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Everybody loves a good conspiracy

Siddharth Varadarajan

Antulay’s cynicism has done more to harm the Malegaon probe than the terrorists who killed Hemant Karkare and his colleagues.

Amidst the bizarre conspiracy theories swirling around the subcontinent in the wake of last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I would like to offer one of my own: Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay is a secret agent of the sangh parivar. The reason I say this is because he is doing his utmost to ensure the involvement of Hindutva activists in the Malegaon blasts is not fully probed and that the fight against terrorism is converted into a communal issue.

Consider the facts. After the unfortunate killing of Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte by terrorists on November 26, it is natural for citizens to fear that the anti-terrorist squad’s probe into the Malegaon case might flounder and perhaps even get buried. After all, a major part of the recent breakthrough in the case was seen as due to the personal dedication of Karkare. The fact that the ATS has been temporarily handed over to K.P. Raghuvanshi — who headed the agency before and had supervised the arrest of Muslim youths soon after the 2006 Malegaon blasts — does little to inspire confidence that the links between Hindutva extremists and terrorism will be comprehensively probed.

Anyone who knows the ways of Mumbai, Maharashtra and the Indian police will tell you, therefore, that there is a serious risk of Malegaon going off the rails. As a former chief minister, Mr. Antulay knows this only too well. Yet he chose not to point this out in a blunt and forceful manner. As a Union minister and senior leader of the ruling party in Maharashtra, Mr. Antulay was even in a position to ensure the Malegaon probe was entrusted to the hands of an upright officer of his own choosing. Curiously, he did nothing of the sort. Instead of helping to focus political attention on the need for the Hindutva terror plot at Malegaon to be followed on a priority basis and using his ministerial clout to ensure this was done, he erected a pathetic smokescreen whose ultimate outcome will be to let the Malegaon accused get away scot-free.

History is full of events and actions which generate consequences and benefits that are unforeseen or unintended by those who participate in or even author them. But if we try and ascribe a causal relationship to events based purely on who benefits and who loses, we would end up with ridiculous results. Asif Ali Zardari endorsed Benazir Bhutto’s decision to return to Pakistan. She went, got assassinated and now Mr. Zardari is the President of Pakistan. Since he has ‘benefited’ from her death, does that mean he had her killed? The Bush administration used the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an excuse to unleash not one but two invasions. The administration was also incompetent in not reading the intelligence warnings of an impending terrorist attack. But that does not mean the administration was responsible for staging the attack in the first place. The Narendra Modi administration cynically used the Godhra incident to unleash communal violence against innocent Muslims across Gujarat in 2002. But that does not mean the BJP scripted the death of 58 train passengers at Godhra that day.

For several weeks prior to his death, Hemant Karkare was under fire from senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party for his investigation into the involvement of Hindu extremists in terrorist acts. By some accounts, he was upset by the attacks on him and felt his integrity as a police officer was being questioned. When he heard of a terrorist incident taking place in the heart of a city, is it not possible that this officer felt an urge to clear his name from this unfair accusation of partisanship and rushed to the spot throwing caution to the wind? If this is so, the BJP and its kindred organisations share a wider culpability in his death, even if the men who shot him dead were from the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Certainly, they have benefited from his death. But to jump from there to arguing they might have killed him is totally absurd.

From the wealth of information that is now available about the Mumbai attack, including from eyewitnesses, it is evident that the men who killed Karkare and his colleagues were the same men who shot up the railway station, the Leopold Café and Cama hospital before taking up their final positions at Nariman House and the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels. For men on a death mission, south Bombay presented what American military planners called a ‘target rich environment.’ The particular chain of events gave them Karkare and his men as an added bonus. If Mr. Antulay was not insinuating that the 10 terrorists were closet Hindutva agents, he is, at the very least, implying that a small group of well-placed Hindutva plotters were alert enough to take opportunistic advantage of the mayhem which had unfolded in order to take out the ATS leadership. Given the narrow band of time and the fact that one of the actual shooters — Ajmal Amir Iman — is now in custody, this scenario is totally implausible. Any man of even moderate intelligence would hesitate to raise such a scenario. Mr. Antulay has been blessed with intelligence far greater than that of the average man. If he insists on raising this obfuscating question, one can only conclude that his game is not as straightforward as it seems.

Now that Mr. Antulay has offered his resignation, the Congress high command should accept it forthwith. Any hesitation or dithering will send a wrong signal to the world, to Pakistan and to India’s Muslim masses whose insecurities and fears are already being preyed upon by opportunistic politicians, parties and newspaper editors, especially the Urdu press. At the same time, the Central and Maharashtra governments also need to send a strong message to all those who have misgivings about the fate of the Malegaon probe that there is no way the events in Mumbai or the death of Karkare and his colleagues will be allowed to compromise the probe into the Malegaon bomb conspiracy and the wider network of Hindutva terror that might lie behind it.

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