NEW DELHI (AFP)
British author Salman Rushdie on Saturday attacked growing
intolerance in India as he returned to the country for the first
time since Islamic activists forced him to cancel a visit two
Rushdie, who withdrew from a literary festival in January after
death threats and angry protests, criticised politicians for
pandering to hardline Muslim clerics and launched a stout defence
of freedom of expression.
The Mumbai-born novelist, whose 1988 book "The Satanic Verses"
remains banned in India for allegedly insulting Islam, said he
was happy to be back in the country and to have defied his
"A combination of religious fanaticism, political opportunism and
public apathy is damaging that freedom on which all other
freedoms depends: the freedom of expression," Rushdie told a
conference in New Delhi.
The Booker prize-winning writer said he believed Indian
politicians had failed to stand up to the small number of Muslim
groups who successfully campaigned to stop him appearing at the
Jaipur Literature Festival.
And he accused the ruling Congress party of trying to appease
Muslim voters in a state election that was held soon after the
"It didn't even work Rahul. Years and years of kneeing down in
front of every mullah you can find and it didn't even work, it
must feel sick," Rushdie said in a dig at Congress leader Rahul
Gandhi after the party performed poorly at the polls.
Rushdie also ridiculed Pakistan cricketer-turned-politician Imran
Khan, who pulled out of a scheduled speech at this weekend's
conference due to Rushdie's alleged anti-Muslim writings.
Khan had chosen "to demonise a book written 25 years ago and to
make its author a bogey man with which to distract his audience
from the immeasurable hurt of their actual lives", Rushdie said.
Rushdie drew gasps of surprise from the India Today Conclave
audience by asking: "Have you noticed the physical resemblance
between Imran Khan and (slain Libyan dictator Moamer) Kadhafi?"
"If you were making a movie of the life of Kadhafi and you wanted
a slightly better-looking version of Kadhafi you might cast Imran
Khan," Rushdie said with a grin. "He would need to act of course,
which would be a problem."
The 64-year-old author said the re-emergence of controversy over
"The Satanic Verses" was part of a trend in India of the threat
of violence being used to silence opposing opinions and artistic
"What is becoming more commonplace in India is a cultural war
against all forms of art," he said. "It seems almost every day
now somewhere there is a piece of bullying by Muslims or Hindus
of groups they believe offend them."
Rushdie, who said he was being protected by extra security during
his visit to India, spent a decade in hiding after Iranian
spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in
1989 calling for his death.
"The chilling affect of violence is very real and growing in this
country," he said. "People here are very largely asleep to what
is going on, and you need to wake up."