A 23-year-old burning issue that had died down is now beginning to occupy centre stage again because electioneering has overlapped with writer Salman Rushdie’s possible visit to Jaipur to attend a literary festival.
And the party that is bearing the brunt of the problem is the Congress.
The government of India, then led by Congress chief Rajiv Gandhi, had banned Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses in 1988 because of some passages in it that many Muslims perceived to be blasphemous about Prophet Mohammed.
Now, with five states including UP going to polls, fatwas (decrees) coming from all directions have resurrected the controversy in a major way.
The ulema (clerics) have announced the Congress will have to pay the price in UP if Rushdie is allowed entry into India. The problem has been compounded by the fact the Congress like other parties is banking on Muslim votes, close to 20% of the total in the state.
In 2007 Rushdie had visited Jaipur in January but there were no such edicts. In 2000 also he had visited India to attend a Commonwealth writers’ function.
The fatwa by the Darul Ifta Firangi Mahal, headed by Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangimahal, has added fuel to the fire. The edict called for protests against the proposed visit.
“All Muslims, without flouting the law, should oppose by every possible means the visit of the person who used insulting words against the prophet so that he cannot set his foot in this country,” the Maulana said.
Maulana Tausif Raza Khan of the Bareilly dargah (shrine) criticised law minister Salman Khurshid, who recently said Rushdie belonged to the category of persons of Indian origin and his visit cannot be stopped.
Terming Khurshid’s comment “irresponsible”, Tausif Raza said it would adversely affect Rahul Gandhi’s Mission 2012 in UP.