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Poll resurrects Rushdie row

- Clerics and minister ask Centre to cancel author’s visa

Jan. 9: The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls have resurrected a controversy the rest of the world had buried long ago.

Some clerics and a Trinamul Congress minister today urged the Manmohan Singh government to deny visa to Salman Rushdie, who had faced a death threat following the publication of The Satanic Verses.

The author, who has a British passport but lives mainly in New York with frequent visits to London, is scheduled to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival later this month.

Union minister of state for tourism and Trinamul leader Sultan Ahmed said: “I feel it will be good to decline visa to an author who is known to hurt religious sentiments of Muslims. Given the prevailing atmosphere, he should not be given visa.”

He added: “Both Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen have earned notoriety for making controversial and inflammatory remarks. Their presence is not desirable.”

Ahmed said he endorsed the demand of the Islamic seminary, Dar-ul Uloom Deoband, that the Union government cancel Rushdie’s visa.

Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, was banned by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1988 amid violent protests in several countries, including India. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa against Rushdie on February 14, 1989, asking his followers to kill the author for allegedly committing blasphemy.

Rushdie had visited the Pink City literary event in January 2007, which was also an election year in Uttar Pradesh. His presence had either escaped the clergy’s notice or they chose not to make it an issue then. The growing profile of the event also may have unwittingly played a part in drawing more attention to the participants.

On January 21, Rushdie, along with authors Rita Kothari and Tarun Tejpal, is scheduled to discuss the nuances of English with writer Ira Pande on the topic “Inglish, Amlish, Hinglish: The chutnification of English”.

The Congress said it was up to the government to decide on matters such as visa issuance. The government declined to comment. The home ministry, which handles the issue, is possibly waiting to gauge how much heat the issue generates before taking a decision.

In a statement, Dar-ul Uloom vice-chancellor Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani said the “Indian government should cancel his visa as Rushdie had annoyed the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past”.

The cleric asked the Manmohan government to take into account the “widespread” feelings of Muslims against the author.

The Deoband school has a sizeable following among Muslims. Politically, the seminary has been pro-Congress, and one of its influential members, Maulana Mahmood Madni, is a close associate of civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, whose Rashtriya Lok Dal has worked out seat adjustments with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh.

The imam of Idgah, Lucknow, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli, said if Rushdie was granted visa when the Uttar Pradesh polls were round the corner, it would “reflect poorly on the Congress-led UPA”.

“Muslims have a genuine grudge against Rushdie and the Congress should heed our demand. Else, it may pay a heavy price in the coming Assembly elections,” the cleric added.

Manzoor Alam, a New Delhi-based Muslim scholar who heads the Centre for Objective Studies, said Rushdie’s presence in India has always prompted similar reactions. Alam, the general secretary of the Milli Council, which focuses on economic, social and religious issues facing the community, said there have been “sharp reactions” every time Rushdie’s visits have been announced since 1988.

“I do not think it is fair to link the demand for denial of visa with the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls,” he added.

Rushdie is thought to have a multi-entry Indian visa. In any case, he would be eligible for a PIO card (since he is of Indian origin and was born in Mumbai) which would give him the right to come and go as he wished.

The fatwa issued against him in 1989 has never been cancelled but after a long campaign on behalf of the author, a deal of sorts was reached in 2001. The understanding was that the Iranians would not be pressed to declare the fatwa had been cancelled but Tehran would make it clear that the Iran government would not officially back the fatwa.

The Iranian position is that only the supreme leader could cancel the fatwa and, since he is dead, it cannot be cancelled. But its validity would only be theological.

The fatwa is no longer an issue between Iran and the West since the problem is much more serious the allegation that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons programme.

For India to bar Rushdie at this stage would not make any sense to the outside world as he has already paid several visits since the trouble over the fatwa was resolved. Rushdie has said on several occasions that being able to visit India, especially Mumbai, is very important to him as a writer.


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