India media criticise government over Rushdie row

Salman Rushdie (file pic) Salman Rushdie described the Jaipur affair as a "black farce"

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Indian media have criticised the government for failing to ensure the security of author Salman Rushdie after threats of violence prevented him from addressing an Indian literary festival.

Sir Salman cancelled a video-link call to the festival after Muslim groups threatened to disrupt proceedings.

The author blamed politicians for failing to oppose the groups for "narrow political reasons".

Many Muslims regard his book, The Satanic Verses, as blasphemous.

It was banned in India in 1988 for its "blasphemous content hurting the sentiments of Muslims".

The video-link had been organised on Tuesday after Sir Salman withdrew from attending the festival in person, saying that sources had told him of an assassination threat.

The protests against Sir Salman, who has visited India a number of times in the past, have been linked to crucial state elections due in Uttar Pradesh.

No political party wants to antagonise the Muslim community, which constitutes 18% of voters in the state, correspondents say.

'Political coup'

"The Republic Loses To The Mob", the Times Of India said in its headline.

An editorial continued: "...it's a political coup against the freedom of expression ... When literary festivals ought to be a celebration of India's cultural vibrancy, book bans, it is clear, have a train of unhealthy effects.

Start Quote

The country is Hindu majority, but the government seems eager to court the huge Muslim populace at election time, no matter how troubling the demands”

End Quote David Remnick New Yorker

"They are one more weapon in the state's armoury to infantalise citizens and stymie civil society."

The Asian Age added its voice with the headline: "Bonfire of sanity in Jaipur".

"The Rushdie affair is one more example of the victory of intolerance in India, further shrinking an already withering liberal space in this country," the newspaper said.

"And governments are always ready to pander to troublemakers, particularly, it seems, when there are elections in the air ... From banning books and films, we have now moved to banning people."

Mint newspaper said the Jaipur episode was a "worrying trend".

"Not just is the Indian state keen to curtail freedom of expression - as evident in efforts to muzzle the internet - but it is also happy to pander to zealots, bigots, the paid hirelings of political parties and just about anyone opposed to any form of free expression," the newspaper said.

Writing in Business Standard, literary critic Nilanjana S Roy said The Satanic Verses "cannot be unwritten, and its ideas cannot be erased".

A video-link was organised following an alleged assassination threat

"The central fact of the Verses is not that it's blasphemous; it's that the book argues that religion may be no more than the creation of humans and may be questioned as such," she wrote.

American journalist David Remnick, who attended the Jaipur festival, said the incident hinted at some "troubling" tendencies in Indian politics.

"The shameful episode in Jaipur is, indeed, best seen in light of deeper, and troubling, tendencies of contemporary Indian politics," Mr Remnick wrote in the New Yorker.

"The country is Hindu majority, but the government seems eager to court the huge Muslim populace at election time, no matter how troubling the demands."

Mr Remnick said the "fear of clerical protest animates the current Indian government, which is far more interested in retaining power than in freedom of expression, much less making life pleasant for Salman Rushdie and his readers".

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