In India two months after he was forced to skip the Jaipur Literary Festival, controversial author Salman Rushdie on Saturday hit out at the Congress, suggesting that his presence there was blocked because of “useless electoral calculations” and told Rahul Gandhi that “it did not work.”
The renowned author, who has been castigated by fundamentalist Muslim groups for his book The Satanic Verses, said blocking his presence in Jaipur “led the Congress party down the road” in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Participating in the India Today Conclave, he said the India “deserves to be led by better leaders than is being now.”
“It did not work, Rahul”
Referring to the controversy that surrounded the Jaipur Festival in January, which forced him to skip the event, he said: “What happened there is not Deobandi bigotry... It was pretty useless electoral calculations. It did not work, Rahul [Gandhi].”
He suggested that this “led to the debacle” of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh.
“The Indian electorate is smarter than these politicians... People can be whipped as in the Jaipur Literary Festival,” Mr. Rushdie said, adding that 95 per cent of Muslims were not interested in violence and that would be true for Hindus too.
Mr. Rushdie, who spoke at a session with the theme ‘Liberty versus: I am what I am and that's all that I am,' said the culture of “offendedness is growing” in India.
Citing the opposition by fundamentalists to the late M.F. Husain and other artists and writers, he said: “It seems everyday there is a piece of bullying by groups of Muslims, Hindus… Voices are being silenced… The chilling effect of violence is telling and it is growing in this country.”
Regretting the public apathy against such measures to silence free expression, the renowned author contended: “People are asleep. You need to wake up.”
He underlined that “freedom is not tea party, freedom is a war... Freedom is not absolute, it is something which somebody is there to take away. If you don't defend, you will lose it.”
On his presence in India again as promised by him two months ago, he said: “This seems normal that a writer of Indian birth, who loves this country, turns up to speak. This is normal. But it is abnormal that he is prevented. That danger is growing.”
Talking about the stiff opposition by some fundamentalists to The Satanic Verses written 24 years ago, the London-based writer questioned: “Who gives the people the right to attack me.”
He said he was extremely shocked that the writers who read from The Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Festival to express solidarity with him were not defended and were still in the danger of being prosecuted.
He took a dig at the Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh, Omar Abdullah and Akhilesh, besides Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan for not turning up at the event reportedly because of his presence.
“Some politicians suddenly discovered that they had a ridiculously overcrowded schedule,” he said.
Mr. Rushdie focussed much of his attack on Imran Khan, who openly declared that he was boycotting the event because of his presence, and accused him of taking the backing of mullahs and the army to become the ruler of Pakistan.
“Immeasurable hurt is caused to the way in which Muslims are seen by the terrorists based in Pakistan to act in the name of Islam, including those who attacked this country from Pakistan, backed by LeT, with whom Imran Khan wants India to sit down and talk,” he said.
“Immeasurable hurt is caused to Islam by the presence in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden for so long... Recent evidence provided by Wikileaks shows Pakistan army and officers of ISI were in regular contact with Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad [near Islamabad], he said.
Mr. Rushdie said Mr. Imran Khan should rather talk about the immeasurable hurt caused by such acts rather than demonise a book written 24 years ago.
Taking a dig at Mr. Khan for refusing to share dais with him, Mr. Rushdie said: “There was a time when I would feel scared of Imran Khan on the cricket field... Times have changed and it seems it is Imran who is afraid of facing my bouncers now. May be his hook shots are no more what they used be.”
He said Mr. Khan had a “playboy” image in London about two decades ago and added “The Satanic Verses is something I would put a substantial bet that Imran Khan has not read even.”
“Ready for debate”
Mr. Rushdie said: “If Imran really wants to have a debate on Satanic Verses, I am ready to discuss with him any time, anywhere.” However, after a pause, he added, “but not anywhere, that would be dangerous.”