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Handling Queries: Democratic Responses

Antuley Remarks and the Aftermath

by Ram Puniyani, 21 December 2008

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The tragic terror attack on the city of Mumbai (Nov.2008) has shaken not only the people of city but also the whole nation. It is not the first time that terror attacks have taken place in this city. The first major one was seen in the aftermath of Mumbai carnage of 1992-93. The investigation of this blast showed that the terrorist took advantage of the gross injustices done to Muslim minority and lured a small section of them to execute their dastardly designs. Then in the aftermath of Gujarat carnage again one witnessed the blasts. The tragic happenings of Gujarat had incited this reaction. This time around November 26, 2008, there is no immediate provocation, but the role of Al Qaeda type elements is clear. What is puzzling this time around is that the attack came at a time when the investigation being done by Maharashtra ATS into Malegaon blast was leading to certain impeccable findings of the involvement of Hindutva elements. This was resulting in a hostile reaction to the ATS chief who was doing a thorough professional job. He was being abused and criticized by the people like Advani and Modi for being deshdrohi (anti national). Pune Police had also received a death threat to him from an anonymous caller just couple of days ahead of the terror attack.

After this tragedy many a versions of death of Karkare and his two colleagues came forward. The first one was that he has been killed at Taj, second one saying the death occurred in the lane near Cama hospital and the yet another one saying that he was killed while sitting in the vehicle. In this context many doubts were raised by some social activists and later by the Union minister for minorities Mr. A.R. Antuley. His statement that “superficially they (the terrorists) had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he (Karkare) was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know,” implying that a thorough probe in to his death should be undertaken to clear the mist around his death. This does not imply any finger pointing but a mere doubt, which is lurking in the minds of many.

This statement followed a vicious attack on him by many, especially by the Hindu right wing and a section of media. While many felt that the idea was to ensure that Truth comes out, the others felt that he should not only be sacked from his post but a case of treason be launched against him. While few voices like those of Digvijay Singh came to support Antuley statement and Maharashtra Assembly speaker Baba Saheb Kupekar said that since Maharashtra Government is setting up a probe into the allegations of negligence of the top level Police officers, that committee can very well probe the death of Hemant Karkare as well.

The degree of hostile reaction to some doubt raised and need for unearthing truth in a democratic society should be taken seriously. Why and who is afraid of truth coming out? Strangely we seem to have various types of reactions which have lot of political tinge than elements of reason. One of this is to ignore some events and facts which go against the social common sense and the interests of dominant political streams. One such example is the blasts which took place in Nanded in the house of RSS worker in which two Bajrang Dal workers died while making bombs (April 2006). While some channels can work overtime to put out the visuals of events with potential of sensationalism, this particular incident was literally blocked by large section of media. No doubt few papers and channels carried it but it remained a marginal story. Then the events of blasts in front of Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad were also attributed to the usual Jehadi elements, many of them arrested/tortured to the extreme. The blast and the tragedy was news. Later when they got released for the lack of any evidence, that was neither news nor a time to introspect as to why the wrong people are being caught, or to think if there is a need to review the line of investigation in the cases of blasts? Here the media shapes popular perception and the investigating authorities remained stuck to the old theory, terrorists are Muslims. So by overlooking the crucial news/event, a valuable lead was suppressed, the proper unearthing of which might have led to prevention of some attacks later.

The second form of reaction is from vested political elements and section of media which flows with the tide. Once Maharashtra ATS could lay its hands on the motorcycle used by terrorists in Malegaon blast, the investigation shifted to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Dayanand, Lt Col Prasad Purohit and Retd major Upadhyay. This investigation being conducted with professionalism came for scathing attack from Hindutva elements that went to intimidate the ATS officer to the extent that he went for moral support and counseling to the one of the most forthright police officers, Julio Reibero. Mr. Reibero in his article in Times of India tells us the pressure Karkare was going through while doing his professional duty. Shiv Sena not only organized for legal support for Sadhvi and Company but also its mouth piece Saamana went on to write, “We will declare all names and addresses of policemen on Malegaon case, the people will take action. This is nothing but a ploy to defame Hindutva by people in the ATS who have taken supari (contract) of this. On such officers we spit, we spit.”

In this context all those trying to strive for truth are also being labeled with choicest abuses. Any raising of question about the investigation, the narration of incidents comes to be branded as being pro Pakistan and anti India. One is not arguing against India or for Pakistan, one is trying to see that the real picture of things will strengthen India. Can a hollow shell full of falsity be the base of the Democratic Indian state? More we try to smoothen the knots more are we will be trying to ensure that Indian society becomes better. In this jingoism, war again Pakistan is the rash demand, quenching the instant anger generated due to terror attack. One has to see such oppressive outburst like the one’s we have seen from Advani and company which are not in sync with the building of a harmonious atmosphere and justice to all. All the legal provisions at our command need to be marshaled to see that the work initiated by the likes of Karkare is not allowed to be stifled.

What does one make of the ignoring crucial leads in the first place and then reacting angrily, with such passion to the innocuous demands of a probe? This burst of pseudo nationalism needs to be understood. It is the one which wants to intimidate the voice of reason and is primarily trying to stifle the democratic space. In Antuley’s case he is also being hurled abuses by the same section, labeling him as Pakistan supporter and what not. Its time our columnists remember that in democracy the people have full right to express their opinions and doubts. As a matter of fact those hysterically browbeating those raising doubts are the one’s who are undermining the nation’s constitution. Definitely the most befitting tribute to the officers who have laid down their lives while protecting the society from the insane acts of terror, is to ensure that the truth of their death comes out and that Malegaon probe goes on properly.

(Source: Issues in Secular Politics, December 2008 III