‘At no point did we ask the authors to leave...We were disappointed they did not take us into confidence’
Sanjoy Roy and Namita Gokhale, organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, talk of the Salman Rushdie controversy and say it was a "foolish miscalculation" on their part to announce his visit beforehand. This session was moderated by Senior Assistant Editor Charmy Harikrishnan
Charmy Harikrishnan: As organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), you wanted to keep Salman Rushdie's visit a surprise until the last moment but we hear Rushdie wanted it otherwise. Could you explain what happened?
Sanjoy Roy: On January 2, we had decided that we wouldn't announce Rushdie's visit. We had planned a festival in Kashmir last September and one irresponsible national newspaper printed an irresponsible article on its front page – 'Salman Rushdie will visit India', although we hadn't invited him. That led to an attack by both the Left and the Right which led to the cancellation of the festival. So we decided to keep Rushdie's visit to Jaipur quiet. I was in Malaysia when William Dalrymple (the other organiser) called to say Rushdie was hysterical, he wanted to know why we had kept him off the website programme, that he didn't want to come to India under stealth, he wanted to come as an invitee. We then posted the information on the website. The first to pick it up was a group in Ajmer – they issued a fatwa. The second was Deobandh when the media asked one of the maulanas about it. Thereafter, we were not really in control of events.
Namita Gokhale: Salman Rushdie has been visiting India frequently -- he came to Jaipur in 2007, and whenever he comes, the organisers of the trip don't give advance notice for the very natural hysteria to build up – in a hysterical country like ours if you give provocation, you can't expect not be provoked back. So it was a collective, accidental, slip- up. R ead an article by historian Faisal: 'Does Salman Rushdie exist?' He says the celebrated author has been introduced to a kind of billboard upon which almost any cause can be advertised. It's like a light cluster: you put on Salman Rushdie and so many different buttons get pushed at the same time and so many latent and dormant issues find voice.