Should Hamid Ansari have spoken his mind?

Former Vice President Hamid Ansari. A file photo.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

LEFT | D. Raja

Every Indian would agree with his comments about increasing insecurity in segments of our citizenry


The reaction of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party to the views and concerns expressed by former Vice President Hamid Ansari is horrifying. RSS-BJP leaders have stooped low in launching their attack on him, making subtle reference to his religion and asking him to quit India and migrate to any other country where he can feel secure. The question is, did he say anything wrong or should he have spoken? Every citizen would agree with Mr. Ansari when he pointed towards “enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians” and the “illiberal form of nationalism that promotes intolerance”.

The situation in the country is really scary. Citizens do not feel secure. Assaults on the rights of people are on the rise. The RSS-Sangh Parivar have become aggressive in redefining “nation and nationhood” and rewriting history.

Swami Vivekananda took pride in India’s extraordinary history of inclusion and acceptance. When the sense of oneness and unity breaks down, people who are numerically less in terms of their faith or are at a disadvantaged position because of caste or other identities feel threatened, excluded and persecuted. It is in such a situation that it becomes the duty and responsibility of society and the state to make them feel secure. Mr. Ansari was only reminding those in power to be inclusive in their approach.

Addressing anxieties

In the modern era, we made attempts to remove anxieties of minorities when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, as Chairman of the Constituent Assembly committee on the rights of minorities, recommended special safeguards for them which were eventually incorporated in the Constitution.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a letter to Chief Ministers in 1948 and said that if Muslims were subjected to discrimination and ill treatment, they would become a festering sore poisoning the whole body politic. So it is quite clear that the anxieties and fears of Muslims and other minorities were being expressed by our leadership since the formative stage of nation building.

Swami Vivekananda in his ‘From Colombo to Almora’ lectures conveyed the worries and apprehensions of Dalits and sought measures for their access to education, livelihood opportunities and other entitlements. Mahatma Gandhi explained communal violence by referring to the practice of untouchability in Hindu society. He said that all those who were victims of untouchability were attracted to Islam because of its ideals of equality and brotherhood and there would have been no communal violence and Hindu-Muslim disunity had there been no untouchability.

Root of communal violence

Why is nobody paying attention to the anxieties caused by the practice of untouchability, which is at the root of all communal violence and for which Dalits are being treated with contempt? The Hindutva forces are conveniently forgetting all such issues and anybody who articulates the concerns of minorities and Dalits — even a student — faces sedition charges and is criticised in disparaging terms.

When Dr. B.R. Ambedkar expressed the anxieties of Dalits and demanded legal safeguards, he was opposed by those who wanted a Hindu Rashtra. Those articulating the anxieties of minorities and Dalits in a constitutional framework are articulating a grammar of unity which is a crying necessity for an India facing a counterculture of discord and disunity.

The Constitution and constitutional morality are not being kept in mind and people are being targeted violently for their stand in support of the exploited people. The former Vice President was only reminding people to uphold the values enshrined in the Constitution — a position the Left has articulated from time to time.

D. Raja is national secretary of the Communist Party of India and a Member of the Rajya Sabha

RIGHT | Seshadri Chari


Instead of becoming a bridge between the government and the Muslim community, he has burnt his bridges


No former Vice President would have got into controversies as easily as Hamid Ansari did and no one would have got out of it too as easily as he has, at least so far.

Man of controversies

He was once accused of “influencing” Rajya Sabha TV, of which he was the chief as Chairman of the Upper House, of total blackout of the live telecast of the Yoga Day event. Mr. Ansari was accused of not saluting the national flag during the Republic Day parade in 2015. His office clarified that as per protocol, only those in uniform (and probably the head of state) salute the national flag while the national anthem is being played. Again in August 2013, the Chairman wondered if “members (of the Rajya Sabha) wish the House to become a federation of anarchists”; both Congress and BJP members protested. In 2010, it was alleged that a poor farmer’s hut was brought down to make way for his helicopter to land.

For the record, Mr. Ansari also castigated Pakistan in very strong words for using terrorism as a state policy and rearing terrorists to be deployed in India. I don’t remember if anyone commended him then.

Naturally, therefore, I was surprised at some parts of the last speech he made [as Vice President, at the 25th annual convocation of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru] and some points he flagged in an interview to Rajya Sabha TV while answering questions on Muslims in India and how they feel, about “a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity creeping in”.

Not a Muslim spokesman

Now, Hamid Ansari is no ordinary Muslim from a poor background. He is an educated former Indian Foreign Service officer who has effectively represented India abroad, especially in Islamic countries. Does he reflect the views and sentiments of the ordinary Muslim? I don’t think so.

By creating a halo of victimhood around Muslims, the Congress effectively insulated the community from mainstream politics, empowerment and benefits of development. In the bargain, a ready-made vote bank was created. The Left parties, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and others took over from where the Congress had left and benefited politically. What they actually did was to create a false sense of insecurity among sections of the Muslims and use the influence of the clergy to corner their votes. The 2014 elections and others held after have shown that sections of Muslims are turning towards the BJP, or at least turning away from the Congress and other parties that trumpeted that they are the true representatives of Muslims.

India is secular not because the Constitution says so (since 1976) but remains secular because of its centrist Hindu ethos. The real danger to secularism is from Islam-khatrey-mein-hai (Islam is in danger) brigades as much as it is from the so-called Hindu fringe. I don’t know why Mr. Ansari said what he said. I had even tweeted expressing my surprise at his views and felt that he has actually done a disservice to the Muslim community. Instead of becoming a bridge between the government and the Muslim community, he has probably burnt his bridges.

In many of the controversies, reported and unreported, I was on Mr. Ansari’s side as he is sober, logical, and not the kind who can be compelled or convinced to wear his religion on his sleeve. For once, I am surprised that he chose to speak like a politician rather than a centrist thinker whose views may be unpalatable but not wrong on facts.

Seshadri Chari is a former editor of ‘Organiser’, commentator on strategic, security and foreign affairs, and member of the BJP National Executive

CENTRE | Manish Tewari

He should have spoken out when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched. He should have gone for Akhlaq’s burial


Article 60 of the Constitution lays down the oath to be sworn by the President before entering office. What is vital in this oath are the words “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”. The oath of the Vice President contained in Article 69 is virtually analogous. Article 65 further states that in the event of the occurrence of any vacancy in the office of the President, the Vice President shall act as President until the date on which a new President is elected.

Though the Vice President is also Chairperson of the Council of States and theoretically is but a heartbeat away from the presidency, in real terms it means nothing. Both the President and the Vice President are but mere symbols of the state rather than its pillars. Nonetheless, both the President and the Vice President have a constitutional and moral obligation to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. That provides the constitutional leeway to step beyond the straitjacketed confines of their ceremonial existence. However, the timing of their actions or interventions is of the essence.

Profound differences

The first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, differed with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the Hindu Code Bill. Prasad wrote to Nehru on September 15, 1951: “My right to examine it (the Bill) on its merits, when it is passed by the Parliament, before giving assent to it is there. But if any action of mine at a later stage is likely to cause embarrassment to the Government, I may take such appropriate actions as I may be called upon to avoid such embarrassment consistently with the dictates of my own conscience.” This was before the Bill was even formally presented to Parliament by the government.

Giani Zail Singh had profound differences with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He refused to sign the contentious Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill, 1986, that would have empowered the government to censor personal mail; sought the government’s reason for not embracing a clear policy on the appointment of Supreme Court and High Court judges; queried the government’s media coverage policy… the list goes on and on. Was he right on doing so? Perhaps not. However, he did not wait for the end of his term to articulate his opinion.

President K.R. Narayanan repeatedly wrote rather tough missives to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee between February 28 and March 15, 2002, calling for an explanation on why the NDA/BJP governments failed to pre-empt, prevent and then stop the Gujarat pogrom. It is sad the Delhi High Court blocked the release of those critical letters even 10 years later in 2012.

Timing is of essence

In that context, the track record of the previous presidency and vice presidency is perhaps blotted. The President could have stayed his hand on the promulgation of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand, stepped in when sequential constitutional coups were being carried out in Arunachal Pradesh. Similarly, the Vice President should have spoken out when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched [in 2015] for allegedly possessing beef. He should have gone for his burial. It would have sent a salutary message to both the government and the community, for that is the inflection point that made Muslims insecure.

Delivering homilies at the end of the term can end up being critiqued as a case of sour grapes or a parting kick. Does it bestow glory on high constitutional offices? The jury is out on that.

Manish Tewari is a lawyer and was the Information and Broadcasting Minister in the UPA 2 government

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 9:53:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-hamid-ansari-have-spoken-his-mind/article19511577.ece

Next Story