January 27, 2012
Salman Rushdie, right,
with Aroon Shivdasani,
executive director and
founding member of
the Indo-American Arts
Council, at the India
Abroad Person of the
Year 2006 ceremony
At press time, uncertainty loomed over writer Salman Rushdie’s participation at the Jaipur Literary Festival.
The political logic over the objection to Rushdie’s participation has a very simple basis. The Congress party in Uttar
Pradesh is in a desperate dogfight for the Muslim vote. The
Congress party government in Rajasthan is in a desperate
mood to shift the focus away from the worst sex cum murder scandals to have tainted it in many decades. The
Islamist establishment in India is facing both an existential
and generational challenge.
Salman Rushdie is a convenient target of opportunity for
both the Congress party and the Islamist establishment.
It is no secret that the Islamic seminary of Deoband faces
both a generational and existential challenge. The manner
in which a reformist Maulana Vastanvi was ousted as its
rector spoke volumes of the reformist undercurrents that
Deoband is facing. Outside of the Deobandi school of
thought, one also saw in recent months a very bold move by
the larger Barelvi (a kind of Islam originating in the Indian
subcontinent) organization in India rejecting the import of
hardline Islamist ideas from Saudi Arabia.
In fact, one has also seen a rare move towards bridging
the communal faultline when back in October prominent
Sunni Sufi leaders expressed a sentiment of reconciliation
towards Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
At a time when even Godhra has turned the corner on
overcoming the scars of 2002 and Muslim victimhood, it is
jarring and bizarre that there should be opposition to the
Rushdie visit from even the Bharatiya Janata Party’s
minority cell in Rajasthan.
At a time when the Delhi high court cites the example of
China on Internet restrictions and Dr Subramanian
Swamy has to turn up at a police station to explain an opinion column, the brouhaha over Rushdie may appear to be
just another strike against Free Speech.
While protection to freedom of speech in India has at
best been opportunistic, I would however hazard against
drawing phony parallels with the unfortunate circumstances leading up to the self-imposed exile by the late M F
Hussain. There is something deeper at work here.
Let us be clear: Rushdie is asserting his Indian identity as
a Person of Indian Origin and consequently his right granted by law to be able to visit India at any time. The irony of
expressing inability to guarantee security to Rushdie just
the week after Jaipur hosted the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas is
perhaps lost on the United Progressive Alliance government in Delhi and the Ashok Gehlot government in Jaipur.
The Congress party is hurtling this country down an all
too familiar path.
Twenty-three years after the Congress party government
led by his father Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to Islamic fundamentalist pressure to ban Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses,
Rahul Gandhi had an opportunity to stand up and show
leadership on this issue.
India in dangerPARESH GANDHI
Salman Rushdie is a convenient target of opportunity for both the
Congress party and the Islamist establishment
With his silence and his party’s ambivalence in Delhi,
Rahul Gandhi has failed a critical test as far as providing
leadership to this country in bridging the deep communal
Political leadership to bridge that communal divide will
have to come from elsewhere.
India is poised at a critical juncture as its destiny is now
closely intertwined with the political fate of destiny’s four
daughters and one son. All five of them are grassroots
achievers. What is more, all of five of them have a chosen a
lonely political path with no dynasty to bequeath their
political legacy to.
Mayawati and Uma Bharti stand between the cynical politics of competitive communalism in Uttar Pradesh
between the Congress party and the Samajwadi Party.
Mamata Banerjee stands in between the Congress party’s
anti-federal impulses and the next election. Coming from a
state with radically altered demograph-
ics, thanks to a soft border policy for
decades, it is Mamata Banerjee who will
face some early tests in bridging this
No less will be the burden on
Narendra Modi in bridging this commu-
nal faultline as he continues down a
path that few in the BJP have undertak-
But the all important inoculation
against an Islamist veto on the affairs in
Delhi will likely have to come from
Noted political satirist and the match-
maker of many a political alliance, Cho
Ramaswamy, mooted a southern second
front against the Congress party over the
past weekend with a key role for Tamil
Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Federalism is the credo that binds all of them together, as
was evident in their collective opposition to the divisive
Communal Violence Bill pushed by the Congress party. It is
in that shared value of federalism that we must look for a
new coalition that not just stands up to the cynical vote-bank politics of the Congress party, but is also able to pave
a political path towards permanently burying this communal faultline.
Politics and politicians, however, can only take us so far
down that path.
Ultimately, this has to be about the enlightened self-interest of the Indian Muslim. There is a short distance
between denial that arises from victimhood and societal
schizophrenia. There cannot be a better example than
Pakistan on how the false bogey of Muslim victimhood
eventually gives way to mass Islamist schizophrenia to justify Muslim killing fellow Muslim.
Islamist Schizophrenia is today so
deep in Pakistan that truth has become
the casualty even in matters concerning
the deaths of that nation’s very own
from Benazir Bhutto to Syed Saleem
When Truth dies along with it dies the
Fabric of Trust that holds nations and
From raising dishonest questions over
the Batla House shootout to raising
false bogeys over the Rushdie visit, the
Congress party and its leadership Sonia
and Rahul Gandhi stand guilty of caus-
ing irreversible damage to that Fabric of
There cannot be a
better example than
Pakistan on how the
false bogey of Muslim
gives way to mass
to justify Muslim
killing fellow Muslim
Shashi Shekhar blogs on Indian
politics and public policy at