A. R. Antulay reminded me of the cartoon character Dennis the Menace. He looked like the brat that popular tales about him in the media reported. His death only brings to the fore the realisation that in his last years his life was fairly invisible.
|The perennial brat|
He was the first victim-villain of an exposé. Long before sting operations, there was Arun Shourie. In the 80s, he, backed by the owner of Indian Express, went all out to unravel what came to be known as the Cement Scandal. All constructions of that period, with peeling plasters and shaky banisters, are attributed to one man. Antulay was the kickbacks man. He gave out-of-turn permits for more cement to builders who then 'donated' to the Indira Gandhi Pratishthan he had set up. To even a casual observer, it would be evident that you cannot start a trust in the name of the prime minister and get away with it unless the PM knows about it.
|Cemented ties: with Indira Gandhi|
Ramnath Goenka detested Indira Gandhi. Unlike media owners today, he did have an ideological reason. Arun Shourie was to be his hitman. In a series, he built up his case. It became a sensational piece of journalism in the truest sense of exposing the chief minister. The courts pronounced him guilty for the extortion of Rs. 30 crore. It sounds like peanuts today, but was a huge amount then. He, a barrister from Lincoln's Inn, could not defend himself. He probably knew that his only defence was that he was a 'loyalist', a word that encompasses all the flaws of chamchagiri but also possesses a kernel of genuine loyalty.
In Maharshtra, as one from the Konkan region he knew the terrain. It was his territory. But he would only be remembered as the man who gave cement a bad name, and of course as the man Shourie vanquished.
But he was not quite done. A little after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, he was back in the news. Unfortunately, even as he spoke out those words — “I said a man like Karkare is born among millions... Who pushed him into the trap of death? Who sent him there to be killed by the Pakistanis?’’ — I had a queasy feeling that he would be used.
Suddenly, Muslim leaders came out of the woodwork; maulanas stood up for him. That is what bothered me. To question something ought to be a part of democracy and civil society. Antulay had never been a Muslim leader. So, for him to be anointed the “Muslim messiah”, even though he had mentioned Pakistan terrorists, was reducing the argument to the lowest common denominator which we as a society are so good at doing.
Why did he speak out? “Nobody spoke. But I did. I said so because it has been found that a number of things are pushed under the carpet in the name of a state subject. A federal agency is being made... I said it at an opportune moment as a reminder of duty.’’
Many people want to know about Hemant Karkare. Many people were interested that the probe into the Malegaon blasts must not stop. Some wondered about bad timing. If anything, that was the only time to talk.
Antulay was planning to resign. He said so: “I am a self-respecting person... forget the resignation. That is a very simple thing. I had resigned from chief ministership of Maharashtra...when 100% of Congress MLAs were with me.’’ Asked about clarifications, he said, “A clarification is sought when something is hidden.”
I thought then, that whatever be his agenda if any, he should at least stick by his decision. He copped out, instead, with the take-home package of "too err is human" from the UPA-1 PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh for his rebellion. Antulay forgot all about what was pushed under the carpet. He returned to that wonderful portfolio of Minority Affairs Minister, the totem to beat all totems,
Was he an extortionist or a contortionist? A victim or a villain? Or will Antulay now be just the grey of a RIP?