Before I make my point, let me put it straight; India that claims to be a secular country is actually a sham democracy, no second thoughts about it. Every newspaper you scan or any news website that you rummage around or even the social media is abuzz with stories, comments and articles about the Jaipur Literature Festival. Though an enormous platform for writers, both established and wannabe, the festival has grown impressively since it took off with a small jamboree in the year 2005. What is trending about the festival is actually an award winning but controversial author, Salman Rushdie – whose book Satanic Verses has been accused of insulting Islamic Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Rushdie was scheduled to speak during the inaugural event on Januray 20th but as per the latest media reports, the author has been asked to stay away from the festival in the backdrop of threats from some fundamentalist Muslim groups, who have demanded that government should cancel his visa (though he doesn’t need one, given his NRI status). One of the groups, Raza Academy has even announce an award of one lakh rupees to the person, who throws a slipper at Rushdie.
Such incidents and threats are not new in this so-called democracy, where vote-bank politics decides the discourse. A Kashmir conference was cancelled in Bangalore recently after threats from right-wing Hindu groups, lawyer Prashant Bhushan was thrashed by activists of Shri Ram Sena for his Kashmir remark that called for referendum in the disputed state, MF Hussain was forced to live and die in exile due to fear of Hindu fundamentalists while an eminent poet and writer, Mahesh Dattani’s drama, Sara had to face the wrath of Shiv Sainks in Mumbai.
Literature festival was organized before as well and Rushdie participated in one, held in 2007 but nobody cared a shit about the author or called for a ban. Why now? Before you get confused, let me tell that it is time for elections in five Indian states and Muslims play an important role in UP elections (rather their role is limited to elections only) that are just round the corner. How does Rushdie affect the electorate? Not exactly but yes, he does. The Congress party, according to the script, appeased Muslim voters as the Congress government headed by Ashok Gehlot played an important role to discourage Rushdie from visiting the fest. Deoband Ulemas who called for author’s ban were handed the task of raising hue and cry over his visit, the Gehlot government wrote off final touches or the climax.
Nothing in the country happens on its own, politics decides the course of events in this country. But one tends to get upset by seeing the mullahs who consider themselves the custodians of the religion, using their august institutions, just to remain close to the power corridors. This is true for both Hindus and Muslims here. But right now point of discussion is the Deoband Ulemas who asked for the ban of the controversial author. In their attempts to dance to the tunes of governments, don’t they ever think how they are bringing bad name to their religion? Of course, they won’t. They are there to misuse it for their personal gains. They would never open their eyes to the sufferings that have been inflicted on the community by the successive governments. Not a surprise, a mullah rejoiced when Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister, who government oversaw the Godhra riots, accepted his shawl after refusing to wear the skullcap that the mullah gifted him. Though we can’t generalize the mullahs but this one is a sample, ironically.