IF incitement to murder is a crime, as it certainly is, Haji Yaqoob Quereshi, UP Minister for Minority Development and Haj, committed a criminal act by announcing booty of RS 51 crore and gold equal to the weight of the assassin for the head of the author of the cartoons lampooning Prophet Mohammad. The Minister who had taken the oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution has willfully violated that oath and doesn´t deserve to be a Minister even for a day. He must be dismissed forthwith if the sanctity of the Constitution and the office he holds is to be preserved. Not only that, he needs to be prosecuted for inciting violence and killings. Ministers are not above the law of the land and can´t be allowed to ask people to kill others whatever the provocation and howsoever severe the hurt. The Haji can´t be allowed to get away with his crime by suggesting that it was an ?emotional outburst? of an anguished Muslim. He had himself admitted that he made the provocative declaration consciously and in consultation with the Chief Minister Mulayam Singh. He showed no remorse and persistently claimed that he was receiving huge support from the Muslim masses and that the people who want to see dead the man guilty of insulting the Prophet would raise the money. The Minister has brought disgrace to his own community by painting Muslims bloodthirsty.
Alok Sinha, Principal Secretary (Home) in the UP Government had no business to come to the rescue of the Minister responsible for bringing shame to the nation. His argument that no case was made out against the Minister as the threat was against a person living in a distant foreign country is totally untenable. Sinha is supposed to know his law and is not expected to make such silly statements. Whether he issued the statement on his own or at the behest of his political master is immaterial. The official must be held responsible for his audacious statement and brought to book by the Union Government, if the state government fails to take any action against him. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh´s studied silence on Quereshi´s misconduct deserves condemnation from all right thinking persons. His attitude has only confirmed the tainted Minister´s claim that he had consulted the Chief Minister before pronouncing death sentence on the cartoonist. He later tried to absolve the Chief Minister of latter´s responsibility but TV channels repeatedly telecast his speech to give a lie to his half-hearted retraction. The Minister´s foul utterances, the clean chit issued by a senior bureaucrat and the Chief Minister´s inaction and silence prove beyond a shadow of doubt that it is a crass attempt to arouse communal passions among the Muslims to corner Muslim votes in the Assembly elections due next year. The Congress party´s mute response to the developments is yet another proof that it is equally, if not more, involved in the vote bank politics. It has refrained from condemning the Minister and the U.P. Government – though there is no love lost between the Congress and the SP – for obvious reasons. It is desperately wooing Muslims by tokenism. This is in line with numerous communal initiatives taken by the Congress-led Governments including reservations for Muslims in Andhra, amending the Foreigners´ Act to stall the identification and deportation of Bangladeshi infiltrators from Assam, minority status for Aligarh Muslim University and the infamous and abortive Muslim headcount in the armed forces. Communists and other ?secular? parties are equally guilty of not coming out against elements that are inciting communal passions among the Muslims. Among the political parties, it is only the BJP and its allies in the NDA that have condemned the Minister and demanded action against him.
No one denies the Muslims their right to express their opposition to the publication of cartoons peacefully. Spontaneous anger against an act that Muslims consider blasphemy is justified. Indians across the political spectrum and leaders of all religious faiths have deplored the publication of cartoons. Hindu leaders and organisations have unequivocally deplored the publication of cartoons. However, the ?secularists? and liberals stand exposed. The very people who are very vocal in deploring and condemning in the strongest possible language the newspapers that have hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims had all these years defended the insults heaped on Hindu Gods, religious icons and Bharat Mata by the likes of Maqbool Fida Hussein on the untenable premise of artistic freedom. The liberal-?secular? brigade that routinely condemns Hindu outfits ?communal and fascist? whenever they protest against insults heaped on Hindus, never raised their voice against Western companies that deeply hurt Hindu sentiments by painting Hindu gods on toilets or printing their photos on tissue papers. A welcome development is that a section of the liberals, including a few in the media, seem to be troubled by their own double standards and are in a confessional mode. UPA Government lost no time in conveying to European Governments its outrage over the caricatures of the Prophet. However, it didn´t show a similar concern for the Hindu sentiments. It was only after it came under severe attack from the BJP and Hindu organisations for its double standards, the Government came out with a half-hearted assurance that it disapproved of the insults heaped on Bharat Mata and that it would convey to the countries concerned about the hurt caused to the Hindus by insults heaped on Hindu icons by Western multinationals.
The controversy over the publication of cartoons has generated a bitter debate in the public domain on freedom of expression. It is a very complex and delicate issue. Liberals hold that freedom of expression and the right to analyse, criticize and even ridicule religious faiths is inherent in liberal democracies and that freedom of expression is not negotiable. The other view is that no right or freedom is absolute and that the right to freedom of expression need to be exercised with restraint to ensure that religious sentiments of others are not hurt. This debate needs to be carried forward to arrive at a broad consensus on the need to respect all faiths and religions. However, there is total lack of unanimity over another aspect of the issue namely the intention of the Western media that carried the cartoons. The Danish newspaper that carried the caricatures claims that its intention was to establish the freedom of expression as it was told that no artist was willing to lend his name to portraits of the Prophet in a book on Islam because of the apprehension that it would offend Muslims. The contrary view is that certain European countries and media deliberately insulted and humiliated the Muslims. While these are debatable issues, there can´t be two views on the need to maintain peace. No one has the right to resort to violence to express one´s anguish over any issue whatever the provocation. The manner in which Muslims mobs attacked Danish and other European properties and insulted and burnt national flags of certain European countries and USA is totally unacceptable. What is the justification for Muslim mobs coming out after Friday prayers attacking public property and Hindu properties in India? The victims had nothing to do with the publications. Muslims need to understand that anger and protests are all right but violence has no place in a democratic society. Those who want their sentiments to be respected should also learn to respect the religious and national sentiments of others. Double standards won´t do.