In an interview to CNN-IBN, organiser of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Sanjoy K Roy has said it was his decision to call off the video link to Salman Rushdie, even while the police assured him of maintaining order at the festival. The decision came after miscreants from the neighboring areas gathered at the venue threatening disruption.
The locals were acting upon a ban called by a Deoband scholar claiming that Rushdie had hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims. The ban said Muslims would oppose the entry of Rushdie from the country for hurting their sentiments.
“When I saw 5,000 people sitting at the venue and I realised the kind of mayhem that the miscreants might end up creating, I decided to call off the decision to connect, Sanjoy said, “I asked the commissioner what to do. And even though he assured me of maintaining order at the venue, it was my decision to call off the link.”
With much ruckus created over Salman Rushdie’s visit that never happened, the producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival believes it was a “tragic mistake” on the organisers’ part to have made public his attendance.
The festival had earlier seen Rushdie’s presence in 2007 without much fuss, and an unannounced visit by controversial Dutch-Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2010.
Sanjoy K Roy said that perhaps it would have been better not to have announced the visit of the ‘Midnight’s Children’ author, that ultimately almost hijacked this edition of the festival.
“In retrospect it was a big mistake…. it was a tragic mistake,” he told Karan Thapar at CNN-IBN’s Devil’s Advocate, when asked about the festival organisers’ decision to make public Rushdie’s appearance three weeks before it happened.
However, he said the calling off of the visit was based on intelligence inputs received from the Rajasthan IB, despite the fact that the police “had stood by us” in providing more than adequate security, and at no point did the government “ever say to us that do not ask Rushdie to come”.
“Each of the bits of information we received from Rajasthan IB led to the decision to not come, which in retrospect was the best decision,” he said, while pointing out that he was in no position to judge if the inputs were credible.
Rushdie himself has said that he was provided concocted information by the Rajasthan intelligence.
The festival that began on January 20 first saw the ‘Satanic Verses’ author call off his visit and later his video link address was scrapped due to alleged threats of violence.
In a dramatic turn of events, the video was cancelled at the last moment even as hundreds of people waited in anticipation.
“What changed my mind (at the last minute) was when I got out and saw approximately 5,000 people sitting in the lawns and realised some of them had got hold of chairs that they may fling on to the screen; even if one of them did that, the kind of mayhem that it could have created could have lead to either a stampede or a lot of people getting hurt,” Roy said.
“It was a decision made by us knowing fully well that the kind of rhetoric that was received by us from, including a senior Maulana, who said to me ‘for us it is jihad and our young people will fight it to the end,” he said.
He also said the popularity of the festival at a venue where thousands can congregate at a time turned out to be the major factor in their decision to not take any risk.