APRIL 23 — The Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) has very few victories to speak of. So, it must have been particularly vindicating for them when Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi finally let it slip this week that controversial televangelist Dr Zakir Naik has been a permanent resident (PR) here for at least five years now.
Ever since November last year, after New Delhi-based Hindustan Times reported erroneously that Dr Zakir was awarded Malaysian citizenship, Hindraf has urged Putrajaya to come clean on the status of the Indian national.
Quoting an anonymous source, the report said Dr Zakir was awarded citizenship in 2013 when he was lauded “Tokoh Maal Hijrah” here. Deputy home minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed had denied it then, but in retrospect it may not have been too far off, and the source could simply have confused PR with citizenship.
Hindraf made the same claim in March when its chairman P. Watha Moorthy joined a civil suit against Dr Zakir, although he could not provide any proof that the preacher was residing here when I grilled him on that matter.
So now we know why Dr Zakir has been given such leeway in this country: he has PR status. What it means is that we have "sheltered" him for at least five years now. And to think we had been aware that Dr Zakir was partly "residing" here but had laughed it off on the basis of technicalities and semantics.
What is worrying is Dr Zakir is a self-imposed fugitive of the Indian government. We have "sheltered" him when he was under investigation by India's National Investigation Agency for alleged links to terror. When he was chased by its Enforcement Directorate for a money laundering case.
Non-bailable warrants for Dr Zakir have since been issued by two separate courts there for both cases.
Earlier this month, both Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi said that the relationship between the countries is at a "historic high."
Not only did the two countries sign US$36 billion (RM158.4 billion) worth of investments -- US$32 billion itself in Malaysia -- but the two also agreed to collaborate in the fight against terrorism.
“There should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs,” Najib and Modi said in a joint statement.
As it is, Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali confirmed before that both Malaysia and India would help serve summonses issued by each other under a 2012 Mutual Legal Assistance treaty over criminal matters, but the treaty did not cover the execution of arrest warrants.
We must tread carefully and weigh our diplomatic options, especially after the ordeal we just went through with North Korea. We must not jeopardise our stellar ties with India and the efforts of our political leaders.
As it is, we have Malay rights group Perkasa, who has been so gung-ho about Malay supremacy over other ethnicities here, not only awarding Dr Zakir but making him an honorary member. Imagine that, an Indian national as a Perkasa member.
There is also PAS who said that MIC president Dr S. Subramaniam should not comment on Dr Zakir because he is a health minister and the PR status does not fall under his authority.
When has that stopped PAS commenting on other religions and secular matters, when it is just an Islamist party?
Dr Zakir has already demonstrated how divisive he can be: there are those who have been directly affected by his careless remarks and those he has recruited to defend him under the veneer of religion.
This must not go on.
Dr Zakir has dared India to come get him in Malaysia, he has also claimed that he will be tortured in India if he ever goes back.
This may just be hyperbole. If Dr Zakir is found guilty, surely he will have to be punished. That does not necessarily mean torture.
Indeed, India has given Dr Zakir space to preach his divisive teachings for nearly 30 years now. Despite the tenuous relationship between Muslims and Hindus there, Dr Zakir was free to stoke the fire.
And yet when he was accused of inspiring terrorism, he immediately claims he is being persecuted.
Perhaps the truth is simple. Dr Zakir's years where he ridiculed other religions and inspired hate against "infidels" have caught up with him. Dr Zakir may well know this.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.