Where’s the Salman Rushdie rage?

Now that UP elections are over,he invites no outrage,no controversy

Written by Irena Akbar | Published: March 16, 2012 12:03 am

Now that UP elections are over,he invites no outrage,no controversy

Salman Rushdie may be visiting India,but the clerics of Deoband are surprisingly silent this time and there are no angry demonstrations by Muslim groups. The only person who is outraged enough seems to be former Pakistan cricketer and politician Imran Khan. Claiming that sentiments back home would be hurt if he were to attend a media conclave where Rushdie would be a speaker,Khan has pulled out of the conference in Delhi. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s founder must be motivated by political reasons,given that Rushdie has let on that the cricketer was once a fan — back in 1982.

Unlike in January,when Rushdie was forced to cancel his trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival amid “threats” to the event,there is little brouhaha this time. One may argue that the media conclave,which Rushdie is scheduled to attend,is much smaller in size and not open to the public,unlike the lit fest attended by thousands. But isn’t Rushdie the same “bad” guy who wrote an allegedly blasphemous book? Does the scale of an event make him less “evil”? Well,it’s nothing to do with the event,stupid! The elections in Uttar Pradesh are over,and it doesn’t matter whether Rushdie comes or not.

It will be quite an interesting coincidence if Rushdie comes to India as this is right after the UP elections,reminding us of the time he couldn’t visit the country because the same elections were then forthcoming. Since our memories are ridiculously short,let’s rewind a bit. Before the month-and-a-half-long soap opera of UP elections took over our lives,another hyped drama had played out far away from UP,in Jaipur. It wasn’t meant to be a drama but turned out to be one because it had a “lot to do with the UP elections”. Or so the political analysts claimed,drawing inferences from the stance of the Congress-led governments at the Centre and in Rajasthan. The Congress,some alleged,had conveniently and covertly given in to the demands of certain Muslim groups to keep Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival,in the hope that such a tactic would reap electoral gains in UP,where Muslims form 18 per cent of the population.

What followed was an eyeful — tears of hapless festival organisers,angry outbursts from authors who read out passages from Rushdie’s banned book The Satanic Verses,angrier outbursts from television anchors who came down on Congress spokespersons,and toothless tweets lamenting the crushing of creative freedom in India even by those who have never read a Rushdie. But as the UP elections drew nearer,the issue died its silent death.

The Congress’s hopes of drawing Muslim votes were,however,still alive. Nothing wrong with that. Except that the hopes were pinned on the illusion that the UP Muslim is dumb. That she’d be enraged by Rushdie’s mere presence. That her anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism,presumably part of her DNA,would come to the fore when the perpetually angry Rahul Gandhi asked her to choose between Bundelkhand and Israel,a reference to the BJP’s promise to introduce drip-irrigation technology from Israel. That she wouldn’t be able to see through the deceptive promise of a 9 per cent quota for minorities within the larger quota for OBCs for Central government jobs. That her vote could be the shortcut to victory in a state that has eluded the Congress for 22 long years.

But as the election results have shown,the Muslim voter has outsmarted the strategists in Congress. For the party’s appeasement overdrive only seemed to have benefited the eventual winner,Samajwadi Party. There’s a lesson for political parties here: the days of appeasement are over and Muslims are not bothered about Rushdie’s presence,elections or no elections.

Now that a new UP government is in place and Rushdie may be visiting again,our politicians should have learnt that lesson. Or,would that be too much to ask for? Akhilesh Yadav,the young,forward-looking Samajwadi Party leader,who has just been sworn in as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister,has also pulled out of the media conclave where both he and Rushdie were to speak. Yadav says he’s too busy with his new job to attend the event. Let’s just hope that that indeed is the reason,that the new generation of political leaders doesn’t give in to Rushdie phobia.

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