[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]hirty-two years after India banned Salman Rushdie’s controversial book The Satanic Verses under pressure from the Muslim clerics, former Union Home Minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram confessed on Saturday that the decision of the then Rajiv Gandhi government of which he was a part was `wrong’.
Chidambaram was a minister of state for home affairs under Rajiv Gandhi from 1986-89. The book, which triggered worldwide uproar and saw Iran decaling a bounty on Rushdie’s head, was banned by the Rajiv government in October 1988.
Few Congress leaders have so far questioned the “ban” decision which has been criticized by liberal opinion makers all these years as a brazen example of Congress’ “appeasement“ policies.
“I have no hesitation in saying that the ban on Salman Rushdie’s book was wrong,” Chidambaram said on Saturday while speaking at the Times LitFest here.
“If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you the same thing,” he said when asked why it took him so many years to reach such a conclusion.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]sked if the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was also wrong, the senior Congress leader said, “Indira Gandhi herself admitted in 1980 that the Emergency was wrong and, if elected to power, she would never impose the Emergency. People believed her and elected her to power again.”
According to a report in The Times of India, Chidambaram said that “intolerance” was on the rise in the country and hoped that “this moral majoritarianism” will fail comprehensively.
“What is of profound concern to me is the apparent rise of intolerance. Khap panchayats today are more visible and more brazen in dispensing Kangaroo justice. There is rush of bans. Ban jeans, ban authors, ban food, ban artist, ban travel, ban NGO,” he said.
After the publication of The Satanic Verses in the United Kingdom in 1988, the Muslims world over accused Rushdie of indulging in blasphemy. Rushdie had to go in hiding when in 1989 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie.
On October 5, 1988, India became one of the first countries in the world to ban the import of the book into the country under the Customs Act of 1962. But since the possession of the book itself was not a crime, the `pirated’ version of the book flooded the market and hundreds of thousands of copies of The Satanic Verses were sold in India, making a mockery of the import ban.