The political veteran that he is, Minority Affairs Minister AR Antulay played on the widespread “persecution complex” among Muslims instead of restoring their shattered confidence in the system, Muslim elites have said.
“You cannot pass off-hand judgements like these,” said former cabinet secretary Zafar Saifullah, who as India’s topmost bureaucrat was at the helm of the country’s political affairs.
Antulay’s remarks have brought into the mainstream a jarring political discourse: that Hemant Karkare — hailed by Muslims as a hero for unravelling “Hindutva terror” — could have been “eliminated”.
At a meet of Muslim MPs called to denounce terror in New Delhi on Friday night, Bahujan Samaj Party MP Illyas Azmi ended up endorsing Antulay, saying his doubts were “perfectly valid”.
Take, for instance, Muslim activists like Mumbai’s Firoze Mithiborwala, who on Saturday told a press conference that 26/11 was the “handiwork CIA-Mossad-Hindu fundamentalists”.
Did Antulay mirror the community’s concerns as a whole? “No,” says sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed, a former professor at Delhi’s JNU. “He mirrored the sentiments of a large section of Muslims who see great danger in Hindutva forces; not those who wore black bands to protest the Mumbai attacks.”
According to Ahmed, the minister was “operating within the context of Maharashtra politics”: he wanted to reinforce his own position and “revive” the issue of Hindutva terror, dampened by the Mumbai attacks.
Antulay had his takers though. “What Antulay said does not in any way diminish our case against Pakistan,” former IFS officer and lawmaker Syed Shahabuddin stated in a faxed statement.
However, outlandish theories made without any basis ultimately “reinforce Muslim fears” and strengthen “fringe elements” within the community, according to S. Irfan Habib, a historian with Delhi’s National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies. “The illiterate, marginalised Muslim may have these doubts. Unfortunately our political leadership does nothing to allay such fears and restore their confidence,” he said.
In Pakistan, Antulay’s remarks have “reinforced” a general impression in that country that Indian Muslims are hounded by Hindus, said Sherbaaz Khan, a correspondent for the Dawn newspaper. “Antulay is a federal minister and that too for minorities. He surely has some basis to say this,” Khan said.
Asked for his take, the president of the Delhi-based Indian Muslims Research & Response Centre, M.J. Khan, sought to sum up the natural ways of India’s Muslim leadership: “When the same ATS arrested Muslims, the Muslim leadership thought it was being communal. Now when, Hindutva terror has come to light, Karkare became a Muslim hero — a martyr for a Muslim cause.”