JAIPUR: The much-celebrated Jaipur Literature Festival has cancelled a video address by British author Salman Rushdie after police warned that Muslim hardliners in the crowd posed a security threat to the event.
Some Muslim groups had opposed the video link because of alleged blasphemy in Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which remains banned in India.
Sanjoy Roy, the five-day festival’s producer, said that police had advised organisers that Muslim activists were planning to disrupt the address as thousands of festival-goers gathered to listen to Rushdie.
Rushdie last week withdrew from making a personal appearance at the event when Indian intelligence officials told him that assassins from Mumbai were heading to Jaipur, though he later said he believed the plot was fake.
“There are people within this audience who have been sent in here to disrupt the proceeding. There would be perhaps some violence or an aggressive situation,” Roy told the crowds.
Police had been keen to prevent any protests that could fuel religious tension. Some Muslim groups entered the venue grounds on Tuesday and demanded that Rushdie, who lived in hiding for 10 years due to death threats over The Satanic Verses, be prevented from participating even by video.
Mumbai-born Rushdie vowed to appear by video link when he pulled out on Friday, saying on microblogging website Twitter that he had been told by Indian officials that a “mafia don” had issued weapons to two named hitmen to kill him.
Local politicians in Jaipur later denied reports that the death threat had been concocted by police to avoid demonstrations at the festival.
Ram Pratap Singh, owner of the festival venue, told the crowd he had taken the decision “on advice of the Rajasthan (state) police who are monitoring the situation, who say there is a large number of people … threatening violence.”
Organisers expressed huge disappointment at the campaign against Rushdie, who had appeared at the festival in 2007 without incident.
“It is with extreme regret that after three weeks of this unfolding of a fairly idiotic situation we are having to step down in a fight for the freedom of expression,” Roy told the crowd, who shouted their support for Rushdie. “This is not a decision we can support. We have been pushed to the wall,” he said.
Four of Rushdie’s fellow authors at the event showed their support for the Booker prize-winning writer by reading out passages of The Satanic Verses from the stage in protest last week.
At a panel discussion held in place of Rushdie’s address, one Muslim leader was loudly booed as he defended his position.
“We have not stopped him from coming here,” Salim Engineer said. “If someone comes who is a criminal in our opinion it is our democratic right to protest against him.”
The festival ended on Tuesday after talks from more than 250 speakers including US chat show queen Oprah Winfrey, biologist and atheist author Richard Dawkins, Indian best-selling novelist Chetan Bhagat and Pakistani writers Muhammad Hanif, Fatima Bhutto and Ayesha Jalal.