Rushdie speech cancelled after death threats in India

Tue Jan 24, 2012 2:02pm EST
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By Henry Foy

JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - A video-link speech by Salman Rushdie to Asia's largest literature festival was cancelled minutes before it was due to begin on Tuesday because of death threats to the organizers and fears of riots by Muslim groups.

Rushdie's 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses" is banned in India and he had been forced to cancel a plan to address the festival in person. The portrayal of the prophet Mohammad in his book incensed Muslims and led to the author spending years in hiding.

He accused authorities on Tuesday of pandering to zealots with an eye on elections where Muslims form a key voting group.

"I find an India in which religious extremists can prevent free expression of ideas at a literary festival, in which the politicians are too, let's say, in bed with those groups to wish to oppose them, for narrow electoral reasons," the British-Indian author told the Indian news channel NDTV.

"Does India want to be a totalitarian state like China?"

The question of whether Rushdie should take part dogged the festival even before it began last week as organizers tried to balance religious sensitivities with freedom of speech in the world's largest democracy.

Rushdie dropped plans to travel to the north-western city of Jaipur after assassination threats against him were reported by Indian authorities.

Organizers announced the cancellation of Rushdie's video-link on Tuesday to a mix of boos and applause after being warned by police that his appearance could trigger a riot.   Continued...

<p>Members of the audience listen to authors at the annual Literature Festival in Jaipur, capital of India's desert state of Rajasthan January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain</p>