KOLKATA: Criticising the government for the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie's visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival, novelist Vikram Seth today said the affair was whipped up because of "power", "politics" and "misuse of religion".
"The whole affair was whipped up because of power and politics and because of the misuse of religion. And the government did nothing. Frankly this is madness," he said at the Kolkata Literary Meet here.
"We are a constitutional nation and not a religious dictatorship. Unless he or she threatens violence, we do not have the right to gag or dictate what he or she can say or see or hear. We don't have the right to cover up eyes, ears and mouth of the three monkeys with our own hands," he said.
Quoting B R Ambedkar, the Kolkata-born author said constitutional morality is more important than religious morality.
"If you ever use the argument of religious morality, remember Ambedkar said there is something more important in the Republic and it is known as constitutional morality. Not religious morality, constitutional morality," he said.
Without naming Rushdie in his speech at the Kolkata Literary Meet here, he said, "A similar gathering a few days ago ended as a disgraceful exhibition of the suppression of word, mind and heart."
After threat by Muslim groups, Rushdie's visit to the Jaipur lit fest, which ended two days ago, was cancelled.
The 59-year-old author of best-selling "A Suitable Boy" recalled that Rushdie had visited the festival five years ago, but nothing wrong had happened then.
"One of the most prominent and admired authors of our time was not permitted to appear and address the audience in person and then in the strangest tryst was not even permitted to appear on a screen to address them.
"No one was going to be forced to listen to him, people were voluntarily listening to him. As it happens he was not going to talk of a book published more than 20 years ago, which was proved controversial," he said with reference to Rushdie's controversial book "The Satanic Verses".
While talking about the Republic Day celebrations in the country today, he regretted that people still do not enjoy the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
"What about the liberty of thoughts, expression and belief," Seth asked.