Novelist Salman Rushdie pulled out of India’s largest literature festival after receiving warnings that assassins were planning to kill him at the five-day event for writing a book that some Muslims condemn as blasphemous.
Rushdie said that while he has doubts about the veracity of the intelligence that members of the Mumbai underworld were going to “eliminate” him, it would be reckless to attend the event in the Rajasthan city of Jaipur that started today.
“It would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience, and to my fellow writers,” Rushdie said in an e-mailed statement today.
Rushdie, born in India in 1947, spent nine years in hiding in Britain after Iran’s then-leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a religious decree calling for his death on the grounds his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was blasphemous. He has since returned to public life. The book was banned in India.
Leaders of some Muslim groups, including the head of the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, had said this week that they planned to protest the visit of Rushdie, the best-selling author whose book “Midnight’s Children” won the Booker Prize in 1981. The chief minister of Rajasthan called for Rushdie to stay away, citing security concerns.
“It is embarrassing and presents a very bad image of India as if we were stuck in an age where free speech is not allowed,” said Satish Misra, a political analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. “There has been a complete overreaction from some political leaders, it is very tragic and shouldn’t be happening.”
The festival, a six-hour drive from New Delhi, has become a magnet for top authors, chief executives, bankers, and Bollywood celebrities. Oprah Winfrey, Tom Stoppard and Steven Pinker are among the authors speaking at the festival.
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