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Rushdie was cat’s paw in UP electoral game
MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 29th Jan 2012

alman Rushdie was scheduled to reach Jaipur on 20 January to address the 2012 Literature Festival. As has been their practice throughout the four previous years of what has become a major global international literary meet, the organisers of the Jaipur Litfest kept the relevant authorities in Delhi and in Jaipur informed about the list of invitees, including Salman Rushdie. Informally as well, because of the contacts between key players in the UPA and those involved in the management of the 2012 festival, not just the government but Congress leaders were informed of Rushdie's visit. "At no stage was any objection raised by anyone — in government or in the ruling party — about the invite to Rushdie", a Congress source said, adding that "Rushdie himself was aware of the sensitivity of the Satanic Verses in India, and the need for him to avoid public mention of this subject while in India".

Indeed, Rushdie has been periodically visiting this country since the book got banned in 1988, and thus far, has faced little opposition. It helped that he made matters easier for his hosts by avoiding a public discussion of the banned work. "Coming to India is important for Rushdie, who has a strong affinity to this country, especially to Mumbai," a friend of the writer claimed as an explanation for why the writer remained respectful of constraints on the range of subjects he would publicly talk about while in this country. Certainly, there was little risk of Salman Rushdie breaking the invisible red lines that he has remained within since 1988, by openly commenting on the Satanic Verses in the Festival, or reading excerpts from the book. This being the case, there would ordinarily have been no reason for the hullabaloo which erupted over his participation in the 2012 Litfest.

Certainly Rushdie would have kept to the rule book during his planned Jaipur visit as well, which is why the organisers were surprised when a controversy suddenly erupted over the invitation to him. According to sources in the Congress (who, let it be revealed in the interests of transparency, are apprehensive lest a Rahul Gandhi takeover of the organisation, and later the government, may affect their prominence and influence), a decision was taken by key strategists of the Heir Apparent to (1) not warn the organisers against inviting Rushdie, (2) ensure that selected Muslim organisations get informally and indirectly briefed about the Rushdie visit, so as to generate protests over Rushdie's participation. This would be followed by (3), the securing through informal and non-specific warnings of threats to Rushdie's life as well as the safety of other attendees of the JLF. "The immediate acceptance of the demand of the Muslim organisations (to ban Rushdie) would show that the Congress listens to the minority voice rather than ignore it", a party source claimed.

Salman Rushdie has long ago dropped many notches from the radar of demonology of religious fanatics, his place having been taken by the likes of George W. Bush, Narendra Modi and others. While a few organisations claiming to represent the Muslim community made a ruckus about the writer's participation in the Festival, the Muslim population as a whole remained spectators, with not a single town or city witnessing a major demonstration in support of the demand that Rushdie ought to be disallowed from participating in the Festival. What gives credibility to the claims made by Congress sources is the ease with which the four-layered security cordon surrounding the high-profile JLF was breached by dozens of strangers, who were clearly uninterested in literature of any kind, but who were determined to keep Rushdie out. The drama was played out, with Rushdie as the villain, the Festival as the stage prop, and the Congress governments at Jaipur and at the Centre the heroes rescuing the community from the odious presence of the writer of Satanic Verses. However, judging by the tepid response of the Muslim community to the news that Rushdie had been kept away (with not even crackers getting burst anywhere), any electoral gains from the episode are likely to be ephemeral. The sources say that the mastermind of Operation Rushdie was that hardy Nehru family loyalist and Home Minister-in-waiting, Digvijay Singh.

 
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