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Rushdie calls off visit to Jaipur,litfest begins under security net

A security dragnet was thrown over the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival.

A security dragnet was thrown over the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival that began here today after author Salman Rushdie called off his visit — following threats — and some writers read out an article which had excerpts from The Satanic Verses,his book banned in India.

Festival organizers,however,got them to stop reading fearing a backlash.

Festival director Namita Gokhale said she was “deeply disappointed”. Co-director William Dalrymple said the entire case was one of “Chinese whispers” as most people have not read Rushdie. Festival producer Sanjoy Roy decried the circumstances that had forced Rushdie to stay away as “ridiculous and unacceptable”.

It was during the session ‘Of Gods and Men’,with authors Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar,that the two read aloud an article on Rushdie that contained the excerpts. The readings included a description of the weather in England and made no religious references. A similar reading occurred during session,’Exile on Main Street: Change and The City’,which included Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi.

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Incidentally,Kunzru and Kumar tweeted their intent to read excerpts from Rushdie’s book before the session.

However,after organizers of the festival stopped the reading,Rashdie tweeted,“@amitavakumar says organizers asked him not to continue reading from Satanic Verses. Willie,Sanjoy: why did this happen?”,referring to Dalrymple and Sanjoy Roy.

Despite repeated attempts,the festival organizers refused to comment.

Senior police officials said that the authors had not read excerpts from The Satanic Verses but merely quoted an article written on Rushdie and the book. The police stated that they will examine videotapes of the session.

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Rushdie had earlier tweeted,“Very sad not to be at Jaipur. I was told Bombay mafia don issued weapons to 2 hitmen to “eliminate” me. Will do video link instead.”

“ I have now been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to ‘eliminate’ me,” said his statement on Friday. “While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence,it would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family,to the festival audience,and to my fellow writers. I will therefore not travel to Jaipur as planned,” the statement added.

Rushdie has been under fire since the festival organisers announced his participation as a guest speaker after the Islamic group Darul Uloom Deoband’s vice chancellor Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani demanded a ban on the author from entering the state.

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The near-invisible security and free entry that has always characterised the festival was replaced by a three-tier check that included frisking and the use of metal detectors,mandatory registration and the involvement of plainclothes officers.

“ Not only were there protests against Salman Rushdie,which was a cause for concern,but this time there are several visitors from across the globe,Jaipur police commissioner B L Soni said. Senior police officers said they had received intelligence inputs from central agencies following initial reports that Rushdie might show up.

Mohammad Salim,national secretary of the Jamat-e-Islami Hind,welcomed the staying away of Rushdie,who he said was “a criminal from our religious point of view”.

Deoband Vice-Chancellor Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani told reporters in Muzaffarnagar,“It is a victory of democracy because some Muslim organisations had opposed his visit to India.”

First published on: 20-01-2012 at 10:50:42 pm
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