Antulay going, going... still not gone

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 20 2008, 07:51am hrs
Minister for minority affairs AR Antulay, who caused considerable embarrassment for the Congress with his controversial comments on the killing of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare, is set to lose his job.

An angry Congress leadership has indicated as much, even though it now seems to have postponed announcing his exit by a couple of days for fear of unnecessarily providing a handle to the opposition to beat the UPA with in parliament.

That the party was not amused by la affair Antulay was evident on Friday when the party chose to distance itself from the beleaguered ministers views. The party in no manner endorses what Antulay said Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari told reporters. Asked action, if any, was being contemplated against Antulay, Tewari said, The government will respond to it. Let the reply come. On whether Antulays position has become untenable after the statement, Tewari said, I think you are directing the question to the wrong person. It is for the government to take a decision as he was a member of the Cabinet.

On its part, the government said it would reveal its stand before the adjournment of the current session. The house is meeting for a couple of days. Before the house adjourns we will explain the government position, external affairs minister and leader of the house Pranab Mukherjee said.

Senior leaders in the party felt that there was no way out for Antulay except if he retracted his comments. When you are a cabinet minister, you have to abide by the principle of collective responsibility. Articulating views on a subject is fine within the cabinet, but not outside it, a senior leader said.

The 79 year old minister, who was similarly forced to step down in the eighties as chief minister of Maharashtra, however, remained unfazed by the controversy. I always stand by the truth, Antulay told reporters. Asked whether he stood by what he had said two days back, he replied in the affirmative. Karkare and two other police officers were definitely killed by the Pakistani terrorists. Even a fool knows this. What I asked was who sent Karkare and the two officers there The senior minister however declined to comment on whether he had put in his papers. I am neither confirming it nor denying it he said.

The opposition though kept up with its campaign on Antulays removal in both houses of parliament, demanding that he be sacked for playing into Pakistans hands. In the upper house, opposition members, mostly belonging to NDA, staged a walkout. Raising the issue during zero hour in the Rajya Sabha, S S Ahluwalia (BJP) wondered why the Prime Minister was silent and did not come out with a statement immediately. In whose hands is Antulay playing -- Dawood or ISI he asked.

In the Lok Sabha, BJP member Sumitra Mahajan wondered how a union minister could give irresponsible statement on an issue like this and weaken Indias fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Mahajan, who had given notice of an adjournment motion on the issue, said that Antulays statement was all the more objectionable given the fact that Maharashtra government has confirmed that Karkare was killed by terrorists.