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Islam and Politics ( 20 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Antulay is the Simi Garewal of Indian politics

He has chosen to feed the Muslim with the comfort food of conspiracy theories

By M J Akbar

21 Dec 2008

There is, or should be, a well-defined line in media between the liberty of impression and the freedom of expression. Both are privileges of democracy. Liberty of impression is the exhilarating-frightening roller coaster on which public discourse rides. Freedom of expression is cooled by the sprinkle of judgment, a mind that sieves speculation, allegation and accusation from the end-product that appears in print or on air.


There is outrage against the television coverage of Mumbai terrorism because television celebrities surrendered their judgment before the rising demand for hysteria. There is no supply without demand. The very audiences that sucked out hysteria from cable are now howling against its perpetrators. It is a human instinct to develop instant amnesia about one’s mistakes and sharpen knives with the vigour of humbugs the moment a scapegoat has been identified. The viewer is now seeking absolution through anger.

But the information market has been flooded with toxic weed. Hysteria is not the exclusive preserve of audio-visual junketeers. From the moment the terrorist violence hit Mumbai, much before the course of events evolved into a pattern, some sections of the Urdu press began pumping up circulation figures with fantasy fodder, in the shape of conspiracy theories, to a readership in search of denial. The conspiracy-in-chief was that this mayhem was nothing more than a plot to sabotage the investigation that ATS chief Karkare was conducting into the Malegaon blasts. The death of the police officer was declared instant martyrdom.


News media operates within a triangle of customer, producer and politician. A clever politician is a master chef in cooking up a broth of impression and expression. Since the customer is also a voter, the politician panders to street opinion by lifting it into the loftier realm of Parliament or television studio. The very act of transference gives implicit legitimacy to fantasy fodder.


Abdur Rahman Antulay is not in search of truth. He is in search of votes. He has become the Simi Garewal of Indian politics. Garewal saw a Pakistani flag fluttering on every Muslim housetop in Mumbai. Antulay sees a vote beyond every Muslim doorstep. Garewal was blinded by a low IQ. Antulay has turned myopic because one eye is stupid and the other cynical. But that is his secondary medical problem. His primary disease is cancer of the vote-bank.


If you want to understand Antulay’s and, by extension, the Congress’ compulsions, then take a look at an SMS I received on December 1: “Congress has been wiped out in Dhule corporation election. It could get only 3 seats out of 67.” Dhule is barely fifty kilometres from Malegaon. More than 30% of its electorate is Muslim.


As the minorities minister with the unique distinction of having done absolutely nothing for minorities, Antulay and his party face a meltdown in Maharashtra. If they cannot get even Muslim votes, they can forget about power and pelf in Delhi. He has therefore chosen to feed the Muslim with the comfort food of conspiracy theories, in the hope that this will drug him to the point where he loses his bearings until the April-May elections.


Will this succeed? Perhaps. It has succeeded before. But take a look at another SMS I received, announcing a meeting of the Maharashtra United Democratic Convention at Birla Matushri on December 17. An experiment for the consolidation of the Muslim vote was begun in Assam under a similar banner and did well in the last assembly elections. It has 11 MLAs and came second in some two dozen constituencies. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi promised at the Mumbai convention that an MUDF would set up candidates in every constituency in the next assembly elections. Its aim would be to defeat both the Congress and the BJP. He warned the Congress, which had got the Muslim vote in the state for six decades, that the days of bondage were over, and the Muslim vote had grown up: it was not going to be satisfied with toffee anymore.


It is a long journey from desire to destination. There will be pressure and deviation; some attempts to purchase some leaders will possibly succeed. But such language has never been heard from a Muslim platform in Maharashtra.


Simi Garewal sees a Pakistan where there isn’t one. Antulay will not see a Pakistan where there is one. But Simi is a fringe factor; Antulay sits on centre stage. Antulay is a Cabinet minister, who has provided sustenance to those Pakistanis who are trying to fool us into believing that the terrorism in Mumbai was an instance of Indian security failure rather than an invasion sponsored by Pakistani elements.


I am amazed at the sheer gall of both the spinners in Pakistan and the Antulays in India. They seem to forget that there is a Pakistani canary sitting in an Indian jail, singing out the plans, preparations and objectives. Nine dead men and their masters are being exposed by the tenth man, the man who did not die.


If this is the state of deception and self-deception when one terrorist has been caught, what would have been the level of denial if all ten had died?


Cynicism is a staple of vote-driven politics. We all know that. I was naïve to believe that our nation’s security would remain outside the reach of cynicism.


I say sorry and stand corrected: Simi Garewal
Jivraj Burman  - 12/2/2008  


Mumbai, Dec 2 (IANS) Bollywood's veteran actress Simi Garewal, who kicked up a storm with her comment on a TV show that slums in Mumbai can be seen sporting Pakistani flags, has apologised, saying she was wrong and stood corrected.

"I was wrong on that count and I apologise for that. In the slums near the Race Course in Mahalaxmi in central Mumbai which I was talking about, they sport Islamist flags; and you know it closely resembles the Pakistani flag. This was pointed out to me by somebody. So, I say sorry and stand corrected," Garewal told IANS, after Mumbai's 60-hour terror siege in which at least 183 people were killed.

Stating that she stood by her views, verbalised in NDTV's "We The People" programme anchored by Barkha Dutt Sunday, that India must dismantle the militant camps in Pakistan if the Pakistani government was incapable of doing so, Garewal asked: "Hasn't the US Army gone in and uprooted the training camps situated in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan?"

She said the government must stop being soft towards terrorists and emphasised that she was "not all disrespectful towards Pakistan's sovereignty". 

"My suggestion is that the Indian Army should go into POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir), do the job and come back back without harming the country or its people."

Garewal said she was "still angry and frustrated because we are all so helpless in the face of terror".

"When the terrorists from across the border strike India, the Hindus and Muslims suffer equally. We have seen that happening again and again,"

Excerpts from the interview with IANS:

On the TV programme, "We The People," Sunday, you made very strong suggestions that India should bomb militant camps in Pakistan. Do you think it's easy to transgress the sovereignty of a country?

I still stand by what I said in the "We The People" programme." India knows where these militant camps are located in Pakistan. We have the video footage and proof. If the Pakistani government is unwilling or incapable of dismantling them, I reiterate that, for our own safety, India should. 

But Pakistan is a sovereign country. If India does what you have suggested, it might lead to another war between the two countries?

But can't we do that invisibly? Hasn't the US Army gone in and uprooted the training camps situated in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan? If the US can do that, why can't we?

It seems you are being too emotional to suggest that.

Perhaps I am being emotional. Like every Mumbaikar, I am angry and frustrated. How long can we live in fear of being attacked by terrorists from across the border? Are we going to be sitting ducks forever, waiting for the next attack?

What do you want the government of India to do under the present circumstances?

I want to tell the government, stop being soft towards the terrorists. Act and act swiftly.

The Indian government has already put tremendous pressure on the present Pakistan government to dismantle the terrorist camps there. The country is also under international pressure in the aftermath of 27/11.

But it's not working, is it? Has the Indian government received even a modicum of a favourable response from the Pakistan government in this regard? And anyway, will any country ever admit to it? Has Pakistan responded to India's request to hand over the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts accused Dawood Ibrahim after all these years?

Don't you think India has done its best to make Pakistan understand the consequences of terrorists being let loose? The country itself has been a victim of terrorist attacks.

You are right. And yet it is not doing anything to rein in the terrorists and that is exactly what has angered me, like everybody else. If Pakistan is unable to do it, it must allow us to do it.

Here, let me emphasise clearly, I am not at all disrespectful towards Pakistan's sovereignty. Nor am I suggesting that India should invade Pakistan. No! My suggestion is that the Indian army should go into POK on a mission, do the job and come back without harming the country and its people. We cannot afford to suffer anymore because of Pakistan's inaction. 

Aren't you aware that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and such an impulsive act, if one would go by your suggestions, would assure muted annihilation for both the countries?

As I have said, I am not a war monger, nor am I a politician and I do not know anything about handling clever military operations. But the time has come for us to take some drastic steps, so that the citizens of India can live peacefully.

On that programme you also made a remark that slums in Mumbai sporting the Pakistan flag. Have you actually been to a slum and seen any of these flags?

I was wrong on that count and I apologise for that. In the slums near the Race Course in Mahalaxmi in central Mumbai which I was talking about, they sport Islamist flags; and you know it closely resembles the Pakistani flag. This was pointed out to me by somebody. So, I say sorry and stand corrected.

Do you believe all Muslims in India are anti-national and support Pakistan

Oh no! Not at all! Absolutely not! I have never said that. When the terrorists from across the border strike India, the Hindus and Muslims suffer equally. We have seen that happening again and again. 

But the statement you made on that widely watched TV programme were very provocative. Do you regret your comments? 

I don't. I never intended to provoke anybody. I made those statements as a patriotic Indian, and a Mumbaikar I was worked up. I am still angry and frustrated because we all are so helpless in the face of terror. I am only putting forward an agenda to let ourselves be out of the grip of fear. Because, as I see it, there are no other solutions left.


Digvijay lends support to Antulay

21 Dec 2008, 0112 hrs IST, ET Bureau


NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh offered open support to AR Antulay on Saturday even as the Congress continued to grapple with how to handle the fallout the minister’s controversial remarks questioning the circumstances of Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare’s death.


Mr Singh told TV channels that Mr Antulay had been “misreported” and that the minister had merely asked who had sent the ATS chief in the direction of Cama hospital in Mumbai where he was shot dead by terrorists. “What is objectionable in that?” the former MP Chief Minister enquired.


Mr Singh said the BJP and the Sangh Parivar had raised questions about Mr Karkare’s integrity because he was investigating the Malegaon blasts. He argued that Mr Karkare had been killed against this backdrop and it was “natural” to question whether he was murdered. “But this possibility appears to be low because the course of events minimises it,” Mr Singh said.


The statement from a senior Congress functionary comes days after the party officially distanced itself from Mr Antulay’s remarks. The Congress had said his utterances were his “personal views” and that it “did not endorse” Mr Antulay’s statements.


But the party has been forced to rethink its position in poll season due to the support Mr Antulay has received from political leaders in Congress, allies such as LJP, RJD and SP, MPs of the Opposition JD (U) as well as from sections of the Muslim community. It now appears that Congress cannot accept his resignation given the public support the minister has garnered.


At the same time, the minorities affairs minister’s remarks have also caused acute embarrassment to the Congress-led Centre’s efforts to get the Pakistan government to crack down on terrorist infrastructure on its soil and accept accountability for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.


The remarks have diluted the government’s line with sections in Pakistan questioning India’s claims about the Mumbai incidents. It also given the BJP a matter it can raise vociferously in election season. Both BJP and Shiv Sena have demanded that Mr Antulay be sacked.


The Congress’ dilemma in handling Antulay issue came up at a meeting of the party’s core group on Saturday evening. The government has said it will make a statement on the matter in Parliament on 

23 December where it is expected to blunt Mr Antulay’s statements on the issue by reiterating the role of Pakistani terrorists in the attacks.