Salman Rushdie dropped from Indian literature festival
SALMAN Rushdie's name has been dropped from an Indian literature festival amid fears for his safety after threats of protests by the country's most influential Islamic seminary.
The author of Midnight's Children, voted the best Booker Prize winner of the last 40 years, was quietly deleted from the Jaipur Literature Festival programme after the government voiced security concerns and said the opinions of protesters could not be ignored.
Sir Salman has spoken at Jaipur in the past without controversy but his scheduled appearance at this year's festival, which opens on Thursday, was seized on by political parties after the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary – one of Islam's most powerful bodies – called on the government to revoke his visa or stop him entering the country.
The seminary's head Abul Qasim Nomani said the author could never be forgiven for the 'blasphemy' contained in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which provoked outrage throughout the Islamic world.
He went into hiding after the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian Shia leader, issued a fatwa calling for his death over claims made by the novel's narrator that disputed verses in the Koran had been disclosed by the Archangel Gabriel.
The novel was banned throughout the Islamic world, including India, which has a Muslim population of just under 180 million.
"I call upon the Muslim organisations of the country to mount pressure on the centre to withdraw the visa and prevent him visiting India where [tens of millions] community members still feel hurt owing to the anti-Islamic remarks in his writings. The Muslims cannot pardon him at any cost," the seminary's leader said earlier this month.
Politicians across the political spectrum, including the ruling Congress party supported the call for his visit to be stopped as they campaigned in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, where strategists believe the large Muslim minority – just under 20 per cent – could determine the result. Even the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has fuelled communal tensions in the past supported calls for his visit to be blocked.
The author had been scheduled to speak at the opening day session on 'Midnight's Child' on Thursday and join authors Ira Pande and Tarun Tejpal for a discussion on 'Inglish, Amlish, Hinglish: The Chutneyfication of English' on the following day.
His name has now been dropped from the programme and organisers said he will no longer be in India on those dates.
Some suspicion remains over whether the claims he is not attending the festival are true and whether they may be part of a ruse to diffuse tensions over his appearance.
In a statement released by the festival, a spokesman said: "Salman Rushdie will not be in India on 20th January due to a change in his schedule. The festival stands by its invitation to Mr Rushdie."
Rajasthan's minorities minister however said he was pleased the author would not now be visiting. Brijkishore Sharma told The Daily Telegraph: "We are satisfied that he's not coming.