'A Black Farce'
This will come as no newsflash to anyone who followed the story. Let's not put too fine a point on it: there was craven capitulation at Jaipur. Again.
After much plucking of flower petals about "will he-won't he" attend, the organisers finally pushed forward Rampratap Singh Diggi, owner of the Diggi palace, where the Jaipur Literary Festival was being held, to make an announcement:
“I have taken a decision not to allow the video link to take place on the advice of the Rajasthan police. There are lots of people who are averse to this video link. They are threatening violence. This is unfortunate. This is to safeguard you, my family, my children …”
For trying to figure out who indeed is responsible for this sorry state of affairs, perhaps we need to finally acknowledge the other so far ignored elephant in the room and just need to listen to Salman Rushdie himself -- very much on video, talking to the very same person he would have talked to at the JLF, possibly fielding the very same questions, in addition of course to what his session was supposed to be all about: his book Midnight's Children
While the entire transcript of the NDTV interview with Salman Rushdie needs to be read and absorbed, I think the following, obvious as it is, and much repeated though it has been, needs to be highlighted in this:
It seems incredibly fishy to me and I feel a bit of a fool to have been taken in by it. But, obviously what we see today is, that had I come to Jaipur, the level of violence that that would have unleashed might well have been far too great for anybody to be safe. I was sent, by email, by the festival organizers, an email on which very senior Rajasthan Government officials were cc'd and the email was sent at their request, with their knowledge and approval. And what it told me was: first of all, it told me about the likelihood of protests such as the ones you've seen today. But it also told me specifically that they had received intelligence from Maharashtra that a Bombay Mafia Don had handed weapons and money to two hit men who were on their way to Jaipur to, as the email said, eliminate me. At the first instance I was not told the names of these people. So I wrote back and I said, "Look, if somebody is trying to kill me and you know who the name is then I deserve to know those names". So then they sent me three names. I have my own contacts in Bombay, through journalist friends, of people who know and investigate and write about D-Company and the Bombay underworld in general. I sent these names to them and said "Could you please tell me if these names make any sense to you and who they might be?" One of the names, this guy Sakib Nachan I think, who was identified as a member of that banned group SIMI, and obviously is a person with a violent history, but no known contacts to the Bombay underworld. The other two underworld names were frankly ones that everybody who responded to these emails said they'd never heard them. And afterwards I read in the Indian press Bombay Police officials saying that the names were funny and had made them laugh. These were non-existent names. So, I had been told that a Mafia Don, who turned out not to be a Mafia Don, had given money and weapons to people who turned out not even to exist. This was the line I was fed. Subsequently, the Bombay intelligence people denied it, the central intelligence people in Delhi denied it, even bits of the Rajasthan Police denied that they knew anything about it. But yet I was sent this, at the request of, and with the approval of and knowledge of, senior Rajasthan Government officials. Now that's a very, very poor state of affairs.
NDTV: So, essentially, Salman, it's your feeling that the entire threat to you was either exaggerated or fabricated.
Salman Rushdie: Well, the threat of assassination was either exaggerated or fabricated. And my view is that it was probably fabricated. The threat that did exist was the threat to the festival grounds of the sort that we have seen today. I think for that you have to blame, obviously, the Muslim groups that were so unscrupulous, and whose idea of free speech is that they are the only ones entitled to it. Anyone else, who they disagree with, wishes to open his mouth, they will try and stop that mouth. That's what we call tyranny. It's much worse than censorship because it comes with the threat of violence. That threat was there. There is no question. And you've seen some of the result of it today. It would have been, obviously, bigger had I been there is person. That would have been a threat to everyone at the festival.
NDTV: What made you eventually decide to not come? Is it because you felt that it is not fair to put the entire fest through what you seem to be told? Is it that you didn't think it was worth it or did you at some level instinctively feel that "I don't fully buy what I'm being told"?
Salman Rushdie: Yes. I thought the whole thing was fantastically fishy. I think that from the moment, the way in which the Congress Party, wherever the Congress Party led government, or in Rajasthan, or wherever; the way in which Congress officials, and many other party officials of other parties, all stated their opposition to my coming, I felt quite clear that some way would be found to prevent me from coming. And in the end, sadly it was.
Read the full transcript: I'm returning to India, deal with it - Salman Rushdie to NDTV
What do you do in this situation? The crowd is getting restless, more and more protesters are entering the property, Rushdie is now sitting in the studio in London waiting to speak and Barkha Dutt, the gutsy Indian television host who is to interview him, is all set to begin. You have three to five minutes, maximum, to make a decision. If you give in to the intimidation, you put at risk all the principles upon which literary life is based: what is the point of having a literary festival, a celebration of words and ideas, if you censor yourself and suppress an author's voice? But equally, can you justify going ahead with a literary event, however important, if you know that you will thereby be putting at risk the lives of everyone who attends – including the authors who have come at your invitation and hundreds of school children and elderly people – as well as knowingly igniting a major religious riot in one of the most crowded towns in northern India with a long tradition of tensions between different communities?
He doesn't question why the police allowed protesters inside the premises, as reported by Rohit Parihar and others:
On January 24, despite local media full of protesters' statements that they would enter Diggi House, the venue of festival to disrupt video conferencing, the police let about fifty of them-clearly identifiable as protesters- enter even when they carried no passes. The same police had told organisers on January 20 to stop issuing fresh passes in view of uncontrollable crowd. The organisers were told register the protesters as visitors. Some of them then offered namaz at the venue.
Rohit Parihar reports from Jaipur for India Today:
"Yes, we succeeded in implementing the mandate to keep Rushdie away," a very senior police officer involved in implementing keep Rushdie away plan confided to India Today: "We also were prepared for the criticism that English media would make." State Congress spokesperson Satyendra Raghav for the first time made party's stand official on January 24: "Yes, Congress never wanted that Rushdie should come."
The police actions were entirely focused in assisting protesters. This attitude was in total contrast with state police providing full security to Modi, who carried far more serious threat then Rushdie, during his two visits to Jaipur on January 17 and January 9. Or when it made security arrangements for US talk show celebrity Winfrey Oprah who faced no terror threat on January 22
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