Salman Rushdie says a police lie kept him out of India for the Jaipur Literary Festival over the weekend -- which is all too likely given the politics behind the controversy.
On Sunday, Rushdie alleged via twitter that Rajasthan police had concocted a story about a Mumbai mafia plot to assassinate him to convince him to cancel his visit. The state's Congress Party chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, has blasted the author for inventing the charge, according to the Times of India.
There's not much more to say about the overblown controversy, except to echo the claim made by India's Hindu newspaper that it's a "national shame" that governments kowtow to extremists rather than stand up for free speech.
But those readers seeking to understand the real reason behind the flap need look no further than Tehelka's informative breakdown of the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh -- where state elections are underway, and where the Darul Uloom Deoband first called for the government to bar Rushdie from attending the literary festival.
It turns out that the effort to dredge up the ancient issue and tempt the Congress back to its outdated policies of what the Bharatiya Janata Party calls "Muslim appeasement" has very specific origins. According to Tehelka, the Muslim "Peace Party" has close ties with Deoband, and it is pitting most of its candidates in head-to-head races with the Congress and Samajwadi parties -- perhaps courting an alliance with Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party. Meanwhile, Mayawati is playing for Deoband voters, the magazine suggests:
SENSING MUSLIM resentment, Mayawati has tweaked her strategy. Naseemuddin Siddiqui, the man who holds the maximum number of portfolios in her Cabinet and is considered one of her closest lieutenants, has taken on the task of winning over the community. It was Naseemuddin’s idea to get Mayawati to grant 10,000 Muslims working in madrassas across the state the status of government teachers and give them associated perquisites. Naseemuddin’s wife Husna is an MLC and has been working with Muslim social organisations on behalf of the BSP.
Naseemuddin senses Mayawati may be feeling the anti-incumbency heat and is playing the madrassa card shrewdly. Eighty-five percent of the state’s madrassas are run by the Deoband sect, which is deeply suspicious of the BJP or any indirect support to it. Mayawati has also announced the extension of a scheme that will benefit 58,000 Muslim girls studying in 1,600 recognised madrassas in Uttar Pradesh. She hopes to win the sympathy of the influential seminary in Deoband, and create friction among rival Muslim sects.
Still controversial in India due to his 1998 novel, The Satanic Verses, which allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad, Rushdie decided not to attend the Jaipur event after being warned of the plot. Several other authors attempted to read aloud from The Satanic Verses in protest, but police stopped the reading, as the book is banned in India. (Actually, it appears that the ban only covers the import of the novel, not possession of it, so the reading might have been legal after all).