Expressing his concerns about India under Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, renowned author Salman Rushdie said that the attacks on freedom of expression could worsen if the BJP comes to power.
“I am pretty concerned about a Modi-run government. The indications that it would be a fairly bullying government are already there. We have already seen journalists and writers being bullied and the BJP has not even taken power yet,” Rushdie told PTI during a session on the importance of freedom of expression at the 10th annual PEN World Voices Festival in New York.
“You already see even more worryingly a kind of self-censorship setting in. People worry that they are going to be bullied and therefore try not to do anything that will attract the wrath of the ‘Modistas’,” he said voicing his thoughts on an India with Modi as its leader.
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Rushdie said there has never been a politician ‘quite like Modi in India’ and given the high likelihood of the BJP winning the national elections and Modi becoming India’s next prime minister, “we have to see whether the experience of office serves to moderate him”.
During his address at the literary festival’s opening, Rushdie described Modi as a ‘highly divisive figure’ and a ‘hardliner’s hardliner’ and voiced concern that the attacks on freedom of expression and literary works could worsen in an India run by the BJP.
He said for India, democracy should not mean just conducting free and fair elections but also ensuring free speech rights to its citizens. “If freedom of expression is under attack, if religious freedom is threatened and if substantial parts of society live in physical fear for their safety, then such a society cannot be said to be a true democracy,” Rushdie said.
Last month, Rushdie and sculptor Anish Kapoor were among a group of Indian-origin writers, artists and lawyers who had signed an open letter ‘worrying about Modi’s rise to power’. Rushdie said following the letter, “We are worried about the arrival of a bullying, intolerant new regime and here are its early outriders -- menacing, nasty and vengeful. There will not be less of this after a Modi victory.”
Rushdie said free speech and religious freedom in India are increasingly coming under attack and writers and artists are being targeted for their work just because a section of the population deems it offensive. Citing the examples of the banning of Wendy Doniger’s book on Hindus and M F Husain’s exile from India for his art works, Rushdie said episodes of this sort are multiplying every week and the authorities have failed lamentably in their duty to protect free speech rights. “The climate of fear that has consequently being created is such that the hooligans’ and censors’ work is now often done for them by the collapse of those who ought to be free speeches defenders.”