On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the “sovereign socialist secular republic”, a nice little knife has been stuck into the heart of liberal India by goondas and moral policemen. The author Sir Salman Rushdie has pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival following threats from “influential Muslim clerics” of the Darul Uloom Deoband, who suddenly remembered that his banned 1989 novel The Satanic Verses hurt the sentiments of Muslims ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Considering that the book was banned the cowardly Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi 23 years ago, it will surprise nobody that it was the cowardly Congress government of Ashok Gehlot that did the needful this time round. Instead of reassuring the world that the “Indian State” would protect every single individual, down to the last man, woman and child, even if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—especially if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—the Rajasthan government caved in to the thugs.
And the Manmohan Singh government meekly watched on—just as it meekly watched on when A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay Three-hundred Ramayanas was being proscribed by Delhi University (where Singh’s daughter works), under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi and Shiela Dixit (peace be unto them).
While the Congress deserves every brick, shoe and invective hurled at it for the latest “stain on India’s international reputation“—on top of its execrable efforts to screen Facebook, Google and the media—no political party is properly clothed in this horribly naked hamaam which repeatedly and brazenly cocks a snook at free speech and expression.
# The warnings of Hindutva hitmen owing allegiance to the BJP drove M.F. Husain out of India, forcing him to live the last years of his abroad.
# NCP goondas burnt down a library in Poona because its author had used it to write a book on Shivaji, which they didnt’ like.
# In the glorious republic of Gujarat, movie watchers could not catch Parzania because–horror, horror—it showed the plight of Muslim victims in the 2002 pogrom; because, well, Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s government couldn’t offer basic security to theatres.
# Ditto Aamir Khan‘s Fanaa.
# And of course, the “alleged apostle of peace” couldn’t bear the hints of bisexuality in the real apostle of peace, so Joseph Lelyveld‘s book on Mahatma Gandhi was conveniently removed from the eyes of readers.
# In Left-ruled Kerala, a professors’s hand could be merrily chopped off with gay abandon by Islamists because he had mistakenly prepared a question paper that used the named “Mohammed” for a somewhat daft character. (And who can forget what happened to Deccan Herald, when it printed a short story titled Mohamed the Idiot.)
# Taslima Nasreen was unwelcome in Left-ruled Bengal because her views didn’t match those of the mullahs. (She was later attacked by Majlis MLAs in Congress-ruled Hyderabad and her visa reluctantly renewed by the UPA.)
# The BSP government of Behen Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh banned the film Aarakshan because of is “derogatory” take on reservations.
Questions: Are we really a tolerant, liberal nation open to views from all sides? Or in the 21st century, are we utterly incapable of using the word freedom without adding “but” to it?