Rushdie affair backfires on Congress?
The controversy regarding the visit of Salman Rushdie, noted author, to Jaipur for attending the Literary Festival there has shown the Congress governments at the Centre and in Rajasthan and Maharashtra in a very poor light. People who till now had no views on Rushdie also have started questioning why his India trip was so grossly mishandled. But there is little one can expect from ineffective chief ministers of the two states and an equally incompetent central government. Globally, India is increasingly being seen as a democracy whose belief in the basic principle of the freedom of speech is doubtful.
I do not wish to comment on the merits and demerits of Rushdie’s book, “The Satanic Verses” which remains banned in this country but to prevent him from coming to India on the basis of cooked up intelligence reports is indeed shameful. Rushdie has faced death threats from fundamentalists all his life but to give currency to the story that hired assassins were going to get him in Jaipur shows how low the governments can stoop for an imaginary vote bank.
It is being said that Rushdie controversy gathered momentum as there is an election due in five states in the next one month. Since the author, perhaps the only one with Asian origin who could probably win a Nobel Prize for literature in the near future, is seen with contempt by the Islamic seminaries and hardliners, various political parties including the Congress believed that his non-participation could help them garner Muslim votes. If this was the logic, nothing can be more bizarre. I do not think that Muslims in the states, which are going to polls, will prefer the Congress to some other parties who were in a better position to keep the BJP out. So if the Congress was not going to get the votes, why did its governments indulge in such an indefensible exercise? The end result is that the party has lost credibility and goodwill amongst large number of opinion makers and has not gained anything in the process.
This has been the story of the Congress for a few years now. Unlike what happened in Indira Gandhi’s time when the sensibilities of all communities were delicately balanced and respected, the present government/party set up has been laying a little more emphasis on minority politics. What is counter productive for the party is that the minority communities are not acknowledging this conscious shift and a section of majority community is unhappy with this kind of development at the expense of secular traditions of the Congress. Some Congress leaders blame this minority obsession on a few individuals close to the Congress High Command. Whether this is true or not, the Congress has lost and not profitted from this kind of non-serious behaviour.
Salman Rushdie has gained in stature worldwide because of this controversy and Indian government does not realise that our prestige has suffered. The Jaipur Literary Festival organizers must have also known at the very beginning that Rushdie’s visit could spark motivated protests and should have accordingly had contingency plans if they thought that it was extremely important for them to have this literary figure there. If the government had any discomfort with the visit, it should have conveyed its mind to the organizers since the visit was not a closely guarded secret but was in the public domain.
But the way things turned out to be, the Rajasthan government, the Maharashtra government and the Centre have egg all over their faces. I appreciate that those who do not agree with Rushdie have a right to protest peacefully but if the government succumbs to threats of violence, it has lost the moral right to talk about the rule of law. I do not endorse anyone making fun of Gods and Goddesses or revered personalities of any religion but I surely do not think that violent protests have any place in a civilized country. But, however, the question is that are we really civil?