Jaipur: The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) may have to move out of the Pink City from next year. The Congress government in Rajasthan has directed the festival organisers to shift the event out of Diggi Palace, a heritage property that has been its home since it began 12 years ago.
The government has cited security and traffic reasons for its decision, but those associated with the JLF are not convinced. “Traffic congestion can’t be a good reason for shifting out a global event,” said a JLF source who did not want to be named.
Diggi Palace’s manicured lawns, sunny courtyards and open verandas have become synonymous with the JLF. The event began at its Durbar Hall and two lawns, and gradually spread to the front lawn, the music stage, the Mughal tent, the Baithak, and many other spots.
American author Tina Brown had one said the JLF the “greatest literary show on Earth”, while poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra has called it the “Kumbh” of literature. It has hosted nearly 2,000 speakers and welcomed over a million book lovers from across India and the globe.
Past speakers have ranged from Nobel laureates J.M. Coetzee, V.S. Naipaul, Orhan Pamuk and Muhammad Yunus, Man Booker Prize winners Ben Okri and Margaret Atwood, Sahitya Akademi winners Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, as well as the late Girish Karnad, Mahasweta Devi and U.R. Ananthamurthy. Modern literary lights like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Vikram Seth and Amish Tripathi have also graced the event.
The ‘problem’ with Diggi Palace
Just a couple of days before the 13th edition of the JLF began on 23 January, Rajasthan Chief Secretary D.B. Gupta told the organisers that they had been given permission to hold the festival at Diggi Palace for the last time, and that it must be held at a different venue from next year. According to Gupta, the police commissionerate was facing challenges in making adequate security and parking arrangements.
Located in the heart of Jaipur, Diggi Palace is a 17th century structure that was converted into a heritage hotel in 1991. It stands near one of the city’s busiest roads, Tonk Road, and is surrounded by residential dwellings and the biggest hospital in Rajasthan, Sawai Man Singh Hospital. The only way to approach the venue is through one narrow lane.
In 2019, it is estimated, about 4 lakh people attended the festival over five days, and the police claim this is a recipe for disaster.
Last year, the organisers sought to reduce the crowd by introducing online registration, and imposing a fee of Rs 300 for each weekday and Rs 500 on weekends for on-the-spot registration. This year, the fee has been hiked to Rs 500 and Rs 800, respectively, and the registration window was also closed early.
Ready to move cities
Though the organisers have begun to search for a new venue, the one suggested by the city police, the Jaipur Exhibition and Convention Centre, is unacceptable to them. They are ready to take the festival to a different city.
“The Jaipur Literature Festival can’t be held in a place like Jaipur Exhibition and Convention Centre (as suggested by state authorities) to show that we are in Rajasthan. If the city doesn’t host it, we can look elsewhere. But if it is to be held in Jaipur, it has to be in a place which has an atmosphere that represents the city’s traditional architecture and its character,” said Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts and producer of the JLF.
“There is no point in hosting it in Jaipur if it’s in some conference hall,” he added.
The JECC is situated in an industrial area, almost 20 km from the present venue.
Sources in the government said Jaleb Chowk, located inside the walled city, has also been suggested as a venue. But that is adjacent to City Palace and Govind Dev Ji temple, two major tourist attractions.
“January is peak tourist season, so the same problems of parking and traffic jams would persist,” a police officer told ThePrint.
Fans dismayed, palace owner says city needs JLF
Fans of the festival, too, are dismayed at the prospect of moving to a place like the JECC.
“It is a ridiculous suggestion to have JLF at any other place. There is certain charm about Diggi Palace. It is mesmerising, with its heritage buildings and greenery, a natural place for a world class event like this,” said Adamya Singh, who comes from Singapore every year to attend the festival.
Another festival regular, Poonam from Ajmer, said the JLF is all about the environment, where literature, art, music, food, fashion and conversation all converge at one place. “I can spend hours siting under a tree watching people or reading a book. I can also just hang around in a café or book stalls while waiting for the session of my favourite author, which is not possible under a dome or in a conference hall,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rampratap Diggi, the owner of Diggi Palace, said Jaipur needs JLF more than the event needs the city. He said the JLF has become such a powerful brand that it is now being held in Adelaide, Belfast, Colorado, Doha, Houston, New York and Toronto under the JLF name. But for Jaipur and Rajasthan, it means business, employment and survival. The festival has put the city on the international map like never before.
According to a survey conducted by the organisers, five years ago, the city generated Rs 40 crore worth of business over the five days of JLF, which is expected to cross Rs 100 crore this year in hotel, restaurants, taxi bookings, and the sale of Jaipur’s traditional garments, jewellery and handicrafts items.
Teamwork’s Roy said “it is for the city to decide”, because any event of this magnitude is bound to create some inconvenience for the locals, no matter where it goes.