The news of Salman Rushdie being “persuaded” to “stay away” from the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival is, according to its organisers, “fiction”. A statement from festival producer Sanjoy Roy said, “Salman Rushdie will not be in India on January 20 (as earlier planned) due to a change in his schedule. The festival stands by its invitation to Mr Rushdie.”
Media reports had said Tuesday, quoting “a senior Rajasthan police officer”, that Rushdie’s trip had been cancelled.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Roy reiterated that the organisers had not withdrawn their invitation to the New York-based British writer of Indian origin against whose presence in India the Darul Uloom Deoband has launched a campaign.
“Everyone has a right to dissent peacefully in this country. But Rushdie will be attending the festival and we are looking forward to his visit.”
Rushdie was to attend the festival’s first session, ‘Midnight’s Child’, in which he was to be in conversation with British-Kashmiri writer Hari Kunzru, on January 20. The session has now been shifted to January 24.
The organisers have also taken Rushdie’s name off the list of events on the festival website. This, an organising committee member explained, was owing to “security reasons”.
“There’s a march against Rushdie that has been planned after Friday prayers on January 20. So it's best to not publicise when he will be appearing during the festival," he said.
Writer William Dalrymple, one of the festival organisers, told HT, "The demand by the Deoband imams is ridiculous. They have been misinformed that Rushdie spreads religious bigotry. He celebrates pluralism. It's unfortunate this demand has come from the Deoband, which is highly respected...
The imams should read Rushdie's works before condemning him." There are "few Indian Muslims who have had such a profound impact on the world" as Rushdie, he added.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, however, after a meeting with union home minister P Chidambaram on the matter on Tuesday, said that even as he did not have any official information about whether Rushdie would be coming to Jaipur or not, "there is a reaction among the locals; they don't want Salman to come... No state government will want a law and order situation. I have informed the Centre about the prevailing sentiments."
The ministry, on its part, made it clear to the state government not to expect the Centre to block Rushdie's visit.
"It is a matter between the state and the organisers," a ministry official said, adding that Rushdie would need security and an appropriate decision would be taken once his itinerary is received.
Rushdie, meanwhile, tweeted: "As a rule, I don't answer press inquiries here (on Twitter). Journalists should please use usual channels: RandomHouse, WylieAgency, Jaipur festival."
HT did get in touch with Random House India editor Meru Gokhale, who neither denied nor confirmed any of the information provided by the organisers, only saying that "you should go with that information".
It seems that while Rushdie will be visiting the festival after five years - he last attended in 2007 without any problems 19 years after The Satanic Verses was published and promptly banned in India - his visit and appearance will remain shrouded in a kind of magic realistic mystery.
(with inputs from Jaipur)