THERE must be something about Abdul Rehman Antulay that makes him more than just a nuisance. In the Congress, such types are easily shown the door, but when he made the preposterous statement last week that the Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare was killed in circumstances that looked suspicious, the omnipotent High Command, which is known to be ruthless with dissent, was caught in a state of paralysis.
Strange, because even Shivraj Patil was swiftly sacked despite his proximity to the High Command, which enabled him to stick it out through four- and- ahalf years of mismanagement at the home ministry.
Let’s face the facts. Antulay found a place in the cabinet not because of an impressive CV but because he was Muslim. His tarnished past didn’t inspire confidence to win him any of the coveted portfolios. So they created one for him — minister for minority affairs. It is a measure of the seriousness with which the portfolio is taken or the credibility of the man entrusted with it that for two years he wasn’t even allotted office space. When he finally got a room, he found no work to do. Not even looking after Haj pilgrims, which was in the hands of someone else. It is the kind of humiliation no one can take for long and Antulay has been gulping it since May 2004. It all boils down to tokenism and there is no better practitioner of the art than the Congress party . Of course it claims to be the protector of minorities, but even Muslims are beginning to realise that apart from the token presence at the high table, there is little else for them. The Congress’s successive poll manifestos have talked about inclusive growth but when the balance sheet is prepared, there is little to show by way of results. It would be silly to believe that Antulay’s remarks are the isolated antics of a 79- year- old political has- been. While the High Command was trying to douse the fire, he found cross- party support from fellow Muslim politicians. Last Friday, Shakeel Ahmed, the Union minister of state for home, was by his side when Antulay addressed a press conference to virtually taunt the party and the government to take action against him. That Ahmed didn’t mind putting his career on the line by appearing alongside the minister is proof perhaps that the party’s token minority “ faces” are beginning to see what the masses discovered long ago. The inexplicable delay in sacking Antulay from the party and the government leads us to just one conclusion: the vote bank gets precedence over national interest.