Salman Rushdie 'sad for India' after video-link blocked

Salman Rushdie (file pic) Salman Rushdie described the Jaipur affair as a "black farce"

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UK author Sir Salman Rushdie says he is "sad for India" after threats of violence prevented him from addressing an Indian literary festival.

He said religious extremist groups had prevented freedom of ideas and blamed politicians for failing to oppose the groups for "narrow political reasons".

The planned video-link was cancelled after Muslim activists prepared to march on the venue in Jaipur.

Many Muslims regard Sir Salman's book, The Satanic Verses, as blasphemous.

The video-link had been organised after Sir Salman withdrew from attending the festival, saying that sources had told him of an assassination threat.

Speaking to India's NDTV television channel, Sir Salman said: "I have a lot of personal disappointment but the overwhelming feeling is disappointment on behalf of India - a country I have loved all my life and whose long-term commitment to liberty and secularism I have praised all my life."

He said the decline in liberty in India was "the saddest thing".

Analysis

Salman Rushdie's withdrawal from the Jaipur festival and the abandonment of a planned video address following threats from fringe Muslim groups is a major embarrassment for the Indian government.

But the affair does not point to an increase in intolerance towards free speech in India, or the increased radicalisation of its Muslim minorities.

The question that is being asked is why the Indian authorities could not help secure a video-link speech inside a heavily secured festival venue.

More than anything else, this points to a weak state and a ruling party that does not have the courage to stand up to pressures from fringe troublemakers for fear of losing votes. Sir Salman's unfortunate blackout is really an indictment of India's feeble politicians.

Sir Salman said he was at a loss to explain why his planned presence had caused such a furore given that he had visited Indian a number of times in recent years.

But he said it could be connected to upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh state, with politicians trying to court the Muslim vote there.

"It's astonishing my physical presence, and even my image on a video screen is deemed to be unacceptable - it's pretty shocking."

Sir Salman said it was ludicrous he was cast as the enemy of Islam when the real enemies were extremist leaders who were strengthening the image of the faith as a violent and repressive ideology.

Sir Salman also condemned the intelligence he had been given by senior officials in Rajasthan that indicated he would be the target of an assassination attempt if he attended the festival.

"It seems incredibly fishy to me and I feel a bit of a fool to be taken in by it," he said.

However, he said: "If I had come to Jaipur, the level of violence would have been too great for anybody to be safe."

'I will come back'

Sir Salman also said he was "very grateful" to the four writers who had read excerpts from The Satanic Verses in Jaipur.

Diggi Palace, Jaipur, 24 Jan 2012 Organisers said they feared violence inside the venue in the Diggi Palace

Sir Salman, who was born in India but is a British citizen and has lived in the UK for most of his life, described the Jaipur affair as a "black farce".

But he vowed: "I will come back to India - so deal with it."

Announcing the cancellation of the video-link, organiser Sanjoy Roy said: "We have been pushed to the wall... Earlier today, a number of organisations came to us and threatened violence."

Ram Pratap Singh, owner of the venue, the Diggi Palace, said: "There are a large number of people who are averse to this video-link and they are actually inside the property."

The protests on Tuesday afternoon were led by All India Milli Council leader, Paiker Farukh.

He has alleged that "the festival is trying to portray author Salman Rushdie as a hero".

"We have every right to protest in a democratic manner and if the Muslim population of Jaipur comes out in protest, you cannot prevent us," Mr Farukh told journalists outside the Diggi Palace.

Tuesday was the final day of the five-day festival.

It has attracted more than 70,000 visitors, along with leading writers such as Tom Stoppard, Michael Ondaatje and David Hare.

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