The Muslims, in whose name books have been banned and writers harassed, are among the poorest people in India, which has been officially confirmed by an Indian-government report released in 2006. Now that elections have begun in Uttar Pradesh for its 403-seat assembly, the Congress Party has taken up one of the report’s recommendations and announced a 4.5 percent affirmative-action “subquota” of seats for Muslims. Elections trump ethics. As the social scientist Ashis Nandy told me in Delhi, on the morning after I fled Jaipur, “India is not a democracy, it is a psephocracy,” by which he meant that it wasn’t the rule of law but electoral calculation that governed the lives of Indians.
The controversy that erupted at the Jaipur Literature Festival is neither only about the freedom of expression nor only, in any representative way, about the sentiments of all Muslims. We cannot distance it from the crazy mix of celebrity, money, and media in the frenetic landscape of a market-friendly India.” —
From Amitava Kumar’s excellent piece on reading Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival - engaging with Rushdie as a literary critic, and with the complexity of this political act of speaking out in India (at that time, now)
I didn’t see Kumar read Rushdie at the Festival - but I was there the next day, reading the papers that buzzed with the possibility of his appearance, the ejection of the writers, walking through metal detectors and hearing people talk about whether there would be a (violent?) protest and the upcoming elections as they sipped beers and nodded along to Tom Stoppard. Not all of them were liberal intellectual khadi-wearing stereotypes either.
Kumar talks about “market-friendly India” - a perfect phrase, even in terms of the way we approach democracy. Half-bamboozlement and bribes, and half undercover Tehelka-style stings with their soap-opera revelations and hectoring TV chatshows.