The Times of India Litfest, to be held here during December 5-7, has withdrawn its invite to author and former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal after an outrage on social media and reservations expressed by other participants, at least one of whom even threatened to skip the event.
After inviting Tejpal, who is accused of raping a junior colleague at the Tehelka’s annual Think Fest in Goa last year, the litfest’s organisers, Bachi Karkaria and Namita Devidayal, dropped him from the list of invitees on Monday.
The panel discussion titled ‘The Tyranny of Power’, due to be held on December 6, would have had Tejpal in conversation with Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar and author and journalist Basharat Peer, which was to be moderated by author and journalist Manu Joseph.
An official statement by Karkaria and Devidayal said: “We have regretfully withdrawn our invitation to Tarun Tejpal to participate in The Times Of India Litfest, Dec 5-7, 2014. While there was never a question of a sub judice case being discussed at any of its forums, the reaction to his inclusion suggests that our litfest was in danger of being overwhelmed by an extraneous issue. A great deal of thought and effort went into putting together intellectually stimulating topics and panelists, and we did not want any distractions either.” The reaction the letter mentions is the social media outrage that took place on Sunday, as well as a stand taken by writers who were against Tejpal’s inclusion in the festival.
Author and columnist Shobhaa De, who is also a panelist at the festival, said, “Many writers called me on Sunday asking if we should take a united stand against Tejpal’s inclusion, but the organisers took a decision to exclude him before we could do anything about it. I think a lot of sensitivities would have been hurt if he was to come to the festival, but I would like to add that we live in a democracy and no one can deny him the right of going anywhere or talking to the media if he wants.”
One of the first participants of the litfest to threaten to skip the event was journalist Swapan Dasgupta. On Sunday, he tweeted: “ TimesLitFest has a right to draw up its own guest list. I have the right to stay away on grounds that I’ll be a misfit.”
When contacted, Dasgupta said, “Literature festivals have two aspects to them. There are the panel discussions. But it is a little more than that. People meet each other and have a meaningful or semi-meaningful exchange of ideas. I was uncomfortable with meeting certain people for the latter. That is why, I earlier took the decision not to attend the event.” Dasgupta, however, has changed his mind since the announcement of Tejpal’s exclusion was made.
Refuting allegations that all this was done to create a buzz around the festival, Karkaria said, “Surely, that is absolutely ridiculous. We’ve lost valuable time in organising the festival because of the controversy. We are not film stars or a gossip magazine. The litfest is serious business.”
Attempts to contact Tejpal were not successful.