A group of citizens on Monday condemned the revocation of an invitation to author Nayantara Sahgal to a literary meeting in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers threatened to disrupt the event. The Friends of Democracy group claimed the invitation was rescinded because her speech, a draft of which was sent to the organisers, would have “embarrassed the political establishment”.

The statement comes after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray expressed regret earlier on Monday over the inconvenience faced by the organisers of the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan. “If Sahgal’s presence at the All India Literary Meet is transcending into a cultural exchange, I or my party will not oppose it,” Thackeray had said. “I ask my party workers to not make any statements on such sensitive issues without consulting me.”

The citizens’ group said the decision to withdraw the invitation is a matter of shame for Maharashtra. “It is clear that the invitation to Ms Sahgal was withdrawn because her speech and her strong stand on liberty, freedom of expression, and recent assaults on intellectuals and writers would have been inconvenient – even embarrassing – to the political establishment,” their statement said. “At the Sammelan, she would have read her speech in the presence of political leaders, especially Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.”

The statement described the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Mahandal and Dr VB Kolte Research Centre and Library’s “alignment with the political establishment” as highly deplorable.

The state’s political history has celebrated debate, tolerance and progressive values, the group said. “Maharashtra’s cultural history is rich with an array of literature, poetry, theatre, folk traditions, and rebellion within them.” the statement said. “Withdrawing the invitation to Ms Sahgal is a blot on its history and must rank as a dark period for Maharashtra.”

The group demanded that like-minded people including intellectuals unite against the “forces of regressive and reductive politics spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allied organisations”.

In October 2015, Sahgal had given back her Sahitya Akademi award, which she had won for her novel Rich Like Us in 1986. She had returned the award as a protest against the increasing intolerance in the country, attacks on the right to dissent in India and the Sahitya Akademi’s silence over attacks on writers and rationalists in the country.