A video address by British author Salman Rushdie to a book festival in India was scrapped on Tuesday after police warned that Islamic hardliners in the crowd posed a security threat to the event.
Some Muslim groups had opposed the speech by video link because of alleged blasphemy in Rushdie's 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses”, which remains banned in India.
Organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival said police had advised them that Muslim activists were planning to disrupt the address as thousands of festival-goers gathered to listen to Rushdie.
The Indian-born author, speaking from London after the cancellation, raged against Muslim extremists for misrepresenting their religion and against the Indian government for failing to stand up to the campaign against him.
“If this is the face of Islam that is going to take root in India then it is a very bad state of affairs,” he told the NDTV news channel. “The government, the buck stops there.
“I will come to India many times, as I choose, to do what I will, and I not allow these religious gangsters and their cronies in the government to prevent me,” he said.
Rushdie last week withdrew from a scheduled personal appearance at the event when Indian intelligence officials told him assassins from Mumbai were heading to Jaipur, though he said he now believed the plot was a fake.
Police at the five-day festival, which attracts tens of thousands of book fans from India and abroad, had been keen to prevent any protests at the venue in the gardens of an old palace in Jaipur.
Some Muslim groups entered the venue on Tuesday and demanded that Rushdie, who lived in hiding for 10 years due to death threats over “The Satanic Verses”, be prevented from participating even by video.
“There are people within this audience who have been sent in here to disrupt the proceeding. There would be perhaps some violence or an aggressive situation,” festival producer Sanjoy Roy told the crowds.
Rushdie had vowed to appear by video link when he pulled out on Friday, saying on Twitter that he had been told by Indian officials that a “mafia don” had issued weapons to named hitmen to kill him.
Politicians have denied reports that the death threat had been concocted by police to avoid demonstrations at the festival.
Rushdie said he suspected the outrage over his planned appearance at the festival was connected to state elections starting next month in Uttar Pradesh, where about 18 percent of the population is Muslim.
“I am at a loss to understand why it has happened now except... that it somehow connected to the U.P. elections and a desire to collect the Muslim vote,” he said.
“I have been coming and going (to India) a lot and it is astonishing to me that suddenly not only my physical presence but my image on a video screen is considered to be unacceptable.”
Organizers expressed huge disappointment at the campaign against Rushdie, who had appeared at the festival in 2007 without incident.
“It is with extreme regret that after three weeks of this unfolding of a fairly idiotic situation we are having to step down in a fight for the freedom of expression,” Roy told the crowd, who shouted their support for Rushdie.
“We have been pushed to the wall.”
Four of Rushdie's fellow authors at the event showed their support by reading out passages of “The Satanic Verses” from the stage in protest last week.
At a panel discussion held in place of Rushdie's video address, one Muslim leader was loudly booed as he defended his position.
“We have not stopped him coming here,” Salim Engineer said. “If someone comes who is a criminal in our opinion it is our democratic right to protest against him.”
The festival ended on Tuesday after talks from more than 250 speakers including U.S. chat show queen Oprah Winfrey, biologist and atheist author Richard Dawkins, and Indian best-selling novelist Chetan Bhagat.