Cultural intolerance stalked the world's largest democracy on Wednesday. The ban on Kamal Haasan's new movie was upheld, prompting him to consider moving to another country, and internationally acclaimed writer Salman Rushdie was stopped from attending Asia's largest book fair in
J Jayalalithaa's Tamil Nadu government was quick to ban the screening of Haasan's new movie Vishwaroopam after certain Muslim groups thought it was religiously offensive.
Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal government pressured the book fair organisers not to have Rushdie over, fearing that the presence of The Satanic Verses author would offend the minorities.
It was clear that politicians still looked at India's many castes and communities purely as votebanks, and were willing to be bullied by even the smallest and most violently intolerant groups.
The dejected but combative Haasan plans to move the Supreme Court after a division bench of the Madras high court set aside a single-judge order that allowed the film to be shown in Tamil Nadu.
"I would go to any other secular state in India, anywhere from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. I don't find it here, I am willing to settle outside in a secular country," Haasan told a crowded press conference early Wednesday.
But then came the order negating Tuesday's single-judge interim order that lifted the ban, ironically minutes after Haasan expressed willingness to edit out "offensive" scenes and reference to the Holy Quran.
In Kolkata, Rushdie, who is touring India to promote the movie based on his book, Midnight's Children, was kept out of the famous book fair at the state government's behest. Unconfirmed reports said he was in Kolkata, spending time with friends.
In February 2012, the Bengal government refused permission to release the seventh part of Taslima Nasreen's autobiography titled Nirbashan (The Exile).
Rushdie was not on the official programme list of the Kolkata Literary Meet (KLM), which is part of the book fair. But the moment some minority leaders got to know the organisers were trying to bring him to KLM, they approached the top rung of the government to prevent the visit.
"The police had prior information that there might be law and order problems. The CM has taken a decision accordingly," said Idris Ali, Trinamool Congress minority cell leader.
"We congratulate her and the police for keeping the author out of the state."
Maulana Mufti SM Nurur Rehman Barkati, the shahi imam of Tipu Sultan masjid, told HT he had come to know about the author's proposed visit on Tuesday afternoon.
"I telephoned the chief minister just before 4 pm and tried to impress upon her how the community would turn its back on her if she does not prevent the visit. She assured me it would not take place," said Barkati. VOTE: Has Haasan's freedom of expression been curtailed?
Author of books such as The Hungry Tide and Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh, said such incidents were "scary" and "worrying".
"It is also unfortunate that Rushdie is not able to move freely. An author's main form of expression is through his writing," Ghosh said.
"If I would have been in Taslima Nasreen's place, do you really think I would believe the government if it promised me protection?"
In Delhi, central leaders made politically correct noises but remained non-committal.
"We are a free society. There is freedom of expression. There is liberty for artistes. We have a Constitution," home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said about Haasan's remarks.
"We will see. We will inquire into what has happened."
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said it would be "inappropriate" to comment as the case was sub-judice.
"But I think a time has come to re-examine as to how states can be made to implement decisions which fall exclusively in the purview of the central government," he said, referring to states taking decisions on not showing movies despite approval from the censor board.
"Kamal Hassan too is a noted film personality. He must be aware of community sensitivities. He should refrain from emotion; he's an asset for the nation. We should have faith in courts to decide this," BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.