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November 5, 1999
Rushdie, Naipaul lock horns over BJP
Salman Rushdie has stirred the hornet's nest again. This time by calling V S Naipaul ''a cheer leader for the Bharatiya Janata Party.''
The two have locked horns over Hindu resurgence, the rise of Hindu militancy and the BJP, sparking a new literary debate. ''When Naipaul writes articles which the BJP can use as recruiting material, it's a problem,'' says Rushdie.
The Bombay-born author's comments come in response to Naipaul's interview in the millennium special issue of Outlook magazine which comes out on Sunday.
In his interview, which he claims is his ''last'' interview on India, Trinidad-born Naipaul says Hindu militancy is a ''creative force.'' ''Dangerous or not, it's a necessary corrective to history and will continue to remain so,'' he argues.
Taking on the fellow Booker prize winner in a separate interview in the same issue of the magazine, Rushdie says Naipaul has become ''a bit of a cheer leader for the BJP lately.'' He adds: ''Naipaul cheered up about India when the BJP was emerging that seemed the wrong moment to be optimistic about India just as some of the earlier pessimism seemed a little unearned.''
Naipaul, who has written extensively on Islam in Asia, says the advent of Christianity did not damage India the way Islam did. In art and history books, he says, people write of Muslims 'arriving' in India as though they came on a tourist bus and went away again.
Rushdie admits that he and Naipaul disagree ''quite strongly'' about India.
Naipaul dismisses the idea that an unpartitioned India would have worked better. ''Considering the Islamic movements of the last 30 years, nearly all the energy of an unpartitioned India would have fruitlessly gone into holding itself together.''
Rushdie had last year picked up a ''war of words'' with spy story writer John Le Carre in the letters to the editor column of The Guardian, London.
Professor Amartya Sen also joins issue with Naipaul in the millennium debate. The winner of the Nobel prize for economics last year says he does not share the BJP's general interpretations of Indianness and Hindutva.
''India was a multi-religious country even before the arrival of Islam. Nearly all major religions, schools of agnostic and atheistic thought were present when Islam came here,'' he says.
India, he argues, produced a remarkable synthesis through religious tolerance. ''I see no reason for changing that broad and inclusive approach,'' he says.
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