| by B.Raman
( January 26, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Oprah Winfrey, the TV giant from the US and a woman sans pareil, and Salman Rushdie, the famous, but controversial writer whose works have been as much condemned as hailed, were to have been the two flagships of the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), which concluded on January 24.
I’m returning to India, deal with it: Salman Rushdie
Oprah sailed in—- in total grandeur and majesty— and dazzled an audience of over a thousand in Jaipur and millions across the world who watched live on TV her sparkling conversation lasting about 75 minutes with Barkha Dutt, the shining star of Indian TV.
To the disappointment of many, the second flagship did not arrive. It could not. A combination of religious fundamentalists, political opportunists, governmental cowards and security fraudsters saw to it that Salman Rushdie was forced to cancel his visit on grounds of security.
|Barkha Dutt and Salman Rushdie
Oprah is the beloved of millions. Neither she nor the organisers had to worry about her security.
Rushdie is anything but the beloved of the people. He may be the darling of the literati who congregate at such festivals, but he evokes extreme emotions across the Muslim world because of his controversial projection of some aspects of Islam in his books. He is liked by some, but hated by many.
It required courage on the part of the organisers to have invited him for a live conversation not on Islam, but on the English language with Barkha.
Rushdie is a highly threatened person, facing threats from extremist elements in the Muslim community, but these threats had never deterred him from visiting India, his homeland, whenever he wanted to for personal reasons or whenever he was invited for such literary gatherings.
In fact, he had attended the first JLF in 2007 for a live conversation with Barkha.
Security for him had posed problems for the Indian security agencies, but they had met the challenge and ensured that he was able to visit in the past without any of the threats against him materialising.
They should have been able to ensure his security if he had come for the latest JLF too, but sections of fundamentalist elements with the suspected collusion of the Governments of India and Rajasthan did not want him to come for political reasons in view of the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh and some other States of India.
Preventing Rushdie from coming was too tempting a way of winning some Muslim votes, without incurring the rebuke of the Election Commission.
They adopted every dirty trick available to them to make him cancel the visit—- threats of demonstrations by the fundamentalists, ambivalent statements by Governmental spokesmen on his security and even allegedly fabricated intelligence reports of the agencies purporting to show plots to have him assassinated by the underworld.
And cancel, he did.
The organisers were not prepared to accept total defeat. If he could not come in flesh and blood, they were determined to see that he came virtually through a video address to the audience on the concluding day to be moderated by Barkha.
But the fundamentalists —with the suspected collusion of the Government— were determined to prevent even a virtual appearance of Rushdie.
They again resorted to dirty tricks— more threats of demonstrations, warnings of attacks on the venue and damage to the property of the owner of the venue— to prevent even a video chat with Rushdie by Barkha at the concluding session.
The organisers had to give up in total defeat and cancel even his video appearance.
When the final announcement of the cancellation was made, the Government of India’s reputation as the upholder of democratic and secular values and the fundamental right of freedom of expression lay totally bruised and bleeding in Jaipur.
It would have remained bruised and bleeding to the utter shame of millions of Indians, if Barkha had not entered the scene and mounted a salvage operation of remarkable ingenuity and extraordinary courage to see that Rushdie was able to have his say.
Ignoring the intimidation and threats, she managed to interview Rushdie clandestinely for nearly 45 minutes and have the recorded interview telecast to the world within an hour.
Rushdie was able to say whatever he would have wanted to say on the chicanery and dirty stratagems adopted by various dramatis personae to prevent him from coming to his homeland to address the JLF.
When I heard about Barkha’s interview I had misgivings that while being professionally adventurous, she would have tried to be politically cautious by avoiding questions that might have added to the embarrassment of the Government.
When I saw the interview, I was amazed to find that she had been her usual hard-hitting TV host. It was an interview with no holds, no questions and no issues barred.
If the millions of viewers were mesmerised by her open conversation with Oprah, they were thunderstruck by her clandestine conversation with Rushdie.
What was important was not what Rushdie said. It was that he was able to say it. Barkha saw to it that the show in Jaipur did not end without Rushdie being able to have his say.
Barkha salvaged India’s reputation. It was a performance of incredible courage.