Hitmen are after me, says Rushdie as he pulls out of Indian festival
From modest beginnings it has become one of the biggest literary festivals on earth. This year the roster of big names talking about their work includes Michael Ondaatje, Tom Stoppard, Richard Dawkins, Annie Proulx, Hari Kunzru, Shashi Tharoor and William Dalrymple, the festival's co-director.
But this week India's Jaipur Literature Festival became more famous for something that was not happening: the appearance of Sir Salman Rushdie.
Yesterday morning it was still being reported that the Indian-born Booker Prize-winning novelist would attend, but within hours that all changed. He tweeted: "V sad not to be at Jaipur. I was told Bombay mafia don issued weapons to 2 hitmen to 'eliminate' me. Will do video link instead. Damn."
The volte-face came at the end of a stand-off between the Midnight's Children novelist, tweeting hectically, and an Islamic seminary called Darul Uloom Deoband, which revived 20-year-old memories of the Satanic Verses row to demand that he not be allowed into India.
There was something fake about the demand: Rushdie holds a passport that permits him visa-free travel to India. After breaking the ice a decade ago, he is believed to have visited several times in recent years. At the festival he was scheduled to talk about Midnight's Children; his most controversial book, the one which provoked Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa, was not going to be mentioned.
The festival directors' misfortune was that this week sees crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, which has a large Muslim minority and which the Congress Party is desperate to hold on to.
It is not clear why the Darul Uloom Deoband decided to make an issue of Rushdie's presence this year: he spoke at the festival in 2007 and they made no comment on it. But, with the elections pending, his presence became a political weapon for Congress's opponents. For Congress to defend Rushdie's visit would enable its opponents to portray the party as anti-Muslim, with potentially disastrous electoral consequences.
A bold state governor would have insisted that Rushdie must come, and would be protected. Instead no such assurance was forthcoming; a new fatwa was proposed – a payment of 100,000 rupees for anyone who threw a slipper at the author; assassination rumours floated and Rushdie pulled out.
Last night three novelists at the festival, Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru and Ruchir Joshi, ended their scheduled programme with an impromptu reading from The Satanic Verses to protest at the shabby treatment Rushdie had received. The audience applauded loudly.
- 1 Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
- 2 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude pictures' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence 'The Fappening' scandal
- 4 Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
- 5 New Tricks: Dennis Waterman to leave the show after a decade of crime-solving
Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
Kim Kardashian 'nude pictures' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence 'The Fappening' scandal
Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
Ice Bucket Challenge: US firefighter Tony Grider dies after participating in charity craze near power lines
Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...
£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...
£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...