NEW DELHI // Resurrecting a controversy about the author Salman Rushdie and his 1988 Satanic Verses, which Muslims deemed blasphemous, an influential Islamic cleric has been joined by politicians in demanding that Mr Rushdie be denied entry to India to attend a literary festival.
But critics say the request is simply politicking ahead of the state elections in Uttar Pradesh next month.
“It is obvious that this is being done with an eye on the elections,” said Swapan Dasgupta, a political analyst, journalist and author in New Delhi.
“Organisations believe this is a time when they have a certain space available to do things like this.”
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, an estimated 17 per cent of the 200 million people are Muslims – higher than the national average of 13 to14 per cent. And Muslims have one of highest voter turnouts in the country, with more than 70 per cent voting.
The Darul Uloom, a socially conservative body of the Muslim clergy based in Deoband in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has opposed Mr Rushdie’s visit for the Jaipur Literary Festival which starts on January 20.
In a statement to the prime minster on Monday, Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani, the vice chancellor of the seminary, said the Indian government should bar Mr Rushdie from the country as he “has annoyed the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past”.Mr Nomami asked the government to take into account the “widespread” feelings of Muslims against the author.
Mr Rushdie, 65, a British citizen, does not need a visa to visit.
Mr Rushdie’s controversial novel, the Satanic Verses, published in 1988, was banned a year later in India amid violent protests. A fatwa was also issued against Mr Rushdie in 1989 by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asked his supporters to kill the author for blasphemy against Islam.
The fatwa sent Mr Rushie into hiding for years.
Indian Muslim politicians from various political parties have come out in support of the ban.
On Monday, Sultan Ahmed, a member of the West Bengal-based Trinamool Congress party, said in a statement that it would be “good to decline a visa to an author who is known to hurt religious sentiments of Muslims”.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the vice president of the main opposition party in the national parliament, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, accused the congress-led government of inviting and then retracting their invitation to the author.
“This was not the right time to call Rushdie to India as he is a controversial figure and there are elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other states. There would be tension due to his presence,” Mr Naqvi said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The government has no role in inviting attendees to the literary festival and denies asking Mr Rusdhie to attend.
Sanjoy Roy, the producer of the Jaipur Literary Festival, confirmed Mr Rushdie’s attendance along with 240 other authors.