Salman Rushdie to Ashis Nandy: When JLF hit a wrong note

  • Simar Bhasin, Hindustan Times, Jaipur
  • Updated: Jan 20, 2016 18:10 IST
Invited to JLF’s 2012 edition, author Salman Rushdie had to cancel his appearance citing threat to his life. In this January 2013 file photo, he attends a promotional event of Midnight’s Children in Mumbai, India. (AP)

The annual Jaipur Literature Festival is one of the most awaited literature festivals, known to bring some of the best-known authors on one stage. However, JLF, which began in 2005, has also occasionally grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons. From the infamous Salman Rushdie scandal to Ashis Nandy’s remarks, here is a list of controversies surrounding the lit fest:

‘Satanic’ Rushdie

Any conversation about controversies and the JLF is incomplete without Salman Rushdie. During its 2012 edition, Rushdie cancelled his appearance at the fest citing threat to his life which led to an uproar amongst the literati, questioning freedom of speech in a democracy like India.

Police and the organisers feared he could have read passages from his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), which had provoked protests from Muslims in several countries. Rushdie had spent much of the 1990s in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on 14 February 1989, calling for his execution.

A proposed video link session was also cancelled at the last minute. In protest, some authors read out passages from the controversial book and were asked to leave amid threats of arrest.

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Ban on Pakistani authors

The following year, many right-wing groups including the RSS protested the inclusion of Pakistani authors. Meanwhile, Islamist groups asked for a ban on authors who had read out excerpts from The Satanic Verses the previous year.

The controversy also led to more debates on freedom of speech and on whether an open platform where any discussion, free from threats of such kind, was actually possible.

‘Corrupt OBCs’

Sociologist and author Ashis Nandy caused an uproar at the 2013 edition with his comments about OBCs during his session ‘Republic of Ideas’.

“Some may call it a vulgar statement on my part, but it is a fact that most of the corruption comes from OBCs and Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes. And as long as this is the case, the Indian Republic will survive,” he had said. Nandy’s suggestion that corruption is an equalising force in society didn’t go down well. Cases were registered against Nandy and the event organisers with Bahujan Samaj Party head Mayawati demanding his arrest.

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Singing the national anthem

Last year was one of the least controversial editions of the Jaipur lit fest. However, organisers faced allegations that they insulted the national anthem and went beyond the prescribed time allotted for singing it. Certain activists alleged that it was a violation under the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971.

Already making news

This year’s edition is yet to begin but one controversy has already popped up. The Jaipur Police and the administration had raised certain reservations about the festival venue, Diggi Palace, citing security and traffic concerns. A petition was filed about security and stampedes mentioned in an internal report by the police.

The Jaipur bench of the Rajasthan high court on January 18 admitted a PIL seeking to shift the venue amid widespread speculations that a DCP-rank officer, Ravi Dutt Gaur, had been transferred from Jaipur to Bharatpur after he refused permission that the festival be organised at the heritage hotel.

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