Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Salman Rushdie's India visit........ an unnecessary controversy!

The Rushdie controversy is sweeping Indian politics today. Salman Rushdie, is a person of Indian origin (PIO), born in Bombay in India, and now settled abroad. He was born in Bombay in a middle-class Muslim family. Under the rules in place in India today,he doesn't need any special permission to come to India, as he is not a foreigner. He has made several trips to India in the past,and even came during the time the BJP was in power at the Centre.Today however, Salman Rushdie is in the news for all the wrong reasons, because of a book titled, 'Satanic verses' which he wrote several years ago.The book was castigated by Muslim clergy and clerics alike, all over the world as it contained several blasphemous paragraphs in reference to the Koran, which is the holy book of the Muslims the world over. After an uproar broke out over the release of the book it was banned in India also, besides being banned in several predominantly Muslim countries.

Shortly before the publication of the Satanic verses, Salman Rushdie had said in an interview," it would be absurd to think that a book can cause riots." Little did he know, that it would cause much more than riots! It would cause a storm, which threatened to rock his life. The novel was banned in India by the Ministry of Finance, about a week after it had been published in Britain, and South Africa, and was burnt on the streets of Bradford, Yorkshire. Video images of the protest against the novel spread like lightning across the world. It was then that Ayatollah Khomeini  stepped in  and called all zealous Muslims the world over, to execute Rushdie as well as the publishers of the book. Immediately thereafter Rushdie was forced to go into hiding. Also an aide of Khomeini offered a million-dollar award for Rushdie's death. In 1993, Salman Rushdie's Norwegian publisher William Nygard was wounded in an attack outside his house. In 1997 the reward to kill Rushdie was doubled, and the next year, the Iranian state prosecutor Morteza Moqtadale renewed the death sentence. During this period of fatwa there were violent protests in India, Pakistan and Egypt causing several deaths. In 1990, Rushdie published an essay, 'in good faith' to appease his critics, and issued a public apology in which he reaffirmed his faith and respect towards Islam. However Iranian clerics were not satisfied and renewed their death threat. Salman Rushdie however continued to write even in hiding and published several books during that period including 'the Moor's last sight' which focused on contemporary India, and the lives of Indian Muslims and that of the right-wing Hindu terrorists. In the character of Moor, he propagated an ideal of hybrid India, in opposition to the Hindu nationalist agenda which is doing the rounds at the hands of the principal opposition party in India today.

Salman Rushdie has been married four times, first in 1976 to Clarissa Luard and after divorce in 1988 to the American writer Marianne Wiggins. The marriage broke up during their forced underground life. In September 1998, the Iranian government announced that the state is not going to put into effect the fatwa, or encourage anybody to do so. But  Ayatollah Hasan Sanei, in 1999 promised a $ 2.8 million reward for killing the author. However when the threat was formally lifted, Salman Rushdie finally came out of hiding. In the beginning of 2000, he left his third wife upon falling in love with the actress Padma Lakshmi and moved from London to New York. They married in 2004, but Rushdie agreed for a divorce in 2007. The storm surrounding Rushdie continued even when he was granted knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. Demonstrations broke out across the Islamic world, and a government minister in Pakistan even suggested suicide bombing.
Since the assembly elections are currently on in five states across India, Salman Rushdie's visit to India in connection with the seventh literary festival being held at Jaipur in Rajasthan, starting from 20th January 2012, has generated a lot of heat and controversy. Most of it is unnecessary, and the issue is unnecessarily being politicized by certain political parties as well as some sections of the media. Actually the agenda is to run down the government in the name of the visit of Salman Rushdie.The controversy is totally uncalled for because Salman Rushdie is coming in his capacity as a private citizen. As a private citizen, he can come and go as he pleases out of India, and nothing more should be read into it. He's neither coming on the invitation of the government of India, nor is he the official guest of the government. I therefore fail to see any reason why the government should be blamed for this purely personal visit. Suggestions are being offered that the government is under pressure to have his visit called off. Notwithstanding the remarks of the Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, which should actually be ignored, Salman Rushdie is a literary giant and is coming on a purely personal visit on the personal invitation of the organizers of the seventh literary festival being held at Jaipur, Rajasthan.The festival at Jaipur has its own esteem and importance in the literary world, and is being attended by other greats like Oprah Winfrey.

Since Salaman Rushdie is coming on a purely personal visit on the personal invitation of the organizers of the literary festival at Jaipur, it is unbecoming and totally unpardonable on the part of some political parties and other social groups who are raising fingers at his visit as well as the role of the government in the whole matter.The government can neither stop the visit of Salman Rushdie, nor can they invite him to come in any official capacity, since their say in the whole controversy is totally negligible. If at all, the organizers of the event should be blamed for the whole thing and should share the controversy being generated. The organizers knew very well the perils and pitfalls as well as the ecstasy involved in inviting a person of the stature of Salman Rushdie, and the kind of controversy it would generate in India. Personally I don't see any harm in the visit of Rushdie coming to India to take part in the literary festival. In fact the festival would be honored to have a person like Rushdie sitting on its podium. However at the same time I cannot speak for the sentiments of the religious clergy present in India. Whatever the case may be, the government should be kept out of this controversy totally since they have no role to play at all.The whole affair is totally personal to the organizers and the invitees.Salman Rushdie has written such celebrated books like 'Midnight's Children' which still stands apart for its brilliance as a work of fiction and is a shining star in the work of literature. In fact this book was awarded the Booker prize in 1981, and was then awarded the 'Booker of  Bookers' award in 1993. Cheers till the next post, and keep smiling!

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