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'JLF Normalising Hindutva in US': Writers Skip New York Event over BJP Presence

llmi, whose presence was objected to at Jaipur Lit Fest, said it represented “intolerance of the worst kind.”

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande

Three panelists who were all set to appear in the New York event of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) reportedly pulled out of the event over their unwillingness to share the stage with Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) national spokesperson Shazia Ilmi.

Activists and writers told news website Middle East Eye (MEE) that the (JLF) is normalising Hindutva in the United States of America.

Authors Marie Brenner and Amy Waldman are among those who reportedly withdrew from the JLF following calls from activists and writers to boycott the event over Ilmi's presence, according to MEE.

The JLF drafted Ilmi to take part in a panel discussion on Wednesday, 14 September, and also to deliver the keynote address at the closing ceremony of the event.

The three-day New York event was scheduled from 12 to 14 September.

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The JLF, however, has not confirmed the development. British-Indian author, Aatish Taseer, whose overseas Indian citizenship was revoked in 2019, confirmed to the website that the authors indeed did pull out of the event.

Taseer told the Middle East Eye that the writers decided not to make public statements because “they have relationships with people in the festival." "They're afraid to make a political statement,” he added.

He further alleged that many panellists were duped into believing they were attending a festival with “respectable, intellectual people with bodies of work behind them."

'Time to Cancel Cancel Culture': BJP's Shazia Ilmi

llmi, whose presence was objected to, said it represented “intolerance of the worst kind”, but said that “it remains entirely their choice” to stay away from the event."

She also spoke out against the cancel culture. "And this entire cancel culture and self-cancel culture that they are bringing to the table represents and smacks of intolerance of the worst kind," she said.

Taseer told The Wire in an email, “This is not an open exchange of ideas." He said that in New York intellectuals "avowedly liberal, with long careers and impressive bodies of work behind them, have been blindsided by a gaggle of unpublishable crypto-fascists who – mutatis mutandis – they would not have been caught dead with were they confronted by their American equivalents.”

Meanwhile, Ugandan writer and academic Mahmood Mamdani (who is married to popular Indian-American director Mira Nair), who was also one of the panelists drafted for the event said he would not withdraw from it.

"I have never before considered withdrawing from an event because I objected, however strongly, to the views of a participant – so long as the event itself was not being hijacked by this person or their organisation, thus closing it to opposing or divergent views,” he told Middle East Eye.

'My Intent Is to Open Up to Debate': Mahmood Mamdani

He said his intent was not to normalise the views of those with whom he disagrees strongly. "My intent is to open up debate, not to close it," he added.

Suchitra Vijayan of the Polis Project in NYC, expressed disappointment over Mamdani's decision. “When India itself is now moving towards becoming an apartheid state, it’s intellectual dishonesty at its worse and deeply saddening for those of us who grew up with his work," MEE quoted her as saying.

Taseer too expressed his disappointment with Mamdani and said the latter has a lot to answer for because he takes a very strident position when it comes to Israel. 

“You have a party spokesperson that is systematically creating a climate of genocide in a country where the demographics are even more explosive, even more volatile,” he said. Taseer asserted that if Mamdani believes what he believes about Israel, "he should have the gumption to take the same position when it comes to India.”

(With inputs from The Wire and Middle East Eye.)

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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