London: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "silence" along with that of institutions like the Sahitya Akademi is permitting a new "degree of thuggish violence" in India, celebrated Mumbai-born author Salman Rushdie said, amid a raging debate over 'rising intolerance' in India.
Speaking exclusively on NDTV's The Buck Stops Here from London, Mr Rushdie said, "There are attacks on ordinary liberties, the ordinary right of assembly, the ordinary right to organize an event in which people can talk about books and ideas freely and without hostility, that seems to be in real grave danger in India today."
Making it clear that he wasn't taking sides between the Congress and the BJP, the 68-year-old author said that he was no supporter of the Congress which had banned his book, but believed that there was something different unfolding in India today.
"I am not a fan of any political party. I don't support either side of this argument. Obviously, when 'The Satanic Verses' was banned, it was banned by the Congress of Rajiv Gandhi and then, there was the episode of Jaipur which was the last time we had to talk like this by long distance. And of course, I am not any kind of fan of that. But I think what's crept into Indian life now is a degree of thuggish violence which is new. And it seems to be, I have to say, given permission by the silence of official bodies, by the silence of the Sahitya Akademi which is what so many of the writers are protesting about, by the silence of the Prime Minister's Office. Mr Modi is a very talkative gentleman, he has a lot to say on a lot of subjects and it would be very good to hear what he has to say about all this," Mr Rushdie said.
The author was speaking on his twelfth novel, 'Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights', a book which is, in large parts, about the clash between reason and unreason and has characters who lament Bombay being replaced by an alien, unrecognizable Mumbai.
Responding to a question about whether that change was reflected in, for instance, the smearing of columnist Sudheendra Kulkarni's face with black paint by Shiv Sena activists, Mr Rushdie said, "I think that is unfortunately true. The book does seem to have expressed something that's really happening."
He also said that he stood in solidarity with writer Nayantara Sahgal and all others who had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards to take a principled position on the attack on liberty. Ms Sahgal, the 88-year-old niece of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had returned her award to protest what she called a "vicious assault" on India's diversity and debate after a spate of attacks on writers and rationalists.
"I made a tweet supporting Nayantara Sahgal and many of the other writers who have protested against these recent terrible events in India. And no sooner had I said it that 10,000 hateful tweets were aimed at me and are still going on. So it's something that unfortunately is happening in India too much right now," Mr Rushdie said.
Asked if the volley of hatred he had to face on Twitter for supporting Ms Sahgal and others deterred him in any way, Mr Rushdie said, "I am too old in this game to be scared by 140 characters on Twitter. At this point, I just have what I have to say and I will say it. If people don't like it, that is their problem."
(You can watch the full interview with Salman Rushdie at 9 pm tonight on The Buck Stops Here)