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‘Author’s invite not withdrawn’

Author: TNN
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 18, 2012

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Tuesday said he feared trouble if controversial author Salman Rushdie attended the Jaipur Literary Festival. “A few Muslim organizations met me and have threatened to organize protests. Moreover, a breakdown of law and order is not ruled out,” he said, adding, “No state government will want a law and order situation. I have informed the Centre about the prevailing sentiments.”

This is the first instance of a state government placing on record its worries about the resistance of Muslims to Rushdie’s plans to attend the literature fest. TOI had on Tuesday reported that the Rajasthan was nudging the organizers of the event to persuade Rushdie not to turn up. Gehlot confirmed that his officials were talking to the organizers to find a way out.

Besides the threat of unrest, the anxiety not to offend Muslim sentiment ahead of UP polls was another driver for the government. Central intelligence agencies are learnt to have determined that the “threat” of violence was not big enough to force Rushdie to stay away, a determination which confirms the role of political considerations.

Working through the organizers helps the government because it, ordinarily speaking, cannot stop Rushdie. The author, who inflamed Muslim sentiments with his ‘The Satanic Verses’ and spent years in hiding to dodge a death fatwa, is a Person of Indian Origin, a category that doesn’t need visas to visit India. The buffer of organizers can protect the government against the impression of capitulation to pressure from hardliners.

The organizers denied that Rushdie’s visit, who would have been among the biggest draws, has been cancelled. However, there were clear indications of a re-think. Sanjoy Roy, producer of the festival, admitted the author will skip the inaugural day on January 20. Saying the invitation to Rushdie had not been withdrawn, Roy was silent about the date when the author would turn up. “Rushdie is not in India on January 20 due to change in his schedule. The festival stands by its invitation to Rushdie,” Roy said cryptically. The two sessions that Rushdie was originally supposed to address have been taken off the official website of the festival. Jaipur administration has no clue about Rushdie’s trip: something that would have been unlikely if he indeed had a plan to turn up on a later date.

No booking has been done yet in the name of the author, leading to speculation that the organizers may persuade him to address the gathering through video link. Festival insiders told TOI that a few other authors, too, expressed concerns about Rushdie’s proposed visit, as it could mar the festival’s ambience.
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