Ironically, Rushdie had attended the Festival in 2007 and there was hardly any protest then. This time the scenario is different, with Assembly polls to five States set to commence shortly. No wonder the love-hate soap opera over his visit has reached a crescendo.
In 1988, the author had courted controversy (and invited a prize for his head from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran) with his book The Satanic Verses, which allegedly made derogatory references to the Prophet. The book has since then been banned in 12 countries including India. Twenty-five years have passed and even Iran is no longer keen on persecuting him but the ‘guardians of the faith’ in India refuse to dilute their aggressive approach. Rushdie called off his visit over security threat inputs he received from Mumbai and Rajasthan police, only to thunder via Twitter that the Rajasthan government had cooked up the threat story to keep him off the conclave and avoid unnecessary tensions. An angry Rajasthan CM said the threats were real and were passed on by the Centre whereas the Mumbai cops said they did not receive any threat intelligence.
In another development, four authors found themselves in a legal soup when they read out passages from The Satanic Verses at the Festival to justify Rushdie’s creative freedom — only to find themselves booked under law to prosecute inciters of communal violence.
With so many feet muddying the waters, it also triggered a great opportunity for the specialists who fish in troubled waters — the politicians.
The BJP and its allied outfits have come out in support of Rushdie and his freedom of expression, citing India’s culture of tolerance. They were also quick to point out that it was the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the policy of minority appeasement by the Congress government, which had robbed the Festival of the esteemed presence of a hallowed litterateur.
In a repeat of the several political debacles that took place recently, the move has only done damage to the BJP by exposing its doublespeak and lack of credibility.
The saffron party was vocal in its attack on MF Husain and its offshoot organisations hounded him with dozens of cases across the country and vandalised his works wherever possible. His works had to be pulled off several prestigious art shows due to fears of violence and vandalism.
The internationally acclaimed painter was forced to live abroad like a fugitive for fear of being arrested on returning to India. He breathed his last not as Indian but as a Qatari, longing for India and homemade food. His crime — objectionable depiction of Indian goddesses in his paintings. Even after his death, the BJP refused to go back on its stand that his artistic freedom was not acceptable to them.
Now let’s break this down to simple equations. Rushdie ‘insults’ Islam — acceptable. Husain ‘insults’ Hinduism — not acceptable. Both were exercising their creative freedom. Both are internationally acclaimed by critics and fans alike for their contributions to their respective fields.
We would like the BJP to explain the rocket science they have used to differentiate between the two and take separate stands.
There is much more to India and the depth of its culture than what its self-appointed defenders project. Step aside zealots, before you go down in history as geckos who assumed they supported the roof and stopped it from falling.
About the Author (Author Profile)
My interests lie in current affairs, social issues and political analysis. A strong believer of independent thinking and healthy scepticism.