British author Salman Rushdie made it to his country of birth this week and reignited the debate about freedom of speech and tolerance in India, or what he claims is the distinct lack of both.
The scribe took his visit to the India Today Conclave in New Delhi to once again lash out at sub-continental politicians who continued to pander to “religious fanaticism” and indulged in “political opportunism”.
“A combination of religious fanaticism, political opportunism and public apathy is damaging that freedom on which all other freedoms depends: the freedom of expression,” Rushdie told the conference.
He also accused the ruling Congress party of trying to appease Muslim voters in the recent UP state poll.
“It didn’t even work Rahul. Years and years of kneeing down in front of every mullah you can find and it didn’t even work, it must feel sick,” Rushdie said in a dig at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi after the party performed poorly at the elections.
Rushdie also ridiculed Pakistan cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who pulled out of a scheduled speech at the same conference due to Rushdie’s alleged anti-Muslim writings.
Khan had chosen “to demonise a book written 25 years ago and to make its author a bogey man with which to distract his audience from the immeasurable hurt of their actual lives”, Rushdie said.
Rushdie drew gasps of surprise from the India Today Conclave audience by asking: “Have you noticed the physical resemblance between Imran Khan and (slain Libyan dictator Moamer) Qadhafi?”
“If you were making a movie of the life of Qadhafi and you wanted a slightly better-looking version of Qadhafi you might cast Imran Khan,” Rushdie said with a grin.
“He would need to act of course, which would be a problem.”
The 64-year-old author said the re-emergence of controversy over “The Satanic Verses” was part of a trend in India of the threat of violence being used to silence opposing opinions and artistic expression.
“What is becoming more commonplace in India is a cultural war against all forms of art,” he said. “It seems almost every day now somewhere there is a piece of bullying by Muslims or Hindus of groups they believe offend them.”
Rushdie added that “immeasurable harm” was being done to Islam by terrorists and fanatics such as those who killed former Punjab governor Salmar Taseer, whose son writer Aatish Taseer was tasked with interviewing the author on stage.
Rushdie said common people were more sensible than their leaders and 95 percent of Muslims in India were not in favour of the violence and the things being said in their name.
- UKAsian Staff (Edited by Vijitha Alles)
Rushdie decries “intolerance” in India