The Tata Literature Live festival on Saturday explained that its event, featuring academic-activists Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad was cancelled to “protect the integrity of the festival”. Chomsky and Prashad had on Friday night expressed regret at the sudden cancellation of the scheduled discussion.
Anil Dharker, the festival’s founder and director, said that the session was a “considered decision” that he had taken. “Much as I deeply respect and admire the work of Prof. Noam Chomsky, this decision was necessary to protect the integrity of the festival,” he said in a statement.
Dharker said that on the morning of the session, he came across correspondence in the public domain, between Chomsky, Prashad and a group of activists, which “clearly mentioned” that this session would also be used to make a statement. He added that the participants said they would speak about “how they feel about corporations such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular, including airing the views of these activists”. This, Dharker said, was never the intended purpose of the session.
“What I do want to state as strongly as possible is that the festival which I founded and run with a dedicated team, owes its success to a free expression of ideas, not a free expression of someone’s specific agenda,” Dharker added. “The expression of such an agenda – whether against a specific organisation, a corporation or an individual – is therefore misplaced in the discussions at our festival.”
The event was scheduled to be held at 9 pm on Friday. But at 1 pm, Chomsky and Prashad said that they “received an email which said, cryptically, ‘I am sorry to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, we have to cancel your talk today’.”
Chomsky and Prashad said on Friday they were asked to be in touch with Dharker. “No communication has been established thus far with Mr. Dharker...” their statement said. “Since we do not know why Tata and Mr Dharker decided to cancel our session, we can only speculate and ask simply: was this a question of censorship?”
The cancellation of the event followed an announcement by Chomsky and Prashad on Thursday that they would begin the event by reading out a statement that “makes it very clear how we feel about corporations such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular”.
The decision by Chomsky and Prashad to read out the statement followed a letter to Chomsky from several activists, artists and academicians urging him to boycott the festival because the Tata Group was its title sponsor. They declined to boycott the festival. But in a response to the letter that was published on a site called Counter Currents on Thursday, the two men said that they would start their event with a statement putting into context their thoughts about the corporations such as the Tatas.
Chomsky teaches at the University of Arizona, is a trenchant critic of the US policies. Prashad is the executive director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and has been involved with Leftist movements in several countries.