Not surprisingly, JLF lands in another controversy

New Delhi, Dec 23 (IANS) With barely a month left for the 10th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival, the inclusion of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders in the programme and the exclusion of prominent faces of last year’a “award-wapsi” protest has drawn flak.

The upcoming edition will feature Manmohan Vaidya, the head of RSS’s communications department and Dattatreya Hosabale, a joint general secretary of the RSS. On the other hand, writers who were almost regulars at the event, like Ashok Vajpeyi, Uday Prakash and K. Satchidanandan, have not been invited this time around.

Social media users were quick to point out at the “growing clout” of the RSS and suggesting that the latter have not been invited because of their active participation in the “award-wapsi” protest last year.

Given the fact that a major section of JLF’s sessions tend to look at the major events in the past one year and books that made the headlines, some have pointed to the Dadri incident, the suicide of Rohit Vemula and mobilisation of students from IIT-Madras, Uthe niversity of Hyderabad and JNU, raising questions on why these issues have not found mention in the programme.

The annual event that, in its own words, has always “”stood for diversity of ideas, languages, nationalities and subjects”, has not invited the likes of Vajpeyi, Prakash and Satchidanandan, who have been at the forefront of these issues.

Voices to boycot the JLF are also rising on social media. In a viral blog post, a user, Mosarrap H. Khan says: “If you want to resist the fascist forces in the country, boycott Jaipur Literature Festival. If you value Dalit and minority lives in India, boycott Jaipur Literature Festival. If you don’t want a literary festival over the dead bodies of Muhammad Akhlaq and Rohith Vemula, boycott Jaipur Literature Festival.”

On their part, the organisers say that this is “neither the first nor the last instance where we have welcomed speakers from the right, left and centre and allowed our audiences to form their own views at the end of each session of debate and discussion”.

However, controversies are not new to JLF. IANS lists some earlier instances of its tryst with controversies:

* Who kept Salman Rushdie away?

In 2012, the controversial writer Salman Rushdie did not attend the festival because he had information that hitmen were “on the way to Jaipur to kill me”, but later accused the Rajasthan government of inventing that theory to keep him away. “Rajasthan Police invented plot to keep away Rushdie’ I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry,” Rushdie later tweeted.

The 2012 edition also saw several writers like Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi reading from Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”, a book banned in India.

*Ashish Nandy creates furore

The very next edition of JLF in 2013 again became the centre of another controversy as sociologist, Ashis Nandy made a controversial comment on corruption and people belonging to OBC, SC and ST communities.

At the session “Republic of Ideas”, on Republic Day, he said: “Some may call it a vulgar statement on my part, but it is a fact that most of the corruption comes from OBCs and Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes.”

An FIR was filed against Nandy and festival producer Sanjoy Roy under sections 506 and 3(1) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by Rajpal Meena, the then state president of the National Union of Backward Classes, SCs, STs and Minorities.

The organisers then scheduled a hasty press conference where Nandy read out from a prepared text.

*Vedanta’s sponsorship and uproar

In May 2016, over a hundred writers, academics, professionals and students, signed an open letter, urging participants of JLF London to boycott it.

The reason? The London leg of JLF received sponsorship from Vedanta Resources, the controversial British mining company with operations in India, Zambia and Australia.

The protesters issued a statement slamming “Vedanta’s shameless PR campaign through the sponsorship of Jaipur Literature Festival, London” and expressed “solidarity with the many communities suffering pollution, illness, oppression, displacement and poverty as a result of Vedanta’s operations.”