|The head of India's Deoband seminary said last week that Rushdie should be banned from the country [Reuters]
Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize-winning author, will not attend a major literature festival in the north Indian city of Jaipur after authorities warned the author he might be a potential target of assassins, following protests from Muslim groups.
"I have now been informed by intelligence sources in [the provinces of] Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to eliminate me," Rushdie said in a statement read out by the festival producer on Friday.
"While I have some doubts as to the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances."
Opposition from some Indian Muslim groups erupted this month after the India-born author was invited to attend Asia's largest literature festival.
Senior Muslim leaders called on the government to prevent the 65-year-old author from entering the country. Rushdie's 1988 book Satanic Verses is banned in India.
The vice-chancellor of India's Darul Uloom Deoband seminary said last week that Rushdie should be banned from the country, accusing the author of offending Muslim sentiments.
The British-Indian author was due to speak on the first day of the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival but organisers removed his name from the schedule last week.
Rushdie would instead participate via a video-link, festival director William Dalrymple told the Reuters news agency on Friday.
"This is the result of a tragic game of Chinese whispers. The reality of Rushdie's writings are completely different from the way they have been cartooned and caricatured," Dalrymple told reporters.
The festival's directors had previously asserted that the invitation to Rushdie still stood after rescheduling his planned appearance after Muslim leaders in Jaipur threatened to protest.
"The Muslims of Jaipur were planning a protest against Rushdie. Since he is not coming, we have canceled it," Abdul Haq Shamshi, member of the Jaipur Jama Masjid committee told Reuters.
Earlier on Friday, thousands of guests arrived for the first sessions of the festival, which aims to showcase the best of Indian, South Asian and international writing in one of the world's fastest-growing publishing markets.
Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, was the main draw on Friday morning, at a festival expected to draw about 70,000 visitors and world-famous names such as Oprah Winfrey, Tom Stoppard, Richard Dawkins and Ariel Dorfman.
Scores of police officers guarded the festival entrance on Friday morning, as visitors queued to pass through X-ray scanners, a new addition to the 2012 festival.
About 560 officers were stationed in and around the festival site, Rajendra Jhala, Jaipur's deputy commissioner of police, told Reuters, adding that hundreds of others had been deployed at major junctions and locations across the city.
The publication of Rushdie's Satanic Verses more than 20 years ago sparked a wave of protests and death threats around the world after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini said that the novel's portrayal of the prophet Mohammad insulted Islam.
A fatwa requiring Rushdie's execution was proclaimed by Khomeini in February, 1989.
Rushdie was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for his second novel Midnight’s Children in 1981.