India's ban on author Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was wrong, a former minister of Rajiv Gandhi's government has said. The announcement prompted Rushdie to ask how long it would take before the "mistake" was corrected.
Gandhi's government banned the import of the book in October 1988 for allegedly being insulting towards the Prophet Muhammad. Former Union Minister P Chidambaram was addressing the audience at the Times literary festival in Delhi on 28 November when he admitted that the book should never have been banned.
"I have no hesitation in saying that the ban was wrong," Chidambaram said. "If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you the same thing. Not all ideas will be accepted but every idea deserves its own space and every idea deserves to be expressed."
The former minister's admission sparked Salman Rushdie to question why it had taken 27 years for the Gandhi government to admit that it was a "mistake", as well as how long it would now take for it to be corrected.
Soon after Chidambaram's comments, the Congress Party distanced itself from his views on Rushdie's novel. Senior Congress leader Kamal Nath said on 30 November that the party's stance on the book ban was clear and that Chidambaram's words reflected his personal views. Nath said: "No question of a single person puncturing party's stand. Congress' stand is clear. That is Chidambaram's own view."
The Satanic Verses sparked controversy in many Muslim communities when it was published in 1988. Protests against the book were held in many countries – including the UK, where Labour MP Keith Vaz was one of the speakers at a demonstration attended by more than 3,000 British Muslims. In February 1989, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie and ordered that he be killed.
In 2012 Rushdie was forced to back out of attending the annual Jaipur Literature Festival in India due to threats of violence. The following year he was prevented from travelling to Kolkata to promote the film of his novel Midnight's Children. The author has accused Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of India's West Bengal state, of blocking his visit by ordering the police not to let him enter the city.
Rushdie said: "The day before I was due to travel to Calcutta we were informed that the Calcutta police would refuse to allow me to enter the city. If I flew there, I was told, I would be put on the next plane back. I was also told that this was at the request of the chief minister."
However, Rushdie received support from US President Barack Obama at the weekend when his latest novel was selected as one of the president's Christmas literature choices. While some critics tried to make a connection between Obama's purchase and his stance on Khomeini, Rushdie hit back on Twitter, saying: "Would it be wrong to think that there might be a reason for buying my book that is not related to Khomeini?"