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‘Rajya Sabha Chairman is a referee, not a player’

Former Vice-President says, ‘Our ideology of a composite culture, of promotion of scientific temper and harmony, rejection of bigotry... it is being questioned now’

Former Vice-President Hamid Ansari expresses deep concern about the state of India’s institutions and erosion of values in a wide-ranging conversation ahead of the release of his book Dare I Question? Excerpts:

As Vice-President, you picked up critical themes that have defined India. What is your idea of India?

My idea is the same idea with which this country has lived for seven decades and more, which is an inclusive India. We are a plural society. This society was not created by the Constitution; that has existed for thousands of years. The Constitution-makers took that existential reality as a given and created a structure which gave shape to it and to the aspirations of the public.

In your book, you say that the promotion of harmony and scientific temper is being challenged with particular ferocity.

You have a completely new ideology being purveyed. What was our ideology? It was that of the Preamble [to the Constitution]. It is the idea of a composite culture, of promotion of scientific temper and harmony; rejection of bigotry. This is what the ideology was. Take any national leader in the last 70 years, they said the same thing — that is being questioned now. It is being undermined.

Would you say then that Atal Bihari Vajpayee fitted into the category of Nehruvian Prime Ministers?

It is not fair to comment on one Prime Minister or another Prime Minister, but he certainly understood India better.

You have seen both governments. How would you compare the BJP government of 2014 with the Vajpayee government?

I don’t think it was so visible. It may have been their ideology but it was not so visible nor was it perceived to be so visible. Yes, bad things happened in that period also. But now it’s being done very deliberately, very blatantly.

You presented a copy of your book to former President Pranab Mukherjee. How do you view his visit to the RSS headquarters?

It is his call…first, he is no longer holding a public office and he is a free citizen. Two, as a free citizen, he is free to make his judgment. To accept an invitation, not accept an invitation is his choice. Why should I comment on it? It’s not my job.

You have stressed on scientific temper many times. But we see many personalities in the public domain peddling openly a non-rational view of things. Can this be reversed?

It should be reversed because we have made ourselves the laughing stock of the world by saying things, which simply are factually incorrect — that you had plastic surgery then, you had aeronautical excellence, missile technology and all the rest. Our children won’t believe it. We are being laughed at. Read what is being written in the foreign press. That is usually a good barometer.

As Rajya Sabha Chairman, we saw you trying your best to stop disruptions. Would a politician have done better?

It’s rather late in the day (laughs!). What would he have done? The Speaker or the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha is not a player but a referee in a hockey match, umpire in a cricket match. You are given a rulebook … You can’t become a player. There is no third umpire. What will a politician do? He has to stop being a politician if he is a referee. Either he is a politician and a player or a referee. He can’t be both.

A number of cases, of late, have come which involve charges against members of the judiciary. What was your approach in such cases that came before you?

Look, there is an Act of Parliament (Judges Inquiry Act 1968), which governs the process. That if a member of the higher judiciary, meaning High Court or Supreme Court Judge, is to be impeached, then a number is prescribed. In the case of Rajya Sabha, it was 50 MPs who had to give notice of a motion that they want impeachment proceedings against X, Y or Z. Now, the first thing when such a notice of a motion comes, the Chairman instructs his secretariat to verify. Whether these 50 names and their signatures are actually those of the signatories or somebody else just put it there. Thereafter, the process kicks in and the Chair doesn’t sit in judgment on the merits of the case because the Act provides for a Committee to be set up.

Wearing your diplomat’s hat now, how and where would you place India in the comity of nations?

Look at the way we are being pushed around. Look at the way the Americans have treated the visit of two Ministers, which has been pending since the visit of the Prime Minister. Look at the way the Chinese behaved during Doklam. But above all, look at our relationship in our immediate neighbourhood. Our relationship in the neighbourhood is not in good shape. Yes, every country is a member of the United Nations. But Maldives? Seychelles? Even Sri Lanka! Nepal…that is supposed to be close to us in every sense! Total impasse with Pakistan. What do you do, Pakistan exists! You can’t wish it away. If you decide to go to war, that’s another issue. But if you don’t, what do you do with that troublesome neighbour? So, obviously this is not [how] one would wish it to be.

Full interview at

http://bit.ly/HamidAnsariInterview

It’s not fair to comment on Prime Ministers but Atal Bihari Vajpayee certainly understood India better

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