Rushdie protests have nothing to do with Islam
It is a political issue. The hate-filled, victim-laden objection to Salman Rushdie is converting religion into a game of publicity. So, if Darul Uloom Deoband doesn’t like what Rushdie wrote more than 23 years ago in his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses, and wants to remind its constituents about that by preventing Rushdie from speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), it is a problem that Deoband needs to fix — not the country.
But here we have the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot saying that since the “minorities in the state are protesting against it”, organisers should give Rushdie a rethink. “It is a famous festival. I am sure organisers … would not want anything to happen that affects the whole festival. I hope we work out something so that things don’t turn ugly.”
Gehot is a staunch Congressman and the party, in election mode, is taking a walk back into history, when Rajiv Gandhi banned The Satanic Verses because some passages had hurt some Muslims. But if the Congress thinks it can get the Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh because they will prevent Rushdie from speaking in Jaipur, they need to think again. Despite the Congress’s approach, Muslims aren’t naïve. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi must not repeat the errors of Rajiv.
Unfortunately, this trend to ban people or books is not new. This form of attention-seeking is becoming the rule rather than the exception. We have seen earlier how misguided Hindus banished one of India’s best-known painters MF Husain out of India to Qatar. “He left in the face of a vicious campaign of harassment and intimidation, including death threats, by right-wing Hindutva groups, citing his artistic depiction of Hindu deities,” The Hindu reported. “His exhibitions were vandalised. A number of legal cases based on the charge of hurting religious sentiments were slapped on him. When he could not respond to a summons from a district court in Haridwar, his immovable properties in India were attached. An arrest warrant was also issued.”
What are we turning into? On one side, we talk about India leading the global growth along with China, helping the world come out of recession. We bask in the glory of our democracy, where every voice has a platform. And on the other, we are allowing small, fringe elements to hijack the very basis of that democracy. Deoband may have its compulsions, but what about the state government? There is no need for the Rajasthan or the Central governments to bend so much as to break their backs. These retrograde acts don’t belong to the India of tomorrow — or today. Kneeling before publicity mercenaries has to end some day — and that day could be tomorrow, January 20, 2012 by allowing Rushdie to speak at JLF.
If Rushdie doesn’t speak at JLF — the organisers have changed the date of his session — we would have failed democracy, freedom, liberty. By such acts we weaken the mass and allow small, vested interests to take charge. The tolerance of these actions enfeeble the political system we are so proud of. We send a message that anytime you need a few minutes of fame, pick on an author, actor, director, painter and a TV frame is guaranteed. These religious fanatics are no preservers of cultural values; they are there only for self-preservation. To allow our culture to fall to this depth is not acceptable. And even if we disagree with Rushdie, we have to allow him to speak.