right thing to do. I would not make him a hero on that count.”

Although a complaint had been filed by a certain Ashok Kumar asking the police to arrest the four authors who read from Salman Rushdie's banned novel The Satanic Verses, no formal First Information Report has been registered.

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