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Rushdie, India-Pakistan tensions echo in Jaipur


Jaipur : There is no threat to the Jaipur Literature Festival, organisers said Monday as a controversy arose over author Salman Rushdie and the participation of Pakistani authors at what is known as the ‘maha Kumbh’ of literature in Asia.

The buzz over Rushdie’s expected arrival in India Jan 23 to promote the movie “Midnight’s Children” and India-Pakistan tensions are already finding an echo in this Rajasthan capital.

It was Islamist groups on one side and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on the other, barely two days before the Jan 24-28 festival begins. While Islamist groups are demanding that the four authors who read from Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” last time be banned, the RSS wants no participation from Pakistani writers, given the tensions following the killings of two Indian soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC).

Speculation was rife that Rushdie, who is scheduled to touch down India Jan 23 to promote Deepa Mehta’s “Midnights’s Children”, adapted from his award-winning novel, could take time out to visit Jaipur. The news of his likely visit spread in the pink city, recalling tensions of last year when the author had to call off his visit.

A section of Muslim hardliners demanded a permanent ban on the four writers, Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi, who had read excerpts from Rushdie’s controversial “Satanic Verses”. Joshi and Thayil are on the list of participants this year too.

The RSS, on its part, has protested the participation of writers from Pakistan — Mohammed Hanif, Jamil Ahmad, Pakistani-Canadian novelist M.A. Farooqui, British-Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam, author and poet Fahmida Riaz and journalist Sharman Ubaid Chinoy. According to the RSS, their participation was “not in the country’s interest at the moment”.

However, producer of the festival Sanjoy K. Roy ruled out any threat from any hardline groups and said the “writers were on their way to the country”.

“Just five people rabble rousing does not make any sense. The media should not play it up. Let people go to the people and speak to Muslim intellectuals to get a real picture. There is no threat so far,” Roy told IANS.

He said the festival this year would not be bullied by any group.

In 2011, Rushdie, who was to attend a session on the last day of the festival, had to cancel his visit after Islamic clerics entered the venue to rally against his participation. He addressed the festival via video instead.

An open forum in the festival addressed by likes of Javed Akhtar, Rahul Bose, Tarun Tejpal and Ashok Vajpeyi had been strident in its denouncement of the muzzle on Rushdie’s visit – which many in the government hinted could have had an impact on the Muslim vote pockets in the impending election in Uttar Pradesh.

This year, tensions along the LoC, following the killing of two India soldiers, one of whom was beheaded, has taken its toll on India-Pakistan cooperation in other bilateral areas as well.

The National School of Drama (NSD) cancelled plays by two Pakistan repertories early this week during its annual theatre festival triggering widespread outrage. The Pakistani Hockey players who were in the country to take part in the India Hockey League had to return home. The new visa regime between India and Pakistan hangs afire as well.

When contacted, a culture ministry official, however, denied any threat to the Pakistani writers and intellectuals at the Jaipur Literature Festival. “Their visit is on course,” the official said.