For a Moment of Statemanship

9407.rushdieManu Joseph in Open the Magazine (photo from Getty):

William Dalrymple, the Scotland-born writer and a director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, who is sometimes in medieval robes, has for long insisted that he is Indian at heart. But when he announces that the probability of an event occurring is one hundred per cent, it is not clear if he is being fatalistic the Indian way or if it is the swagger of the White man’s confidence in cause-and-effect, or if it is just that he knows something that others don’t. Last Friday, when I asked him if Salman Rushdie would be visiting the Jaipur festival, Dalrymple said, “Even if there is the threat of a nuclear explosion, Salman will come to Jaipur.”

The events of the past few days, which have cast a shadow over Rushdie’s visit, suggest that in this great republic the threat of a nuclear explosion is not as serious as the imagination of wounded religious sentiments, especially in the time of crucial elections. After an Islamic cleric objected to the visit of Rushdie because the writer has not apologised for Satanic Verses, and several Muslim groups joined the noise, with one of them even offering a prize of Rs 1 lakh to the lucky person who would fling a shoe at the writer, the Indian government has not told the nation what its position is. At least some Muslim organisations have had the will to strongly condemn those who have threatened violence against Rushdie, a grace the government is yet to show. Instead, the home ministry has conveyed, “law and order is a state subject”. And the Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, in turn, has very clearly said that he cannot promise safe passage for Rushdie because “a section of people” is offended.