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In the end, Antulay has the last laugh

By A Correspondent in Delhi
December 23, 2008 18:56 IST
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Union Minority Affairs Minister Abdul Rehman Antulay has the last laugh. Neither he was made to apologise and retract his remarks on the doubts he raised over the killing of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare, nor did he get the boot, much hyped by most of the media and sought by the BJP-led NDA.

Parliament ended its session on an acrimonious note as both the Houses witnessed repeated adjournments because of the chaos by the entire Opposition -- the National Democratic Alliance -- members walking into the well over the government saying not a single word on Antulay's controversial remarks and the Left members highlighting the insurance workers' nationwide strike and protest at the way the government pushed through nine Bills without debate, taking advantage of the pandemonium.

A jovial 79-year old former chief minister of Maharashtra taunted the BJP-Shiv Sena combine that they will have to touch his feet to seek his resignation from the government or touch the feet of the prime minister to sack him.

Where is the question of his apology, Antulay asked while hitting out BJP and Shiv Sena who were gunning for his head: "I am more loyal to my country than the people who accused me of being anti-national. If I am Pakistani, no one is loyal. I am not an ISI agent. My loyalty for my own country cannot be questioned. I am a Muslim but an Indian first. Neither I nor any Indian will doubt that Karkare was killed by the terrorists."

"My doubts are cleared and hence no need of further probe," he told media persons, rushing out of the Parliament House after Home Minister P Chidambaram partly read and then tabled a statement on behalf of the government in the Lok Sabha in view of the pandemonium. The same statement was later laid in the Rajya Sabha amid similar pandemonium. Antulay said he wanted to speak in the House but for the chaos to air his views before the media.

What conspiracy

Chidambaram's statement that 'there is no truth whatsoever in the suspicion that there was a conspiracy to eliminate Karkare or others', however, prompted Antulay to assert that he never talked of any 'conspiracy'.

He rejected a suggestion that he was retracting his earlier remarks to help the Congress that is unable to sack him as a minister because of he vote bank politics.

Antulay said he had not talked of any controversy but just raised doubts on two points: (i) Why he and two other officers killed on the fateful 26/11 night drove into opposite direction instead of Taj and Trident hotels where the real action was talking place and (ii) why all three went in the same car becoming victims of the terrorists' bullets together.

Chidambaram's statement makes it clear that Karkare, ACP Ashok Kamte and Inspector Vijay Salaskar had driven in the same Police jeep on their own in the hot pursuit of the terrorists, who escaped from Cama Hospital after a shooting spree at the main CST railway station and not directed by anyone as doubted.

Walkout, protest

Opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani, who got an advance copy of the statement as the practice in Parliament, protested that the government had been promising since last week to make a statement on Antulay's controversial remarks and not on 'the circumstances leading to the death of Karkare and other police officers' as stated in its title.

He led an NDA walkout in protest for protecting 'a minister who is taking a stand that made him a hero in Pakistan' but defying the usual practice of returning to the House after the issue that warranted a walkout the BJP and Shiv Sena members rushed back raising slogans to create pandemonium, forcing Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to direct Chidambaram to lay the statement and adjourned the House.

Antulay's detractors in the Congress, who were egging for his sack, sought to take solace in pointing out that he may not have apologised but Chidambaram has regretted for his controversial contentions. While Chidambaram did not refer to Antulay in his statement, the detractors were referring to Para 13 that reads -- 'In the days before his death, questions were raised about the genuineness of the investigations that were being conducted by Karkare in a terrorist case. After his death, questions are being raised about the circumstances in which he was killed. In my view, both are wrong and deeply regrettable.'

BJP stir

The BJP was angry at the indirect dig the minister made on Advani and other party leaders questioning the ATS probe against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and others in the September 29 Malegaon bomb blast. Its spokesperson Sushma Swaraj told media persons that her party would respect even its staunch opponent who becomes a martyr fighting against terrorism and hence its past stand on Karkare needs no exploitation.

Sushma, who is just out of hospital after three weeks, said Parliament's pressure to sack Antulay may have failed but her party would build the people's pressure by going to the people on the 'anti-national' act of a minister. The BJP's central office-bearers will meet in New Delhi on Wednesday to decide the nationwide agitation in this regard, she said.

She said the BJP was totally dissatisfied the way the Congress ducked from taking any action against Antulay. She said this only exposes the 'dangerous mindset' that raises doubts after every killing of police officers by the terrorists, be it in Mumbai or in the Batala House encounter in Delhi.

Probe conclusions

Chidambaram narrated how the three slain Mumbai police officers had rushed from their respective residences and cited accounts of three eyewitnesses, including the lone captured terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir, a police constable and a government driver.

He also cited the sequence of events reconstructed by the crime branch of the Mumbai Police to reach the conclusion that:

  • There is no truth whatsoever in the suspicion that there was a conspiracy to eliminate Karkare or others; and
  • There is also no truth in the different versions that have been circulated about the movement of Karkare on that fateful day.
The Home Minister said: "Karkare appears to have acted, after conferring with his colleagues, with speed and purpose in response to a crisis situation."

He added that "while it is indeed unfortunate that three brave officers and their men boarded one Qualis vehicle, the circumstances in which they came under fire and were killed were tragically fortuitous."

Probe demand met

Outside the House, Antulay told media persons that he was satisfied with the clarification given by Chidambaram after the investigation he had sought in his comment last Wednesday.

"For me, the matter is settled. My request was to make an inquiry. Home Minister has given the statement only after the inquiry," he said, adding that he won't now demand any further probe.

His contention for not pressing further probe was: "Home Minister's statement has clarified all doubts. A statement is laid in the House or read by the Home Minister of the country -- one has to believe it."
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A Correspondent in Delhi