January 23, 2012

L’AFFAIRE SALMAN RUSHDIE

B.RAMAN

1962: There were intelligence reports of likely threats to the life of
John F.Kennedy, the then US President, if he visited Dallas. The US
Secret Service advised him not to go. He decided to go despite the
reports. He was assassinated.

1984: There were intelligence assessments of likely threats to Indira
Gandhi from her Sikh security guards following the military raid in
the Golden Temple. Those responsible for her security quietly removed
all Sikh security guards from her house. She noticed it and ordered
that they should be reposted. She said: " How can I call myself the
Prime Minister of secular India if I distrust my Sikh guards?" Her
security set-up was told to ensure that no Sikh would be alone by her
side. There was negligence in implementing this. She was killed by two
of her Sikh guards who managed to have the duty roaster manipulated in
such a manner as to ensure that they would be alone by her side.

1991: There were intelligence assessments of likely threats to Rajiv
Gandhi from the LTTE during his election campaign in Tamil Nadu. The
intelligence agencies and the Tamil Nadu Police failed to strengthen
security for him. He was killed by a LTTE suicide bomber.

2004: There were intelligence assessments of likely threats to the
security of ShriAtalBehari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, if he
went to Islamabad for the SAARC summit. Despite this, he decided to
go. The intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan strengthened his
security. Nothing happened.

2. Shri Salman Rushdie is a well-known literary personality--- loved
and admired by many non-Muslims and hated by many Muslims whose
feelings were hurt by his Satanic Verses. He was and is a highly
threatened non-Government personality in the world. The threats to his
life arose from individual Muslims angered by his book and from the
intelligence agencies of Iran where religious clerics had announced a
handsome reward for his assassination.

3.The British security agencies and Police strengthened his security
and he was advised to cut down his public exposure.He complied with
their advisory and had practically no social life for some years till
the fatwa was withdrawn in Iran. The threat to him from the Iranian
intelligence subsided, but the threats from individual Muslims
remained as high as ever. Intelligence and security agencies of the
world felt confident of being able to protect him from potential
individual assassins with no State sponsorship. He increasingly became
more active socially and started interacting with the civil society
and the media in different countries. He started travelling
frequently.He developed a love relationship with a woman of Tamil
origin in New York and was often seen with her in public in NY. He
visited Chennai with her to meet her relatives and friends. He
participated in the inaugural session of the Jaipur Literary Festival
in 2007.

4. Though the threats to him remained high, the intelligence and
security agencies of different countries, including India, had no
difficulty in ensuring his security. He and his hosts also facilitated
their task by maintaining a low profile about his visits and by
avoiding advance publicity. Many of us came to know of his visit to
Chennai along with his Tamil woman-companion only after he had come
and gone.

5. Ensuring his security for his participation in the Jaipur Literary
Festival that started on January 20 became a complicated affair
because the fundamentalist Deobandi group came to know of his planned
visit much in advance and made a public issue of it. Statements and
comments emanating from the Deobandi office-bearers and some sections
of the Muslim community amounted to open, verbal intimidation meant to
intimidate the Government of India into not allowing him to come and
intimidate him into not coming.
6. The situation became sensitive and complex. One would have expected
the Government of India to stop this intimidatory campaign initiated
by the Deobandis in the bud and make it clear to them that the
Government of India was determined to protect him and would not
succumb to the intimidatory campaign.

7. The Government of India did nothing of the sort. It adopted what
seemed to many as a deliberately ambivalent attitude by highlighting
his right to visit to India as a person of Indian origin , but
maintaining a political silence on the intimidatory campaign against
him. The Government and the Congress seem to have seen political
advantages in such an ambivalent attitude on the eve of the
forthcoming elections in UP.

8. As it normally happens in such an increasingly-charged atmosphere,
reports started flowing to intelligence agencies of alleged plans of
some elements to assassinate him when he came to India. The open
intimidatory campaign of the Deobandis was compounded by the flow of
reports about the alleged clandestine plans of the Mumbai underworld
to assassinate him. The reports were of a general and not specific
nature.

9. These clandestine reports called for three actions by the
Government of India:
(a). The Government of India taking over the responsibility for
strengthening and co-ordinating his security.

( b ).Informing Rushdie of the clandestine intelligence reports.

(c ). A formal assurance to him that security for him would be
strengthened and that he need not cancel his visit just because of
these reports.

10. It is apparent that the Government of India only informed him of
these clandestine intelligence reports. It did not take any other
action to give him confidence that it would do everything necessary to
protect him. The Government of India's deliberately ambivalent
attitude continued.

11. Apart from odd statements and remarks by individual spokesmen of
the Government of India and the Congress Party that Rushdie would be
protected, nothing was done to strengthen his confidence in the
Government of India. In the face of this ambivalence of the Government
of India, he decided to cancel his visit. I felt disappointed and let
down by his decision which will give fresh oxygen to extremists of any
persuasion. But I can understand his decision. Many of us would have
probably reacted in the same manner in the face of the ambivalent
attitude of the Government of India which was marked by a mix of
partisan opportunism and State cowardice.

12. The ill-advised actions of some of the participants in the Jaipur
festival such as reading out extracts from Satanic Verses have added
to the confusion. Certain things need to be clearly stated and
understood.L'Affaire Rushdie is not a moral issue. It is not a
question of the right of Rushdie to freedom of expression.

13. It is pure and simple an issue of the obligation of the State to
protect a highly-threatened person by whatever means possible and not
to let itself be intimidated by extremists. The way the whole affair
has been handled by the Government of India would legitimately
strengthen the suspicion that the handling of the affair was vitiated
by partisan opportunism, which encouraged the creation of a crisis in
the hope of reaping electoral dividends.

14. January 20,2012, was a day of tragedy, shame and disquiet.Tragedy
because the events were manipulated in such a manner as to discourage
Rushdie from coming.Shame because of the opportunism and cowardice of
the Indian State and political leadership. Disquiet because it showed
once again that for our political class partisan interests come before
national interests. ( 21-1-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat,
Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For
Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For
China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com Twitter : @SORBONNE75 )

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