The controversy created by Mr. Salman Rushdie’s cancelled visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival has sparked widespread comment from both disputing sides. Protagonists of Mr. Rushdie talk about the right of free speech and of democratic norms. Muslim leaders talk about religious sensitivities of a large community and the secular obligation to respect them. In between there is no end of commentators on TV channels waxing eloquent about the subject with a variety of nuanced views. All this cacophony may be ignored as being irrelevant. Neither the democratic rights of Mr. Rushdie nor the sensitivities of the Muslim community should be the focus of attention. What should attract attention is the disappointing conduct of Muslim leaders.
They disappoint not because of the views they express. They disappoint because of the time at which they have expressed them. They have proved that they are willing to be used as political pawns of the Congress party with no will of their own. That is truly sad. The leaders of the Muslim community are thereby selling short the interests of their whole community. The issue is not the The Satanic Verses written by Mr. Rushdie. That book was written decades ago. It attracted more than its fair share of attention one way or the other. The issue is the presence of Mr. Rushdie in India and particularly in a literary festival. The Muslims have strenuously objected to that.
One may ask: why now? Mr. Rushdie is an Indian citizen holding property in India and is a frequent visitor to his country. Did the Muslims object to that? Mr. Rushdie attended the very same Jaipur Literature Festival in 2007 without a whimper being raised. Did the Muslims object to that? The answer to both questions is a resounding no! Then why are the Muslim leaders raising a ruckus now? It is the answer to this question which makes their conduct shameful and disappointing.
The only difference between 2007 when Mr. Rushdie attended the Jaipur Festival without opposition and 2012 when so many objections are being raised is that now five states are about to hold assembly elections which are of crucial importance for the fortunes of the UPA government. The Congress therefore through clumsy and transparent manipulation manufactured a terrorist threat to justify the cancellation of the Rushdie visit and play the Muslim card for gaining votes. As a political party the Congress understandably did that.
But what impelled the leaders of the Muslim community to betray their followers and play ball with the Congress? For helping the Congress to perpetuate its fraud for electoral gain what did the Muslim leaders get in return for their community? They got nothing for the community.
The government’s flip-flop on the Muslim reservation quota earned it ridicule instead of praise from Muslims in general. One does not know if leaders got anything for themselves for serving the Congress. But at the end of it all this entire exercise will most likely boomerang on the Congress. One suspects that the Muslim mass in Uttar Pradesh will most likely vote against the Congress. Thereby the Muslim electorate will gain. Thereby the Muslim leaders, if they have been adequately compensated by the Congress for serving it, will have gained. Only the Congress will have lost. Without gaining the Muslim vote, which probably is uninfluenced by the vociferous anti-Rushdie protesters, the Congress will lose a good chunk of the middle class vote in UP through its crude anti-Rushdie maneuver.