Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram on Saturday said the decision of the erstwhile Rajiv Gandhi government to ban Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, was wrong.
“I have no hesitation in saying that the ban on Salman Rushdie’s book was wrong,” Chidambaram said during a session titled ‘Is India a liberal republic?’ at the Times LitFest in the Capital.
Chidambaram was the Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Rajiv Gandhi government from 1986-89. The book was banned in October 1988. Asked why it took him so long to reach this conclusion, Chidambaram said, “If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you the same thing.”
Later, Rushdie tweeted: “This admission just took 27 years. How many more before the ‘mistake’ is corrected?”
This admission just took 27 years. How many more before the “mistake” is corrected? https://t.co/qz7t1InXzV
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) November 28, 2015
Chidambaram also said that former prime minister Indira Gandhi had admitted that imposing Emergency was a mistake. “Indira Gandhi herself admitted in 1980 that the Emergency was wrong and, if elected to power, she would never impose Emergency. People believed her and elected her to power again.”
Terming the “increasing tide of illiberalism and intolerance” as “frightening”, Chidambaram said, “Illiberal zealots believe that the state is on their side. Illiberal zealots also believe that if they gather sufficient numbers, they will be the state and their word will be the law. Moral majoritarianism will fail but each one who believes in democracy and liberalism must speak up and ensure that moral majoritarianism will fail comprehensively.”
He said the answer to “a bad idea is a good idea, not ban idea” and added: “The concept of liberty is expanding universally. Not all ideas will be accepted but every idea deserves its own space and every idea deserves to be expressed.”
He said one of his profound concerns was the apparent rise of intolerance. “Khap panchayats today are more visible and more brazen in dispensing kangaroo justice. There is a rush of bans. Ban jeans, ban authors, ban food, ban artists, ban travel, ban NGO,” he said.
Congress leader Rashid Alvi later said, “I don’t know what Chidambaram has said. Salman Rushdie’s book had played with the sentiments of crores of people… Rajiv Gandhi had taken the right decision to ban the book because this country respects every ideology and every religion and cannot allow anybody to hurt someone’s ideology and sentiments.”