The out gone Vice President and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha Hamid Ansari stirred a hornets’ nest on the last day of his ten-year long tenure as the incumbent of the second highest Constitutional position of the nation. In an interview to Rajya Sabha TV, Ansari struck a note of caution, warning that Muslims in the country are feeling insecure amid a sense of growing intolerance – “the ambience of acceptance” is at risk, he said, adding that he had shared his concerns with the Prime Minister and his cabinet. Considering the fact that the office of Vice President is a Constitutional position and it is held above and beyond petty party politics, the remarks coming from Ansari are shocking and regretful. An immediate reaction to his remarks was obvious. Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including his successor Venkaiah Naidu have vehemently denounced Ansari’s observations as ‘political propaganda’. Normally, politicians do not criticize remarks coming from Constitutional dignitaries. However, Ansari proved to be an exception and no one should blame Venkaiah or any other politician for commenting on Ansari’s outburst as it is utterly rubbish, untimely and uncalled for.
For all said and done, Ansari was never an active politician like his many predecessors and the successor. He was a career diplomat who spent his years of career working for many out-of-country missions, including the United Nations. After his retirement, Ansari was associated with educational institutions like Aligarh Muslim University and later the Chairman of National Commission for Minorities. During his diplomatic tenure, Ansari served for Indian missions in United Arab Emirats, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In short, Ansari spent most of his years in the midst of Islamic atmosphere. After assuming the office of Vice President, his first exposure to the parliamentary world, Ansari was hardly seen travelling in the interiors of the country. Muslims also used to criticize him for keeping ‘safe distance’ from the masses of his own religion.
The Feeling of Unease?
In this situation when and how did Ansari sense the ‘feeling of unease and insecurity’ among Muslims? And where did he find the ‘ambience of acceptance’ under threat? And if the situation was so much grim and grave, why didn’t he send alarming signals then? As Vice President, he also held the responsibility of protecting the Constitution apart from being the custodian of the faith of the billion Indians. The moot question is why Ansari kept his mouth shut when he sensed the ‘unease’ and felt that ‘the ambience of tolerance’ was under threat. He says that he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other members of his cabinet. Even if it was so, he cannot be exonerated from his responsibility of being the protector of the Constitution and People’s faith. He had accepted this responsibility under the oath of office. Being the presiding authority of the Rajya Sabha Ansari had ample opportunity to express his fear and anguish in presence of 250 odd members of the Elders’ House. He never exercised this option and waited till the last day of his tenure. Why?
Ansari took over from his predecessor Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in 2007 and continued to occupy the chair of Vice President for ten long years. During the period, he witnessed a change of guard in 2014 when Congress’s Man Mohan Singh had to pass on the baton to Narendra Modi of BJP. It means he saw the Congress regime for seven years. During this period, India witnessed many incidences of violence, riots and communal tension. There were incidents of communal riots in West Bengal, his home state, where earlier Left Parties and now Trinamool Congress are ruling. Ansari never uttered a word against this atmosphere of communal hatred there. Is it a mere co-incidence that he assumed the office of Vice President only because of the active initiative and support of Sitaram Yechury and Left Parties? This needs to be examined.
Not that this is the first time when Ansari shot his mouth out and created controversy. As Finance Minister and Leader of Rajya Sabha recalled in presence of Ansari, the latter had termed the opposition members as ‘a federation of anarchists’. Later the House had to expunge the utterances of its own chairman from the record as the word ‘Anarchists’ in reference to MPs could be seen as ‘unparliamentarily’. I was a member of Rajya Sabha for Six years of Ansari’s ten-year term and don’t remember him ever expressing regret for his controversial words.
An Octogenarian Dignitary
Ansari is an octogenarian dignitary and surely knows about usages of words and their implications. Still he went on calling MPs Anarchists and observed that Muslims were feeling insecure. Is there any design behind his apparent madness? Prime Minister Modi had taken a dig at his words by saying after relinquishing the office; he had the liberty and freedom to breathe freely. Does this mean Modi is hinting at Ansari’s future plans in life?
Though no Vice President of India have so far indulged in politics after stepping down from the Chair, There is no Constitutional restriction on doing so. Is Ansari contemplating to enter political arena in near future? Left Wing Parties in West Bengal are making attempts to bring the Trinamool Congress Government headed by Mamata Bannerji down with the help of the Congress. The Left Parties are also taking care that the BJP does not spread its wings in the State. The main handicap with the Left Parties is that they have no presentable face to attract voters. In that case, Ansari can come handy. Is that the game-plan of the Left Parties and Ansari?
The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS)