An upcoming book reading session by historian and author William Dalrymple was cancelled Wednesday after a scholar affiliated with the RSS filed a police complaint claiming that it is “illegal” and will “hurt Hindus”. The event to be hosted by the Odisha Tourism Department at Mukteswar Temple in Bhubaneswar Friday. Dalrymple was to be the department’s guest from April 5 to April 8.
The complainant Anil Dhir argued that “Mukteswar is a living temple where ritualistic worship is conducted every day. It will hurt the sentiments of Hindus if the temple is misused. As Hindus, we will protest. peacefully”.
Explaining the charge of illegality, Dhir said, “Mukteswar Temple, being a protected monument of the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI), cannot be used. to publicise his (Dalrymple’s) latest book ‘Nine Lives’. a purely private affair with commercial interests”. Dhir said his sources informed him that the book to be read at the session was ‘Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India’.
“Uncontrolled crowds at such events do indeed imperil and put to risk a valued heritage structure,” the complaint said.
However, the Odisha Tourism Department said the event was cancelled due to the Model Code of Conduct in place. “We regret to inform that due to Model Code of Conduct imposed by the Election Commission for the upcoming elections — the book reading event with noted author and historian William Dalrymple has been cancelled,” the department posted on Facebook.
Dhir, a former media convenor of the BJP’s Odisha unit, claimed he is “no longer an active member” of the party and identified himself as a “swayamsevak”. He said that he has raised objections in the capacity of a member of The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). A separate letter by Dhir also asked the ASI whether it has permitted such use of the temple, which amounts to “gross violation of The Orissa Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1956 (Section 16)”.
Requesting anonymity, some officials of the tourism department said the event did not violate the MCC. “Dalrymple is a guest of the state government. So how is the event private?” said an official. “Yes, he may promote his book. But his presence will also boost tourism value of the temple,” another official said.
Dalrymple’s book, published in 2009, explores religious traditions of India through the lives of nine characters. Dalrymple could not be reached for comment.