Kolkata: Several known writers and a veteran filmmaker from West Bengal Friday criticised the state government after novelist Salman Rushdie claimed he was forced to cancel his visit to Kolkata.

"Kolkata is an open city, where anyone can come and stage his protest. I learnt that Rushdie could not come to the city. He is a writer of big stature. As a Bengali, I'm ashamed that Rushdie could not come here," writer and activist Mahasweta Devi told.

"When the (erstwhile) Left Front government forced (Bangladeshi writer) Taslima Nasreen to leave the city, then also I raised my voice," she added.

Rushdie, an overseas citizen of India, was slated to visit the city to promote Deepa Mehta's film "Midnight's Children" based on his novel. He also planned to go to the Kolkata Book Fair and attend a session at the Kolkata Literary Meet. But he alleged in a statement that he was forced to cancel his trip to the city because West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had ordered police to block his arrival. He also said organisers of the literary meet were lying when they said he was not invited to the event.

Rushdie has been embroiled in controversy for long over his book "The Satanic Verses", perceived as anti-Islamic. But poet Shankha Ghosh, criticising the Trinamool Congress government over the episode, said: "The government surely blocked Rushdie's visit to the city as the author had himself claimed that".

Veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen said the city might lose its "cultural pluralism" due to such incidents."Kolkata was once known for savouring cultural pluralism. Of late, it is better not to talk over that. It is absolutely wrong from the government's part not to allow Rushdie to visit the city," Sen told.

"I feel sick every time I hear this kind of news. The Chief Minister had said after the Jaipur Literature Festival last year that she would not allow Rushdie to enter Kolkata. She has indeed lived up to her words," he added. But writer Samaresh Majumdar said he was not clear who was telling the truth."I'm confused. I do not believe that Salman Rushdie is lying. I do not wish to believe that the organisers of the literary meet are lying either. So first Rushdie has to clear the air by letting us know from which e-mail ID he got the invitation and from which travel agency he received the tickets (to the festival)," Majumdar said.

Majumdar said if it was proved that Rushdie could not come to Kolkata because of Banerjee's diktat, it would raise a big question mark on the the government."The constitution gives us freedom of speech. So anyone can come and give his speeches unless and until it leads to communal disturbances," he said.


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