JAIPUR: The 12th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), 2019, began on Thursday with a stirring keynote by Nobel laureate molecular biologist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan.

While Ramakrishnan spoke on the role of science in a world threatened by fake news, misinformation and irrationality, journalist Sreenivasan Jain heated up one of the first sessions with Congress leader and Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot.

From grilling Pilot on the dynastic character of the Congress because of the persistence of the Nehru-Gandhi family in it (the latest example being Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment as AICC general secretary for UP East) to the party’s conservative stand on Sabarimala, Jain went hammer and tongs at Pilot. Pilot’s colleague Shashi Tharoor also faced some tough questions in an afternoon session.

“Who will you want as leader—Yogi Adityanath or Priyanka Gandhi?" Pilot said, addressing Jain’s question about the wisdom of choosing her for her new role. “If she has a connect to young people and that helps the party get more votes, so be it," he added. “Give her a chance to prove herself instead of judging her already."

Earlier, festival co-director Namita Gokhale welcomed the audience, along with Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts, the producer of JLF. William Dalrymple, the other co-director, did not attend JLF this year citing personal reasons.

The next four days will see writers from across the world, working in several languages, at the Diggi Palace Hotel in the city. From Malayalam writer Benyamin, who won the JCB Prize for Literature 2018 (the richest such award in India) to Andre Aciman, whose book, Call Me By Your Name, inspired the eponymous movie, the programme reflects a cosmopolitan mix.

In another session, writer Germaine Greer caused ripples with her polemics. In conversation with feminist writer Bee Rowlatt, Greer revisited some of the controversies that have trailed her career. From the making of her classic, The Female Eunuch, to her views on sexual violence, trans rights, and her reservations about the #MeToo movement, she covered an eclectic array of ideas.

This year JLF does not feature some of its regulars, including adman Suhel Seth, who was accused in the #MeToo movement. Last October, JLF organizers were presented with a petition to take a stand against sex offenders, signed by people from the world of art and culture, as well as ordinary citizens. This year, the organizers publicly announced the scope of reporting any incident of sexual harassment at the festival office at Diggi Palace.

A tree crashed in the lunch area in the afternoon, injuring at least four people. The organizers reacted to the crisis with alacrity and the programmes were not interrupted. Copious rain towards the end of the day also dampened the mood somewhat. 

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