JAIPUR, Jan 24 (IANS): Hours of suspense climaxed Tuesday when a much awaited video address by author Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival was called off following protests by some Muslim groups. The decision caused deep disappointment among writers, organisers and visitors alike who called it a slap on the freedom of expression.
"In view of the resentment simmering in the city against Rushdie's address, we have told the organisers that they cannot allow the writer to speak via video," Superintendent of Police Vijendra Jhala told the media Tuesday afternoon.
Addressing the audience in the crowded front lawns of Diggi Palace, which swarmed with police, writers and, of course, visitors to the fest, the owner of the venue, Ram Pratap Singh, said he "could not allow the conference to he held because of the security threat".
"I am the owner of the property and I cannot allow the conference to take place. I have been told that groups of protesters who have gathered in the city were marching towards the property. It is unfortunate but we have to call off the conference," Ram Pratap Singh said.
An emotional Sanjoy Roy, the producer of the festival, who has been campaigning for the last three weeks to allow the audience to interact with Rushdie, said: "We have been pushed to the wall."
Declaring that they had been bullied, Roy said: "We are having to step down in our fight for the freedom of expression, to tell our stories... this is not a decision we can support."
A disappointed Roy appeared to be in tears as he walked off the stage mid-sentence.
Minutes before Rushdie was to speak via video link, dozens of Mulsims started praying in the courtyard of the Diggi Palace. They tried to downplay the link with Rushdie's speech but some of them threatened trouble and even bloodshed if the video conferencing by a "criminal writer" went ahead.
"Every mazhab (religion) teaches us to respect god within us but those who insult god and religion have no business to be here," said a Muslim hardliner who did not wish to be named.
Rushdie, author of the banned book "The Satanic Verses", had called off his visit to the festival over security fears. The organisers had then said he would address the event by a video link. But in the end, even this had to be cancelled.