Questions are being raised after an Indian television channel said radical Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, who has been accused by India’s counterterrorism agency of unlawful activities and promoting religious hatred, met with three senior leaders of the Indian National Congress party in 2010 when he was facing terror-related and money-laundering charges.
The televangelist allegedly sought their help soon after Britain’s home secretary at the time, Theresa May, banned him from entering the United Kingdom because of his inflammatory speeches.
A confessional statement by Naik’s aide Amir Gazdar before a magistrate accessed by Times Now channel said the preacher met with Digvijaya Singh and two federal ministers of that time, Salman Khurshid and Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Singh, who is close to the Gandhi family who control the Congress party, said he met with Naik in 2012 during a communal harmony conference in Mumbai. He said he was not aware of Naik’s illegal activities when he hugged and hailed him as a messenger of peace at the conference.
Khurshid declined to comment on his alleged meeting with Naik in 2010.
If Gazdar is telling the truth, the question is why the two former ministers agreed to give an audience to Naik. It is hard to believe Singh and the ministers were unaware of the British ban on him.
Besides, a 2008 police report from Maharashtra to the Ministry of Home Affairs had described Naik as a Salafist who incited impressionable minds to join terror-related activities, promoted hatred between communities with his speeches, misquoted and misinterpreted texts of other religions and received illegal funds to his non-profit Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) for conversion to Islam.
The charges mentioned in the report by Satyapal Singh, then the police chief of Pune, called for action. But according to Gazdar, Naik’s “problems were solved” after the preacher met with Singh. When asked to explain Naik’s “problems”, Singh said they related to visas for some individuals close to Naik. He said a top dignitary introduced Naik to him as an Islamic scholar.
Who was that man? Singh remained silent on his 2010 meeting with Naik.
If the two former ministers had given audience to Naik in 2010 as alleged by Gazdar, wasn’t it a breach of propriety? Were there strings attached?
Although the 2008 police report was tabled before the federal government’s Internal Security Division, it was later sent to the National Integration Department. Was the then Congress-led government going soft on Naik by downgrading the security threat posed by the preacher?
Naik’s IRF donated 500,000 rupees (US$7,760) to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in 2011. Was the donation a quid pro quo for shielding Naik?
Congress claims it has returned the donation, but the IRF says it has not received it yet.
The religious views of Naik, who left India last year allegedly to evade arrest, are seen by the National Investigation Agency as a threat to the country’s multicultural society.
Naik has millions of followers on social media. His remarks that every Muslim should be a terrorist, that homosexuals should be killed and that suicide attacks advised by clerics are not bad have inspired many youths.
One terrorist involved in the Dhaka cafe attack that killed 22 last year was inspired by Naik, according to Bangladeshi officials.
Bangladesh has banned Naik’s Peace TV. Canada has banned him. Although Malaysia is considering Naik’s application for citizenship, much of civil society is alarmed by his remarks, especially against Hindus.
Naik’s whereabouts are unknown, as he keeps shifting his base. He is said to be currently living in Saudi Arabia, which, according to reports, has not only honored him for his service to Islam but has given him citizenship.
Muslims in India are divided over Naik. Some feel the federal government and media are targeting him. Other religions have preachers like him but they are never hounded this way, they say. But Muslims who believe in a pluralist society say his views have no place in a democracy.