The shadow of Zakir Naik, the controversial Muslim preacher, is looming long on the Pakatan Harapan’s government newly minted ministers.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo, Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran and the Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources, Xavier Jayakumar voiced-up against Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Zakir’s stay in Malaysia.
The saga started on Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting and split into the public sphere with the Ministers openly registering their concerns.
However, it appears that the veteran politician did not bow to their pressure at the Cabinet and will probably not bow to their calls made in public as well.
While they hope to get public support on the issue, they risk raising the ire of Dr Mahathir. After all, what happens in the Cabinet should remain in the Cabinet, they say. Spilling it into the public arena could instead spell their own doom.
Testing the patience of Dr Mahathir on an issue which he deemed relevant to handle personally as Prime Minister could also be equivalent to mutiny, according to some political watchers.
Hence, here we have the very first ministerial squabble in Malaysia in the reformasi era. And it pits two Democratic Action Party (DAP) ministers and a Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ministers against Dr M.
In such cases, in the past, it is Dr M that comes out victorious. But will the old fox succeed this time in taming the shrew brewing trouble in paradise?
Gobind made it a point to tell the world that issues pertaining to controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik were brought up in Malaysia’s cabinet meeting.
He said the government was committed to following the rule of law and “acting accordingly” if the Indian government presented a convincing case for Zakir’s extradition.
The three Ministers pressed Dr Mahathir, pointing out India had sent an extradition demand for the preacher who made them uncomfortable to sit in the Cabinet while the latter is in Putrajaya.
On Friday, Malaysiakini said the Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Shri Raveesh Kumar confirmed this via email.
The problem in the Zakir’s situation is that the Indian government cannot directly link him to any terror activity and to say that other terrorists are inspired by him is not sufficient grounds to extradite him.
In a press statement by Zakir Naik, he has clearly stated that he does not preach hatred or terror:
So, an unbiased observer would realize that never in my 25 years of lecturing on Islaam and peace, have I ever promoted terror, in the name of Islaam or otherwise. In fact, not a single lecture out of the thousands that I have delivered, has ever received objections from non-Muslims in India until in September 2012, when a group of religious fanatics sought to tarnish my image. My aim has always been to foster communal peace and harmony—the exact opposite of the accusations hurled at me.
Nevertheless, Interpol, approached by India, refused to accede to their request to issue a red corner notice (RCN) against Zakir.
Furthermore, Interpol stated: “After a thorough examination of elements before it, the Commission found that the data contested raised questions as to compliance with applicable rules.”
And Mr Kulasegaran who does not like mistakes and hates half-twits it seems, admitted in his public statement last week that “it was not wrong for Mahathir to say that Naik would not be deported as long as he did not create trouble.”
He said such a stance was “in accordance with the rule of law”.
Kula said Naik’s fate should be decided by the courts and not “a single individual or the government”, and some observers see it as being insubordinate to Dr M.
Kulasegaran added that Putrajaya would “follow the rule of law” should New Delhi submit a request for deportation.
“I assure the people that when I go to India and if I have the chance to meet the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I will discuss this matter with him as well,” he said.
Which is appaling indeed. Because to me, the most important factor in this affair is to consider the human rights issues involved in a possible repatriation of the preacher to India.
This article is written by Kazi Mahmood, TISG correspondent, and Khmer Times Associate Business Editor