| Taslima Nasreen’s reading room in the Rawdon Street flat in which she stayed in Calcutta. The photograph was taken on Monday afternoon. Picture by Aranya Sen
New Delhi, Nov. 26: The Bengal government had opposed granting visa to Taslima Nasreen as early as in 2004 but the Centre overruled the objections — a revelation that could aid the efforts of the CPM to wash its hands of the author and the Congress to occupy the “liberal space”.
The objections of the Bengal government were disclosed by a Congress spokesperson in Delhi this afternoon, following which sources in the home ministry confirmed the claim.
The sources in the ministry said that when Taslima expressed her desire to stay in Calcutta in 2004, the Bengal government was consulted because a security-related no-objection certificate is needed from the state government.
At that time itself, the state government had said it was in favour of neither hosting her nor the Centre granting her a visa, the sources said.
“The Bengal government had said that her presence in the state could have an adverse impact on the local law-and-order situation as some minority organisations were opposed to her stay in Calcutta,” a senior home ministry official said.
However, overruling the state’s apprehensions, the Centre had granted her a tourist visa, to be extended every six months, and allowed her to stay in Calcutta.
The Centre took over three months to decide. The sources said the government was also under pressure from the international community and did not want to be seen as an intolerant government.
It was always suspected that the Bengal government was not keen to play host to Taslima but the state administration had never made its reservations public. Even today, state government officials said they had never opposed the grant of the visa. “Granting visa is the Centre’s business, not ours,” an official said.
However, the CPM, desperately trying to distance itself from what is turning out to be an embarrassing deadlock, would not mind if the reluctance is documented now.
The Congress, eager to snatch the liberal platform vacated by the CPM in the wake of the Nandigram and Taslima controversies, obliged today.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “Taslima Nasreen has been staying (in India) for quite some time. When the Centre was examining her request to extend her visa the last time, the West Bengal government raised legitimate objections. The Centre overruled them and granted her permission.”
Singhvi was careful enough to ensure that the ally was not rubbed the wrong way by stressing that the objections were “legitimate”. But with elections in Gujarat around the corner, it will not hurt the Congress if word spreads among the majority community that it had summoned courage to overrule the short-tempered ally on “a secular cause”.
The CPM’s immediate worry is to recapture the minority minds the party fears to have lost after Nandigram. So, the CPM will also not mind if it is known that it always wanted to keep Taslima at arm’s length.
However, Taslima told The Telegraph today: “The state government has never ever created any problem in my getting my visa renewed.”
The Centre, however, had desisted from granting her a long-term residential permit. “Even grant of a six-month visa was an exception. Generally, the government does not give long-term visas to citizens of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
“Other than Taslima, no other person from either of these countries has been allowed to stay on for so long. They are granted visas as per requirement, that is, according to the work they are coming here for,” a home ministry official said.
Shifted to safe house
The Centre tonight transferred Taslima from the Rajasthan guesthouse in Delhi to an undisclosed safe house, television channels reported. She was escorted out by Intelligence Bureau officials in a decoy car, the channels said.
With inputs from Radhika Ramaseshan and Anindya Sengupta