Salman Rushdie targets Cong

New Delhi: In India two months after being forced to skip Jaipur Literary Festival, controversial author Salman Rushdie on Saturday hit out a Congress, suggesting that his presence there was blocked because of "useless electoral calculations" and told Rahul Gandhi that "it did not work".

The renowed author, who has been castigated by fundamentalist Muslim groups for his book `The Satanic Verses`, said blocking his presence in Jaipur "led the Congress party down the road" in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Participating in India Today Conclave, he said the India "deserves to be led by better leaders than is being now". Referring to the controversy which surrounded the Jaipur Festival in January which forced him to skip the event, he said, "What happened there is not Deobandi bigotry… It was pretty useless electoral calculations. It did not work, Rahul (Gandhi)."

He suggested that this "led to the debacle" of Congress in Uttar Pradesh. "Indian electorate is smarter than these politicians…People can be whipped as in Jaipur Literary Festival," Rushdie said, adding 95 per cent of Muslims are not interested in violence and that would be true for Hindus too.

Rushdie, who spoke at a session with the theme `Liberty versus: I am what I am and that`s all that I am`, said the culture of "offendedness is growing" in India. Citing the opposition by fundamentalists to late M F Hussain and other artistes and writers, he said, "it seems everyday there is a piece of bullying by groups of muslims, hindus.. Voices are being silenced.. The chilling effect of violence is telling and it is growing in this country."

Regretting the public apathy against such measures to silence free expression, the renowed author contended, "people are asleep. You need to wake up." He underlined that "freedom is not tea party, freedom is a war… Freedom is not absolute, it is something which somebody is there to take away. If you don`t defend, you will lose it."

On his presence in India again as promised by him two months back, he said "this seems normal that a writer of Indian birth, who loves this country, turns up to speak. This is normal. But it is abnormal that he is prevented. That danger is growing.

Talking about the stiff opposition by some fundamentalists to `The Satanic Verses` written 24 years back, London-based writer questioned "who gives the people the right to attack me? He said he was extremely shocked that the writers who read from The Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Festival to express solidarity with him were not defended and were still in the danger of being prosecuted.

He took a dig at Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah and Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh besides Pakistan`s cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan for not turning up at the event reportedly because of his presence. "Some politicians suddenly discovered that they had ridiculously overcrowded schedule," he said.

Rushdie focussed much of his attack on Imran Khan, who openly declared that he was boycotting the event because of his presence, and accused him of taking the backing of mullahs and Army to become the ruler of Pakistan. "Immeasurable hurt is caused to the way in which Muslims are seen by the terrorists based in Pakistan to act in the name of Islam, including those who attacked this country from Pakistan, backed by LeT, with whom Imran Khan wants India to sit down and talk," he said.

"Immeasurable hurt is caused to Islam by the presence in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden for so long… Recent evidence provided by Wikileaks show Pakistan Army and officers of ISI were in regular contact with Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad (near Islamabad), the London-based author." He said Imran should rather talk about the immeasurable hurt caused by such acts rather than demonising a book written 24 years back.

Taking a dig at Imram for refusing to share dais with him, Rushdie said, "There was a time when I would feel scared of Imran Khan on the cricket field… Times have changed and it seems it is Imran who is afraid of facing my bouncers now. May be his hook shots are no more what they used be."

He said Imran had a "playboy" image in London about two decades back and added "The Satanic Versus is something I would put a substantial bet that Imran Khan has not read even."

Rushdie said "If Imran really wants to have a debate on `Satanic Verses`, I am ready to discuss with him any time, anywhere." However, after a pause, he added, "but not anywhere, that would be dangerous."

The world-acclaimed author was also sarcastic about Imran opting out of the Conclave because of which the author was given the dinner-session. "I thank Imran Khan for vacating this slot and allowing me to occupy it," he said while observing that he had earlier being given a "less-important session".