There is a big question mark over the participation of noted author of Indian origin and Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012, starting here on Friday, in the wake of protests from orthodox Muslim groups and the Rajasthan government's apprehension of a law and order situation.
Mr. Rushdie had been here for the 2007 JLF.
The organisers have already removed Mr. Rushdie's name from the list of participants and come out with a terse statement: “Salman Rushdie will not be in India on 20th Jan. due to a change in his schedule. The festival stands by its invitation to Mr. Rushdie.”
Everyone involved with the five-day festival, which has become a big draw for writers, publishers and literature lovers the world over, is being either diplomatic or politically correct in his utterances.
January 20 happens to be a Friday and the Muslim groups that are adamant about stopping Mr. Rushdie have given a call to the “believers” to assemble at the City's Jama Masjid for protests after Friday prayers.
The Congress government has taken the stand that if his arrival creates a law and order situation, then it will be a cause for concern to the State. The Congress party in Rajasthan jumped on the bandwagon of protesters against Mr. Rushdie. State party chief Chandra Bhan supported the demand of the Muslim groups, while the party MP from Jaipur Mahesh Joshi asked the government to stop Mr. Rushdie's participation. The State BJP too has asked the government to stop Mr. Rushdie from participating.
Mr. Gehlot met Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi. They reportedly discussed the socio-political and law and order implications of Mr. Rushdie's visit — especially in the context of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and other States. The Chief Minister also met Salman Khurshid, Union Minister for Minorities Affairs.
“We have no official communication on Mr. Rushdie,” Mr. Gehlot told mediapersons in New Delhi. “Some Muslim organisations had submitted a memorandum to the government requesting it to stop Mr. Rushdie on account of his objectionable comments on Islam in his books. I have intimated their sentiments to the Centre.”
Chief Secretary S. Ahmad said he did not have any information. “You please ask the organisations. They will be able to tell you,” he said when this correspondent contacted him.
“This is an opportunistic stand. The Chief Minister has given in too easily,” charged Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. Ms. Srivastava, along other human rights activists, staged a rally at Jaipur Ambedkar Circle here in protest against attempts to stop Mr. Rushdie. “We condemn such protests against Mr. Rushdie's visit. The Chief Minister has gone all the way to Delhi to say that Mr. Rushdie is a security risk. This is just a clumsy excuse to stop him,” Ms. Srivastava said.
“Most of the opposition to Mr. Rushdie from the Muslim groups is based on misinformation,” said M. Hasan, a Muslim intellectual and former Professor at the HCM Rajasthan Institute of Public Administration. “Muslims can protest against the visit of Mr. Rushdie, though the protests appear to me to be a diversion from the basic issues facing the Muslim community in Rajasthan. I wish Jaipur Muslims knew their priorities,” noted Prof. Hasan, a regular at the festival.
“I have a strong feeling that the coming elections in U.P. have something to do with all this.”