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What more could Antony have done?
May 21, 2003
Politicians can be dreadfully predictable when they are speaking from the opposition benches. If there is an accident, the railway/transport/shipping minister must put in his papers. If someone dies because of negligence in a hospital, it is obviously the health minister's fault. And, of course, if anyone dies in a terrorist attack, the blame lies at the door of the prime minister/chief minister.
So, it came as no surprise when the Marxists and the BJP found a common voice in calling for the resignation of A K Antony following the massacre at Marad.
In principle, I am suspicious when I see enemies from across the spectrum shouting the same slogans. Nobody has explained how the chief minister could have prevented the killing of innocents, nor how a volatile situation shall be improved by adding an element of uncertainty at the top of the administration.
What exactly is/was Antony supposed to do? Could he have foreseen the murders at Marad? Has he been lax in his duties in the aftermath of the killings, or been, as some members of the opposition allege, deliberately blind because the murderers are being protected by members of his administration? None of these charges stand scrutiny by light of day.
How could anyone have taken action to prevent the killings before they occurred? Kerala may not be the island of communal harmony that some fondly imagine it to be. It is also true that Marad itself is a 'sensitive' area. But does that mean the Antony government should deploy policemen around every mosque and temple in every 'sensitive' spot? There simply aren't policemen enough to do the job!
I contend that what happened in Marad was something carefully planned somewhere outside the state down to the last gory detail. Comparisons are always a little imprecise, but the whole thing reminded me very forcefully of Godhra. Both places have a history of communal violence, but there was no immediate provocation.
Again, the violence was not against any individual but at random representatives of the Hindu community. In other words, it was a deliberate ploy to stoke communal fires. If it did not succeed, the credit goes to the people of Kerala. But, to return to my original point, there is no way that Antony and his ministers could have had an inkling of what was being planned.
The graver charge against the Antony government is that elements within it are guilty of protecting the murderers. More specifically, the Muslim League is put in the dock. This does not strike me as making much sense.
I know several senior and middle-rung leaders in the Muslim League. (I realise, of course, that one man's experience is necessarily limited, but offer this judgment for what it is worth.) While I disagree with their policies and their politics -- as I am sure they do with my opinions! -- I have always found that they have tried their best to steer the youth of their community away from extremism. Why would they suddenly choose to reverse this policy now that they are in the government?
The administration's critics point out that the investigators have made 56 arrests so far, and that half of the persons behind bars are connected to the Muslim League. It is a valid point, but I should note that the Congress and the CPI-M are well represented in the other half of the prisoners! And this is nothing new. Several men were arrested after clashes in Pattanamthitta last year; if I remember correctly, all of them turned out to have some political links -- if not to the Marxists or the Congress, then to the BJP or the Muslim League.
The best comment on the situation in Kerala came from a senior intelligence officer: "A bacterium lives outside the cell -- like the terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir. But a virus infects the cell and lives inside it -- and that is the danger we face in Kerala." It is up to each of the major political parties to take suitable action and weed out the criminal elements -- if, that is, they have the desire and the guts to do so.Finally, I would note that both the deputy prime minister and the Union minister of state for home affairs have appreciated the efforts of the Antony government following the Marad murders. That is the kind of unity in the face of external threats which will enable India to stare down the terrorist threat.
T V R Shenoy