Salman Rushdie cancelled his scheduled appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival on Friday with an explanation worthy of one of his own improbable plotlines: “I have now been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to eliminate me.”
Would that it were fiction. Rushdie’s presence at the festival — a five-day, open-air bookapalooza on the grounds of an old palace in the western Indian state of Rajasthan — has been uncertain since earlier this month, when a politician campaigning in local elections in another state made a play for Muslim votes with the absurd claim that the rival Congress Party had invited Rushdie to India and ought to cancel his visa to show that it was sensitive to their concerns (Rushdie was invited by festival organizers and doesn’t need a visa). An influential Muslim cleric then said Rushdie had “hurt the sentiments of Muslims all over the world” and called for him to be denied entry. That was enough to rouse the long-dormant controversy over Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses and serve an easy election issue that politicians could pander to with either fiery rhetoric or timid silence.