The Narendra Modi-government’s move to choke funds for the two NGOs run by the controversial preacher, Zakir Naik is an action long overdue, undoubtedly.
As Firstpost has noted before, much caution needs to be exercised on any individual or organisation seeking to promote the idea of religious supremacy in a secular society.
This government is seemingly convinced that Naik’s speeches and the functions of his two NGOs — Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) and IRF Educational Trust — are detrimental to country’s religious harmony and an inspiration to terror elements, hence the action.
Naik’s style of preaching, which is centered around the supremacy of the 7th-century religion and his clandestine calls to wage war against the ‘enemies of Islam’ have allegedly inspired terror elements both in India and abroad.
Two questions arise at this juncture.
First, why did the Indian government took so long to acknowledge that Naik is a threat and initiate actions? Going by Naik’s own claims, he has been doing it for some 25 years and the content of his speeches have been pretty much same all along. As this website has reported before, during the UPA-rule, in 2013, a communication had gone to the ministry of home affairs from the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, about the potential threat caused by Naik's speeches. This was based on a complaint submitted at the PMO. But, the matter ended there.
It took the July 2016 Dhaka attacks for the Indian government to wake up to the problem (possibly due to media pressure) and initiate actions against the Islamic preacher. Naik is now a bird flown far away from the cage and is unlikely to return anytime soon. The preacher has even avoided attending his father’s funeral ceremony early this week, fearing arrest. As of now, he is out of reach of Indian agencies.
Also, Naik’s name has been linked not just to Dhaka attacks but even to the cases in Kerala where youth have been brainwashed to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Kerala police has claimed that Arshi Qureshi, guest relations officer of Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation, had indeed links with the Islamic State. For years, Naik’s NGOs have been receiving foreign aid. Given the findings of the Police, it is quite possible that these funds have been used for such acts. Only a detailed investigation on the money trail can reveal how this money has been utilised.
But, the point here is that had the investigative agencies acted well in advance, things wouldn’t have worsened to this level. This shows how our surveillance mechanisms are still grappling with problem of sheer inefficiency.
The second question is how prepared is the government to proceed from here in this sensitive case. Since the very beginning, Naik has been playing the victim card. He has termed the actions against him as attacks on Muslim community.
True, India’s larger Muslim community (about 172 million of them as per Census 2011 data), except in certain pockets, do not approve his radical, religious fundamental ideas and the idea of religious supremacy. But even then, a failure from the part of the government to corner Naik with a convincing, foolproof case could result in the preacher yet again shielding himself keeping the community in the front. Then, it could lead to more communal issues like one seen in other Muslim dominated areas of the country and could thus become a bigger headache for the Modi-government, which is already facing flak for its alleged pro-Hindu, pro-RSS ideology. It is in this context that the government should send a strong message that extremist elements, be it of any religious background, will be dealt with iron hand like it is currently doing with Naik.
Zakir Naik’s case is a classic example of government and investigators acting too late. And it is too sensitive a case for Modi-government to handle now. In an open letter he released in September, 2016, Naik had warned that if he and his organisation IRF are banned in India, he would be welcomed by other Muslim countries with a "red carpet" and such an action will be the "biggest jolt to the country’s democracy in recent times". This language is that of a clear warning to the Indian authorities. The government would do well exercising caution while cornering the Salafi preacher.