Mumbai: The Maharashtra government seems to be closing in on controversial Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told news agency ANI on Tuesday that “many unlawful activities have been pointed out pertaining to the organisation of which Zakir Naik is the leader”. Fadnavis, who also holds the home portfolio, was referring to a report submitted by Mumbai police on Zakir Naik. The report, Fadnavis added, severely indicted Naik. The Maharashtra government would press for Naik’s extradition to India if he did not return on his own, the chief minister said. Naik’s whereabouts are not known.
The Union home ministry and Maharashtra government put Naik and his Mumbai-based organization Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) under scanner after Rohan Imtiyaz, one of the suspects of the 1 July terror attack in Dhaka, revealed to his interrogators that he was inspired by Naik’s televised speeches.
On 22 July, the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad arrested Rizwan Khan, who allegedly has IRF links after he was named by a Kerala couple for purportedly radicalizing and recruiting them into the Islamic State (IS). The Kerala police arrested IRF’s guest representative officer Arshid Qureshi after he was also named by the couple. The Maharashtra government had tasked Mumbai police to prepare a dossier on Zakir Naik and the IRF. The report was submitted to the Maharashtra home department on 8 August.
A Maharashtra home ministry official, who did not wish to be named, said the report was based on Naik’s speeches and sermons delivered on television shows. “The report indicts him for promoting extremism and religious animosity, and recommends that his speeches be banned in Maharashtra,” the official said. The home ministry will now consult the legal department and also the Union home ministry to check if a case could be made out against Naik and IRF under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
However, a Mumbai-based journalist, who has been tracking Muslim politics and issues and who did not wish to be named, said the government may not be able to make out a strong case against Naik. “Contrary to what the chief minister says, I am told the report makes very broad conclusions. There is little actionable in this report that can help Mumbai police to make out a clinching case against Naik who is no doubt a promoter of hatred for faiths other than Islam,” the journalist said. Explaining this point, he said Naik has been intelligent enough to always hedge his sermons and speeches in “ifs and buts” and use his words carefully. “For example, his defence that he cannot be held responsible if the Dhaka suspect says he was inspired by Naik’s sermons is very tenable. There is little in his speeches or sermons by way of directly instigating violence,” the journalist said.