Not to be cowed down by religious groups’ warnings, says producer

The 2013 edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival is likely to cause waves again, with Islamic groups protesting against authors who had last year read from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses and Hindu groups threatening to disrupt proceedings because of the presence of several Pakistani authors including Mohamed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam and Jamil Ahmad, author of The Wandering Falcon. The Chinese too are likely to be upset by the presence of the Dalai Lama, who will address a meeting on January 24.

Muslim groups in Jaipur, such as the newly formed Azmat-e-Rasool Foundation on Wednesday warned the organisers of the Festival that they would not tolerate any repetition of last year’s incident when some authors read out excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses after he decided not to attend the event. They said they would oppose “controversial authors” if they try to offend their religious sensibilities.

But Sanjoy Roy, the producer of the Lit-Fest told The Hindu: “There is no way that we shall allow a bunch of extremists to hold a gathering such as ours to ransom. We will not be cowed down”. Both the co-directors of the festival William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale refused to comment on these threats on the grounds that they were the festival’s directors and not producers.

The convenor of the Azmat-e-Rasool Foundation Qari Moinuddin said he was satisfied by assurances given by the Police Commissioner on behalf of the festival that no untoward incident would be allowed to take place. The controversial author Mr. Jeet Thayil (who read from the banned book last year), is expected to attend the festival on its final two days.

“We are willing to give credence to the promise made by the highest police authorities. But if anything obnoxious takes place, thousands of people will gather at Diggi Palace on just one call,” said lawyer Paker Farooque, who is also convenor of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights. On the other side of the spectrum, the RSS and BJP are reportedly asking for seven Pakistani authors to be kept out in the wake of recent events in Kashmir.

There have also been reports, which this correspondent has been unable to verify, that there is a shortfall of some $300,000 in the festival budget, although the number of sponsors remains roughly the same. “It is the financial crisis of course. The support has not gone down but the money certainly has,” a person close to the festival’s directorate told The Hindu.

Despite these and other minor troubles such as the last-minute withdrawal of author Elisabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame, Namita Gokhale, the co director of the festival was upbeat. “Like each year we have a diverse collection of authors, poets, essayists, commentators who are taking part this year. I am particularly happy about the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the many facets of Buddhism that will be discussed. Women on the Bodhi path, the way God and political philosophy have become an integrated part of Buddhism as we know it now – the many facets of this great body of thought and how it fanned out. Kancha Iliah has written a novel this time and he is looking at political philosophy, society and faith through fiction and I find that very exciting,” Ms. Gokhale said.

The festival, which was a bit of a shambles last year despite a stellar line-up of authors, because of the Salman Rushdie rumpus, is expected to be a quieter affair this year. “We have extended the venues and added a new one, Charbagh. And I am particularly proud of hosting a session on women called “Stree ho ke sawaal karti ho?” which roughly translates as: You dare ask questions despite being a woman?

The Buddha, Afghanistan, Jewish writing, and the short story – this year’s festival, although lacking the kind of celebs that larked last years’ event, promises to be as interesting and perhaps more, because the unnecessary paparazzi will quite likely be missing.