Ending the uncertainty over Salman Rushdie’s ‘virtual’ presence at the Jaipur Literature Festival,the owner of the venue denied permission to the planned video address of the author on Tuesday afternoon,saying the matter was a serious security concern.
Ram Pratap Singh,the owner of Diggi Palace,said the Rajasthan police had advised him to cancel the video link,to be hosted by a television channel and aired at the litfest venue.
There are many opposed to the video link,some of them are present at the venue. They are marching towards us and can cause violence. I don’t want any damage to property, Singh said.
“This is unfortunate but necessary to avoid harm to the
property,to all of you,to my children and all the youngsters who are here,” he said.
The decision to call off the video address came after Muslim organisations told organisers that even seeing Rushdie’s face would be intolerable. After their meeting with organisers,the protesters also offered namaz at the venue.
An emotional Sanjoy Roy,one of the organisers,said: After three weeks of an unfolding — fairly idiotic — situation,we have to step down from the fight for freedom of expression,the freedom to write,the freedom to tell our stories. Many organisations have come to us and threatened violence. It is unfortunate we have been bullied and have to step down.
Roy said the police had told them if they wanted to go ahead with the programme,adequate security would be provided. “We are very very sad… we feel hurt,disgraced,” he added.
After the video address was cancelled,the organisers went ahead with a panel discussion with Javed Akthar,Tarun Tejpal and Ashok Vajpayee.
Earlier,festival organisers were hopeful that the video session with the controversial author would take place as planned.
“We have received information that there is no permission needed,” Sanjoy Roy told reporters. The five-day festival ends today.
Sources said the government had asked organisers to ensure there was no reference to the ‘Satanic Verses’ during the video conference.
The Rushdie session Midnight’s Child was planned for 3.45 pm through a video conference when the India-born author was to discuss his childhood,his work,problems faced in the past years and the adaptation of his novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ into a film. Rushdie had pulled out of the event citing death threats. “We are going ahead with the link at 3.45 pm,” Roy had said.
Roy also said the state government had not asked organisers to give any undertaking.
Roy had said the video session was expected to last for about an hour and it would be according to the law of the land.
“It is needless to say that any conversation here will be according to the law of the land,” he had added.
The 65-year-old author’s ‘Satanic Verses’ has been banned in India for allegedly hurting sentiments of the Muslim community. The book cast a shadow on the festival when four authors read out passages from it leading to complaints against them and in courts in Jaipur and Ajmer.
Roy said the Rajasthan government had never asked for an undertaking. “At no point did the government say to us they would not give security or that Rushdie should not come,” he said.
Asked if the organisers had given any advisory to Rushdie for the session,he said,”We have not given anybody any advisory. We have told everybody that it will be within the laws of the country”.
“The session will not necessarily focus on readings of any of his work that has been banned in this country,” the festival organiser said.
On the complaints filed against some authors,Roy said,”We had an inquiry from the police and we have given them our version of what happened on January 20 when some authors read out excerpts of Rushdie’s book.”
“We still do not have any information on what actually the complaint has been filed on. I could just see one of the papers,” he said.
“We have continued to receive information,though I am not in a position to say whether it is right or wrong. Conspiracy theories will continue in India.
“According to what we know,we got information not just from the Rajasthan government but also from other sources that there was a credible threat. I cannot evaluate whether the threat was serious or very serious. This is what we were told,” he said while speaking about the threat to Rushdie.
Asked if the security has been beefed up for the event,he said,”We have had a lot of security due to the issue since the start of the festival,and it has been very good.”
Asked about the mechanism through which the session would be carried out,he had said,”Earlier,we were thinking of holding it through Skype. But now it will be through a private channel studio.
“The government will have no control over it. The session will be done within the laws of the country and any action required to be taken on it,we will do in-house,” he had said.