Rushdie ban: Did Mamata act on a Muslim cleric's advice?

Kolkata: A Muslim cleric claimed today West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had ordered Kolkata police to block the visit of controversial author Salman Rushdie to the metropolis on Wednesday at his instance.

“I had passed on a message to Mamata that his (Rushdie's) visit will disrupt communal harmony in Kolkata and the feelings of Muslims would be hurt. She had assured us that Rushdie would not be allowed to enter the city,” Syed Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati, the Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan Mosque, told PTI.

Mamata Banerjee. Agencies.

Mamata Banerjee. Agencies.

Banerjee did the 'right thing' by ordering the police not to allow him to visit the city, he said praising her decision. “She directed the police after discussing the issue with us. We told her that some minority organisations will launch protests against his visit if it happens. We cannot let things like this happen in Bengal where so many Muslims live,” the Imam said.

All India Minority Forum president and Trinamool Congress leader Idris Ali said “the chief minister wants communal harmony in the state. I congratulate her, the police and the administration for taking proper decisions in maintaining peace".

Officials of the Kolkata Police or those of the state government have so far denied any role in the cancellation of Rushdie’s Kolkata trip. “The day before I was due to travel to Kolkata, we were informed that the Kolkata police would refuse to allow me to enter the city. If I flew there, I was told, I would be put on
the next plane back. I was also told that this was at the request of the Chief Minister,” Rushdie said in a statement earlier in the day before flying out of the country.

The Booker Prize winning India-born British-novelist was to take part in the Kolkata Literary Meet as a surprise guest on January 30 to promote the movie adaptation of his novel 'Midnight's Children' directed by Deepa Mehta but the organisers later denied inviting the author.

Rushdie's 1988 novel 'The Satanic Verses' had evoked extreme reactions from the Islamic world for alleged blasphemy and led to a 'fatwa' being issued on his life.

Trinamool Congress MP Sultan Ahmed too came out in support of the cancellation of Rushdie’s visit. “If Mamata has stopped him from visiting the city, then the government has taken the right stand. I congratulate her and her government for preserving the cultural and communal values and ethos,” he said.

Describing Rushdie’s writing as 'dirty' and 'anti-Islam', he said "in the land of Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Kazi Nazrul Islam, we don't support this kind of a thing in the name of free thinking".

PTI