The Congress on Sunday appeared divided on senior leader P Chidambaram terming as wrong the decision of his party’s government to ban Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, a remark that also gave ammo to the BJP which asked the main opposition party to be a “little tolerant”.
Party colleague Manish Tewari agreed with the former finance minister. Time had come for the country to move beyond banning books and other creative material, he said. “We need to create tolerant ethos in this country.” Tewari added.
Speaking at an event in the Capital on Saturday, Chidambaram, who was the minister of state for home in the Rajiv Gandhi government when the ban was slapped in 1988, said “I have no hesitation in saying that the ban on Salman Rushdie’s book was wrong.”
Another Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit, however, took a contrary stand, saying Chidambaram could have made amends.
“If Chidambaram ji had thought banning these books was not correct, he could have corrected it at that time,” said Dikshit.
Hours after Chidambaram’s comments, the author wondered how many years would it take to correct the “mistake”. “This admission just took 27 years. How many before the ‘mistake’ is corrected?” Rushdie tweeted, talking about the ban that is still in place.
The Modi government has come under fire from the Opposition, with the Congress leading the charge, and a section of intelligentsia over “growing intolerance” in the country and stifling of dissent. The Lok Sabha is to debate the issue on Monday.
And some fireworks can be expected. “The question arises that after close to nearly three decades why was there a need to do so (call the ban wrong). If it is reflective of Congress’ thinking, then one needs to see it in a larger perspective and everyone, which includes Congress particularly, needs to be a little tolerant,” BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said.
He, however, also called for a cautious approach as the Constitution imposed “reasonable restrictions” on the freedom of expression.
Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen joined the debate, advising West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to take a leaf out of Chidambaram’s book and admit it was wrong to ban a TV serial scripted by her after Muslims fundamentalists raised objections.
“Mamata B should learn from Chidambaram and say banning Taslima’s TV drama series is wrong. She shd lift the ban and let the TV telecast the series,” the author tweeted.
She was referring to a 2013 ban on a television series on a Hindu family settled in Kolkata.