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Verses haunts lit fest again

New Delhi, Jan. 21: The shadow of last year’s The Satanic Verses controversy is back to haunt the Jaipur Literature Festival three days before it starts.

Local Muslim groups yesterday threatened “strong action” if any of the four authors who read out copied passages from Salman Rushdie’s controversial book at the fest last year are allowed in.

The organisers today announced the Dalai Lama would speak at the festival, which begins on January 24 and has several sessions on Buddhism, in the hope that his presence and words would help calm the frayed nerves.

Last year, Rushdie was apparently persuaded to cancel his scheduled visit to the fest following protests over the Verses. In protest, Jeet Thayil, Ruchir Joshi, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar read out passages from the Verses, banned in India, at the festival.

They eventually left midway. Reports that Thayil was scheduled to speak at this year’s festival sparked the latest controversy.

“If any author who has courted controversy by hurting the sentiments of the community comes... they will have to face strong action,” Mujahid Naqvi, a scholar, said.

Thayil didn’t want to comment but sources said they were not aware of any changes to his plans to go to Jaipur.

Joshi told The Telegraph he wasn’t coming this year anyway but criticised the threat. “My reaction ranges from disappointment to anger. Last year, it was a cold, re-warmed ‘outrage’ timed just ahead of the UP and other state elections. And this year, they have realised that Jaipur is a good springboard for publicity.”