New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Union Minority Affairs Minister Abdul Rehman Antulay (pictured) handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. After days of debate in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, the 79-year-old Congress Party (CP) member gave in to pressures within the government and demands by the Barathia Janatha Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena.
The step was taken following statements he made after Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Hemant Karkare was killed during the 26 November terrorist attacks in Mumbai in which he suggested the latter was the victim of a plot.
According to Antulay, Karkare could have been killed because of the involvement of Hindu extremists in recent attacks in Maharashtra and Gujarat blasts that he and his team were investigating
On 29 September six Muslims in Malegaon, a city in Maharashtra, were killed by two bombs. Investigations had led to the arrest of three Hindus, among them Pragnya Singh Chandrapal Singh, 38, who last year became a sadhvi, a Hindu ascetic.
The arrests had embarrassed the BJP and led its leader, Lal Krishna Advani, to call for a new investigation team.
Karkare’s previous investigations had also suggested that the three men were involved in other attacks which the BJP had blamed on Muslim extremists.
The Malegaon case is politically significant because it took place in a district held by the Congress Party.
Four days before the Mumbai attack Chief Karkare had tried to downplay the controversy, telling the press that he had not received any pressures.
“Somebody who knew [. . .] sent him (Karkare) in the wrong direction otherwise why should he have gone to Cama Hospital? He should have gone to Taj, Oberoi or Nariman House. He went to such a place where there was nothing compared to what was happening in these three places. He went to Cama Hospital on the basis of a phone call. Who is that person who made the phone call? This should be probed,” Antulay told The Indian Express after the 26 November attacks and the death of the anti-terrorism squad.
“Karkare found that there are non-Muslims involved in acts of terrorism . . . . Any person going to the roots of terror has always been the target . . . . Superficially speaking, 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,” the former minister added.
Antulay’s words unleashed a storm of protests by the BJP which called on the Prime Minister Singh to provide explanations and on the minister to resign.
Eventually the controversy hit Congress, the former minister’s own party. Many within the party were unhappy about Antulay’s claims, seeing them as hostile to the party line.
To top it all, as parliament was discussing a new anti-terrorism bill, the minister said that anti-government unrest and actions across India should be put on par with terrorist attacks.
The Antulay affair comes amid an exchange of accusations between the CP-led government and the BJP, now re-energised by the Mumbai attacks.
The BJP has accused Prime Minister Singh’s party of incompetence in guaranteeing the country’s security and its leaders are betting that the controversy can play well for them ahead of next year’s general election.
However, the BJP has also come in for closer scrutiny as a result of violence in many states by Hindu extremists.
Some analysts have even suggested that Hindu extremists and Pakistan-based terrorist groups might be acting together in order to cause the collapse of the CP-led Indian government and undermine Indo-Pakistani relations.
Some evidence for such a scenario can be seen in the relations entertained by extremist groups on both sides of the divide in Kashmir.