Antulay is the Simi Garewal of Indian Politics
By M J Akbar
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 centrestage. 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.