Digvijaya faces flak for lauding Zakir Naik, Congress defends Singh

New Delhi: Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, facing flak for having dubbed controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik a “messenger of peace” in 2012, on Thursday said that if the Indian or Bangladeshi government found any evidence linking Naik to the Islamic State terror group, they should act against him.

Naik is under the scanner following revelations that two of the five young militants who massacred 20 hostages, including an Indian, at a popular cafe in Dhaka on July 1 drew their inspiration from his speeches.

“If government of India (GOI) or the government of Bangladesh has any evidence against Zakir Naik’s involvement with ISIS (Islamic State) they should take action against him,” Singh tweeted.

Singh’s tweets came after an online video surfaced showing him at an event sharing the stage and a hug with Naik, and at a conference in 2012 where he called the Islamic preacher a “messenger of peace.”

“I have heard many times the name of Zakir Naik. I am happy to hear that he (Naik) is spreading message of peace all over the world,” Singh said, praising the scholar in the controversial video.

The video was broadcast on Peace TV, which is run by Naik.

Reacting to the controversy, Singh in a tweet claimed that “the conference was for communal harmony and against terrorism. Also to explain that Islam is against innocents being killed.”

Defending his presence alongside Naik at the event, Singh tweeted: “My speech at conference organised by Zakir Naik is being shown. I spoke against religious fundamentalism and appealed for communal harmony.”

On Wednesday, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told reporters that Naik’s speeches are a “matter of concern for us” and that government agencies “are working on this”.

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday said Naik’s speeches are objectionable, and indicated that the government may take action against him.

“The Home Ministry will analyse everything,” Naidu said.

Naik, founder of Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation, is banned in the United Kingdom and Canada for his hate speeches aimed against other religions.

However, Congress defended Singh by saying he has clarified himself on the issue.

“Digvijay Singh ji has himself clarified that all that he said was an appeal for peace, harmony and brotherhood of all,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.

“Congress party has always believed that there is no place in India as also in our society for extremism or for thought process that goes against the idea of India. Obscure extremist thought processes have no place in India’s society including in the entire world order,” he added.

Surjewala further said: “These are are the anti-thesis of extremist and militant thought processes. Any individual or any organisation that has stated anything or done any act that goes against these tenets must be acted upon by government of India in accordance with law and strictest punishment must be given to such individual or organisation.”

On Thursday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered a probe into the speeches, writings and other materials of Naik, President of Islamic Research Foundation.