Controversial author Salman Rushdie today alleged that he was forced to cancel his trip to Kolkata after being threatened that he would be bundled out on the first flight by the police on orders from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata
The 65-year-old author issued a one page statement before flying out of the country. He also tweeted that the Kolkata police had made his visit to the city "impossible" and accused it of leaking his programme to the press and Muslim leaders "clearly inciting protests".
"... 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 the statement.
Rushdie was to take part in the Kolkata Lit Meet as a surprise guest on January 30 to promote the movie adaptation of his novel Midnight's Children but the organisers later denied inviting the author.
"Let me be clear. I was indeed planning to take part in a session at the Kolkata Lit Meet along with the scheduled speakers Deepa
Mehta, Rahul Bose, and Ruchir Joshi. The organizers were fully aware of this, and had asked me to appear as a "surprise guest". If they now deny this, that is dishonest. They actually paid for my plane ticket," Rushdie further said.
In his tweet, the Booker prize-winning author said, "The simple fact is that the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered the police to block my arrival. I did not get 'friendly advice' to stay away from
Kolkata. I was told the police would put me on next plane out... The police gave my full itinerary to the press and called Muslim leaders, clearly inciting protests."
Rushdie attended the premiere of Midnight's Children in Mumbai last night with the star cast of the film before leaving India.
Rushdie travelled to India on January 22 to promote the film. In Delhi, the venue of his press conference was shifted from a mall to a hotel due to security reasons but other than that he did not face any problems in the city. His trips to Bangalore and Mumbai were also peaceful.
Recalling the fiasco over his trip to Jaipur literature festival last year, Rushdie said, "I remember that after the Jaipur festival last year Mamata Banerjee had said she would not allow me to enter Kolkata. It would appear that she has made good that threat."
Rushdie called the recent controversies surrounding the release of Kamal Haasan's film Vishwaroopam and the problems faced by author Ashish Nandy's for his alleged anti-Dalit statements, "assaults upon the artistic and intellectual freedoms".
"What is happening in India nowadays is an accumulating scandal and a growing disgrace to this great nation.
"The assaults upon the artistic and intellectual freedoms of, for example, Maqbool Fida Hussain, Rohinton Mistry, AK Ramanujan, James Laine, Deepa Mehta, Ashis Nandy, Kamal Haasan and others add up to what I have called a cultural Emergency and what Mr Hasan has called cultural terrorism," said Rushdie.
The author said that being a "proud" overseas citizen of India, it was a shame that he was not allowed to move freely within the country to which any Indian is entitled by right.
He hoped to return to India "as soon as good sense prevails."
Midnight's Children opened in Indian theatres today.
Though the police was tight-lipped on the issue, Sultan Ahmed, a Trinamool Congress MP and former union minister, welcomed the decision of the state government.
"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."
"I welcome the decision of the state government", he said.
"I am not a minister in the state government. As an MP and people's representative I can say this," he said, adding Rushdie himself should refrain from coming to the state.
Anticipating the Booker Prize winning author's arrival, a few hundred people from minority groups gathered at the Kolkata airport, but dispersed when they learnt from the police that he had called off his trip.
Evoking extreme reactions from the Islamic world, Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses had led to a fatwa being issued on his life.
Last year, a major controversy erupted after the author had to cancel his India visit to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival following reports of threats to his life.
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