NEW DELHI: The impossible almost happened, like in a magicians trick. But even Salman Rushdie could not pull it off. After a hectic day when the writer, his would-be-host and the Rajasthan government swung like a pendulum, Rushdie’s banishment from the Jaipur Lit Fest (JLT) was complete.
The last-minute efforts to screen a video talk-show by the celebrity author floundered in the face of dire threats of protests by angry Muslim groups. The cancellation, when it came, seemed almost like a fated event. So, Rushdie did what he does best these days, he tweeted: “Awful” — that was for the cancellation. For the fury which stopped his virtual appearance, he said, “Threats of violence by Muslim groups stifled free speech today. In a true democracy all get to speak, not just the ones making threats.’’ He termed the episode a “black farce’’.
According to Subrata Roy, producer of JLT, the final decision to call off the much-anticipated, much-postponed video chat came after the Rajasthan Police informed them that the venue has been infiltrated by protest group members.
Late on Monday night, mediation between the Congress governments and the organisers by a close relative of a Union Minister nearly had the Rushdie-show resurrected. But, when the organiser’s negotiation with the Muslim groups failed, the latter told the JLT-wallahs they were in no mood to even “see Rushdie’s (virtual) face’’, it had to be a ‘no’ show.
Roy literally wailed: “Some of the organizations threatened violence. This is unfortunate, but it is necessary to avoid violence. It’s a fairly idiotic situation. We’re stepping back from the fight against freedom of expression. We’ve been pushed to the wall - we’re being bullied.’’
He cited the safety of the people, especially children, who gathered at the venue, to justify the final cancellation of the chat-show on ‘Midnight’s Children’. “Salman on screen too was an issue. Even seeing his face was intolerable to some,’’ Roy said, quoting the protestors, who had allegedly infiltrated the festival. So, chaos reined supreme.
In place of Rushdie, poets Javed Akhtar and Ashok Vajpayee quickly stepped in, with a panel discussion. The owner of the venue, Ram Pratap Singh, graciously admitted that he did not “allow the video link’’. Of course, on advice of the Rajasthan police.