In a speech delivered last year to a gathering of India's finest scientific minds, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invoked Nehru to point to the organic “link between humanism, tolerance, reason and progress.” “The practice of science,” he said, “is based on both the search for truth and the adventure of new ideas.” Precisely a year on, the government he presides over has betrayed those ideals. This newspaper has revealed how a ‘plot' to kill the eminent author Salman Rushdie had been invented by the Rajasthan Police in a pathetic but successful attempt to dissuade him from participating in the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival. In the face of motivated protests from a gaggle of political opportunists and religious fanatics, the State government had first sought to stop Mr. Rushdie from visiting Jaipur. Upon discovering that he was, as a person of Indian origin, entitled to do so, it then resorted to a series of increasingly unsubtle coercive means to bring about that outcome. The real issue, though, isn't either Mr. Rushdie or The Satanic Verses, a book he wrote more than two decades ago and about which he has already “profoundly regret[ed] the distress” occasioned to “sincere followers of Islam.” It is that “the search for truth and adventure of new ideas” India so desperately needs has suffered a grievous blow. After the hounding of M.F. Husain and Taslima Nasreen by Hindu and Muslim fanatics, India has again betrayed its heritage of providing sanctuary to persecuted individuals and ideas, not to speak of its Constitution.
Occupying centre stage in the hall of shame is Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who ought to have ensured his administration defended Indian law by securing Mr. Rushdie. Instead, fearful of being made a scapegoat within the Congress if the party does poorly in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections, he betrayed his constitutional obligations. The Rajasthan Police, for their part, must come clean on precisely who in their ranks fabricated the plot against Mr. Rushdie. Far too many Indians have lost their lives to terrorists for security to be made a plaything to serve a political agenda. The police officers concerned not just broke the law but have brought about the humiliation of the country. Self-styled Muslim leaders, as well as political groups who have opportunistically allied themselves with these forces over the years, should also be held to account for the real damage they have caused to democracy and secularism in India — and, thus, to the interests of the religious community they claim to speak for. Mr. Rushdie is entitled to a full apology for this shameful episode and to an unconditional assurance that he is welcome in India at any time and place. Prime Minister Singh must ensure he receives both.