NEW DELHI: The late Sardar of Malice, Khushwant Singh, is now the fall guy for whatever happened to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and the author thereafter. At least that’s how the Congress is trying to wriggle out of the charge of having banned the book and introduced the culture of bans.
No, the book was never banned in India, claimed the Congress spokesperson of the day, PL Punia. It was only the “import of the book” that was banned. And, the publishers of the book, Penguin, decided not to print and sell here.
Penguin India had arrived at the decision on the advice of its then Consulting Editor, Khushwant Singh, and the Government of Rajiv Gandhi had no role to play in the matter, Punia added. In short, it was not the Rajiv Government but Khushwant Singh who was to blame — for all the intolerance.
Rushdie has since said it’s too late in the day for P Chidambaram, then MoS Home Affairs, to acknowledge the mistake of the Indian Government. But, the Congress is not taking the blame on its shoulder — at least not from what Punia had to say on Monday.
Keen to assume the moral high ground as also the liberal tolerant, democratic space, the Congress did not go hammer and tongs at Chidambaram for dragging the Rajiv Government into the issue two days before the intolerance debate, or for reviving old unpleasant memories. It could be noted here that Chidambaram had issued an apology for security and intelligence failure after 26/11 Mumbai blasts. This was right after he had assumed charge of the Union Home Ministry and the emotions were still raw and running high. The Congress won the 2009 elections, and many in the party feel the results showed that his apology was accepted by the people.
In trying to claim that liberal space, the Congress again seems to be adopting a similar strategy. In fact, what was not highlighted but was also part of the remark was that Indira Gandhi had apologised for the Emergency. That is how she won the elections after the fall of the Janata Government. The Congress, it seems, is trying to build a counter-text against the accusations of intolerance surfacing against its earlier governments.