Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “silence” along with the silence of institutions like the Sahitya Akademi is permitting a new “degree of thuggish violence” in India, said celebrated author Salman Rushdie.
Speaking to NTDV from London, Rushdie said the rising intolerance in India posed a “real grave danger” to liberties.
“There are attacks on ordinary liberties, the ordinary right of assembly, the ordinary right to organize an event in which people can talk about books and ideas freely and without hostility, that seems to be in real grave danger in India today,” he said.
Making it clear that he was taking no sides between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Rushdie said he said he was no supporter of the Congress which had banned his book, but he believed here was something different unfolding in India today.
“I am not a fan of any political party. I don’t support either side of this argument. Obviously, when ‘The Satanic Verses’ was banned it was banned by the Congress of Rajiv Gandhi and then there was the episode of Jaipur (Literary Festival) which was the last time we had to talk like this by long distance. And of course, I am not any kind of fan of that.
“But I think what’s crept into Indian life now is a degree of thuggish violence which is new. And it seems to be, I have to say, given permission by the silence of official bodies, by the silence of the Sahitya Akademi which is what so many of the writers protesting about, by the silence of the Prime Minister’s Office. Mr Modi is a very talkative gentleman, he has a lot to say on a lot of subjects and it would be very good to hear what he has to say about all this.”
Rushdie was speaking on the publication of his twelfth novel “Two Years, Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights”.
Responding to a question about whether that change was reflected in, for instance, the smearing of journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face with black ink by the Shiv Sena, Rushdie said: “I think that is unfortunately true. The book does seem to have expressed something that’s really happening.”
He said that he stood in solidarity with Nayantara Sahgal and all the other authors who had returned their awards to take a principled position on the attack on liberty.
“I made a tweet supporting Nayantara Sahgal and many of the other writers who have protested against these recent terrible events in India. And no sooner had I said that than 10 thousand hateful tweets were aimed at me and still going on. So it’s something that unfortunately is happening in India too much right now.”
Asked if the volley of hatred he had to face on Twitter for supporting Nayantara Sahgal and others deterred him in any way, Rushdie said: “I am too old in this game to be scared by 140 characters on Twitter. At this point I just have what I have to say and I will say it.. If people don’t like it, that is their problem.”