Rushdie was to speak today at Asia's largest literature festival in the western Indian city of Jaipur. But in an e-mailed statement read by the festival producer, Rushdie alleged "that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to eliminate me."
"While I have some doubts as to the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible for me to come to the festival in such circumstances," Rushdie's statement added.
Islamists around the world have denounced the Indian-born author's 1988 book The Satanic Verses as blasphemous. Iranian ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death shortly after the book's publication. Rushdie went into hiding for nine years but then returned to public life. The fatwa was subsequently lifted by the Iranian government in 1998.
Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani, head of a prominent Indian Islamist seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, hailed Rushdie's decision as "a victory for democracy because some Muslim organizations, including Darul Uloom Deoband, have opposed the visit to India in a democratic way."
India West, a U.S.-based weekly publication targeting the Indian-American population, reports that the Mumbai-based Reza Academy announced a reward of Rs. 1 lakh (roughly $2,400) for anyone who threw a slipper at Rushdie during the event. Throwing a shoe or slipper is a form of insult in Indian culture.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), told India West that CAIR does not support shoe throwing "but we believe that everyone should have the right to voice their opinions no matter how abhorrent."
Hooper described Rushdie as "one of a cottage industry of Muslim bashers," but added that "he's almost a B-Team now," given the rising Islamophobia in the past two decades.
Rushdie will take part in the event via video link. "Very sad not to be in Jaipur," he said in a Twitter post. "I was told Bombay mafia don issued weapons to 2 hitmen to 'elimnate' me. Will do videolink instead. Damn (sic)."