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December 19, 2008

Indian Express > Front Page >

His words find echo in Muslim fears

Seema Chishti
Posted: Dec 19, 2008 at 0327 hrs IST

New Delhi: • Ex-IFS officer and MP Syed Shahabuddin called Minister for Minority Affairs A R Antulay this morning to congratulate him for “saying the unspeakable.”
• Do you think Antulay was right in his remarks over Karkare’s death? 90% say yes in an online poll by Siasat, the English-language website of India’s second largest Urdu newspaper.

• Mujatba Farooque, political secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind: “Is Karkare Osama that he cannot be praised? He was on the verge of investigating some very powerful people. He got death threats, what’s wrong if one asks for this to be probed?”

As with most other issues, Muslim opinion on Antulay’s remarks isn’t a monolith. Lyricist Javed Akhtar’s Mumbai-based Muslims for Secular Democracy, for example, has urged Antulay to resign immediately calling his remarks “reckless,” giving credence to “ridiculous nonsense.”

But clearly, Antulay’s questioning of Karkare’s death finds an echo in large sections of the Muslim community — from opinion leaders to Urdu press, including Munsif, the largest Urdu newspaper, Siasat, Inquilab and Urdu Times — all raising similar questions.

The reasons aren’t hard to find.

While few in the Muslim community dispute the fact that terrorists from Pakistan carried out the Mumbai attacks, their question mark over Karkare’s death seems to have more to do with what the former ATS chief had come to symbolise for Muslims than the events of the night of November 26.

Central Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah best explains this apparent contradiction. He says that as Karkare died in full public view, it’s wrong to think of his perpetrators being different from those who attacked Mumbai that day.

So why do Antulay’s remarks find a resonance in many Muslims?

“Generally, Muslims have very little faith in police investigations and their claims. So they feel that anybody who stands up for them is susceptible,” says Habibullah.

And then adds: “It’s not as if Karkare’s name had just come up. Even in the aftermath of the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai, his role in trying to restore communal amity was noted by people working there then. His going away appears to snuff out hope that might have been held out for those who saw his investigations into Malegaon and other such cases as fair and off the beaten track.”

This is clearly evident in Shahabuddin’s reaction. “Antulay may not have acted courageously even once in four years,” Shahabuddin told The Indian Express, “but now he has finally found his moment. What’s wrong if a Minister has said something which several people feel may be a possibility? Hemant Karkare ne police ke taur tareeqon ka naqaab ulat diya with his Maelgaon investigation. He was getting threats from the Hindutva brigade till the last day of his life. So should that not be factored into investigations? It is likely that a group of killers was chasing him, and killed him, or ensured that he got shot at the first opportunity. Or should all possibilities that don’t fit in with a predetermined answer be ruled out?”

Karkare’s investigations into Malegaon and other related cases, say Muslim opinion leaders, were seen as a “breath of fresh air” and unusual “even-handedness” by a community which sees the Indian police as still prejudiced and predictable in who it implicates. Karkare’s death, therefore, emerged as a focus to express this.

Shahabuddin, who recently quit the Congress to join the Janata Dal (U), says he is drafting a “brief” letter to the Prime Minister urging him to ensure that the cases Karkare was looking at, get the same attention now that he’s gone.

Says Mujatba Farooque, political secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind: “Karkare was a great man, what Muslims feel is that if anybody dares to think out of the box and work like a professional investigator, his life is not safe, that’s the message to the police.” Farooque says BJP’s Narendra Modi jumped in with the offer of Rs 1 crore for the police officers when he died but when “Karkare was alive, they were saying all kinds of things about him.”

For Zafar-ul-Islam Khan, of the Majlis-e-Mushawarat, criticism of Antulay is misplaced. “Why does our democracy seem so fragile? If Shabana Azmi (who recently spoke about prejudice while renting homes for Muslims) or now Antulay give voice to something which sizeable sections experience in their daily lives, what’s wrong? If we are criminals and violent, punish us but why are these boundaries drawn of what is the acceptable view and what cannot be said? What’s wrong if we wonder about the circumstances around how Karkare, the man who dared touch the hot potato, suddenly loses his life?”