Opposition to Rushdie's Visit Not a Disaster: Dalrymple

Yoshita Singh/New York
Opposition to Rushdie's Visit Not a Disaster: Dalrymple
The opposition to Salman Rushdie's visit to India to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival was not a disaster for free speech but instead launched a nationwide debate about the way politicians are failing to support freedom of writers, co-founder of the event feels.

William Dalrymple said in hindsight, Rushdie made the right decision not to attend the festival as his visit would have sparked violence.

The Last Mughal author was in the city for his exhibition of artwork from India's late Mughal period and met Rushdie who came to the opening of the exhibition currently underway at the Asia Society here.

"I do not feel someone has been silenced or there has been any disaster for free speech. I think on the positive side it has launched a debate about the way politicians are failing to support freedom of writers," Dalrymple told PTI.

Rushdie was forced to pull out of the festival after he was warned of assassination bids on his life by the underworld in Mumbai.

The author's scheduled visit to the festival had sparked off massive protests and opposition due to his controversial 1988 book the Satanic Verses, which had earned the wrath of Muslims worldwide due to its alleged blasphemous content.

The novel was banned by India.

A video-address by Rushdie during the festival was also cancelled at the last moment because of fears of violence.

Dalrymple said even that could not silence Rushdie, who went ahead and gave a lengthy interview to an Indian television channel.

Over a million people saw Rushdie's interview as opposed to only 15,000 who would have heard him at the festival, Dalrymple said.

He acknowledged that the "mistake" he and other festival organisers made was to announce Rushdie's participation at the festival in advance.

"Had we not announced it (Rushdie's participation), it would have been fine like it was in 2007" when the India born author had attended the Jaipur festival without any incident and protests.

Dalrymple said Rushide had wanted his participation to be announced.

"We should have said it at that point this is not wise. (Rushdie) should think about it. But we didn't. That was our mistake."

While the organisers kept their invitation to Rushdie open, he did the "right thing by not coming", Dalrymple said adding that there would have been violence if Rushdie had attended the festival.

Nearly 120,000 people attended the festival this year and the venue had only one entrance.

"A stampede would have ended in disaster."

Dalrymple expressed optimism that Rushdie will "come back to the festival another year" and said the Midnight's Children author has been very grateful for the support of the organisers.

He said this year's protests will not have any impact on the festival, which was attended by over 260 authors and 120,000 people, double from 60,000 in the previous year.

"Jaipur will go on. We are by now the biggest literary festival in the world."
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