Thank You, Mr Vice-President, for your plainspeak

Written by Javed Anand | Published on: August 10, 2017
Unlike Hamid Ansari who has repeatedly raised the issue, at no point did either the Prime Minister or the former President raise the question most pertinent to the climate of growing intolerance and violence in India: “breakdown of the ability of the authorities to enforce law”

Hamid Ansari

The outgoing Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari, has spoken yet again, done some plain speaking on the ideology and politics of hatred that has been targeting Muslims and Dalits and poses a direct threat to our democracy. In the growing climate of intolerance and violence since the BJP-led, RSS-controlled NDA government has assumed power, he has repeatedly spoken as the former President and the Prime Minister of our Republic too should have but never did.

In his interview to Rajya Sabha TV on his last day as vice-president, Ansari said Muslims in the country were experiencing “a feeling of unease. “A sense of insecurity is creeping in,” he noted. In his speech in Bangalore too last Sunday, he had spoken of the “enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians”.   
Responding to a question from his interviewer for RSTV, Karan Thapar the vice-president said he shared the view of many that intolerance was growing in the country. Without mincing words, he ascribed the spate of vigilante violence, mob lynchings, beef bans and "ghar wapsi" campaigns to a "breakdown of Indian values" and more significantly to the "breakdown of the ability of the authorities" [my italics] to enforce the law. "

It may be recalled that the issue of impartial enforcement of rule of law had also figured prominently in Ansari’s Bangalore speech: (The) Rule of Law… seems to be under serious threat arising out of the noticeable decline in the efficacy of the institutions of the State, lapses into arbitrary decision-making and even ‘ochlocracy’ or mob rule, and the resultant public disillusionment.

Asked for his comments on some recent court judgments concerning singing of national anthem in cinema halls (Supreme Court), obligatory chanting of ‘Vande Matram’ in educational institutions, government and private offices (Madras High Court), Ansari observed: “The propensity to be able to assert your nationalism day in and day out is unnecessary. I am an Indian and that is it… The very fact (of) Indianness of any citizen being questioned is a disturbing thought."     
Reminding the vice-president of his speech in Bangalore last Sunday where Ansari had said, “The version of nationalism that places cultural commitments at its core is usually perceived as the most conservative and illiberal form of nationalism. It promotes intolerance and arrogant patriotism”.

Thapar: “Were you actually commenting on what’s happening today?”

Ansari: Yes.

Thapar: Am I right?

Ansari: Yes…Yes.

Thapar: So you were talking with specific reference to the mood of the country in 2017?

Ansari: Oh absolutely.

Thapar: Can you give the audience a sense of why you felt this was an important thing to say. Because vice president’s normally don’t speak out in this way. Why did you deliberately choose to do so?

Ansari: No, vice presidents do speak out and I have in the last ten years spoken out again and again on matters that I think needed to be aired in public. So it was not unusual, at least not for me, to speak about certain issues about which I think needed to be discussed. There is to each individual a manner of speaking; I stuck to my manner of speaking.

Thapar: And you deliberately choose a moment to point out, that this exaggerated concept of nationalism, this unnecessary requirement of have to keep proving you are patriotic and nationalist is unhealthy. It makes for intolerance and arrogance that is a point you felt a personal need to make?

Ansari: Yes. And I am not the only one in the country; a great many people feel the same way.

In other words, the vice-president does not hesitate in pointing to the root of the problem of growing intolerance and violence in the country: the cultural nationalism agenda of the sangh parivar. (The above transcript is courtesy, The Wire).

The vice-president perhaps could not, should not, be expected to be any more direct in his critique of the ideology of Hindutva, be more specific in naming names. But as citizens we need to ask what kind of law enforcement is to be expected from the authorities when the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and most of the cabinet members have divided loyalties. To get to seats of power they may have sworn by the Indian Constitution but the sangh remains their soul.

As quoted above, while telling Thapar that there was nothing unusual in vice-presidents speaking their mind, Ansari had added: “There is to each individual a manner of speaking; I stuck to my manner of speaking”.

However, the “manner of speaking” becomes vitally important especially in the times that we live in. When the bull needs to be taken by the horns, when hard talk is the need of the hour, sweet homilies are simply no use. This is where, not for the first time, the manner of speaking of the Hamid Ansari has repeatedly stood out in sharp contrast to that of the former president and the incumbent prime minister.

When Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched for allegedly stocking beef in his refrigerator in Bisara village near Dadri in UP, the Prime Minister and master communicator, Narendra Modi took a full 10 days to utter some inanity. That too was forthcoming only after lots of cajoling from various quarters and a prompt from President Pranab Mukherjee about our “civilisational values”. All that Modi was prepared to say at long last was this: “Hindus and Muslims should decide whether they want to fight each other or fight poverty together!” Not a word of solace to Akhlaq’s family, not a word about lynch mobs and the rule of law.

In sharp contrast, speaking at a public function within 48 hours of the lynching at Dadri, Ansari stated that it was the “state’s responsibility to ensure right to life to every citizen irrespective of faith or creed”. “Despite being a Muslim”, Ansari was keeping faith in the Indian Constitution. (In September 2015, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had opined that former president APJ Abdul Kalam was a nationalist “despite being a Muslim”).

As one among the high officials of state sworn to protect the Indian Constitution, Ansari did not deliver a sermon to the citizenry in general but sent out a clear message for all concerned: The state must not abdicate its constitutional duty.

In his parting President’s message to the nation on July 24, Pranab Mukherjee said, “The soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance”. He also said “the capacity for compassion and empathy is the true foundation of our civilization”.

Pious words, no doubt. But at no point in the last several years did he make even an oblique reference to the forces which are out to destroy “our civilisational values”. As for the prime minister, no real mann ki baat on the subject may emanate from his quarter for obvious reasons. So all the more reason for us to say: Thank you and fare thee well, Mr Vice-President.

P.S.: In 2015, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav had put out a tweet obliquely hinting that because he was a Muslim Vice-President Hamid Ansari did not participate in the government’s Yoga Day functions and because of him RSTV did not cover the event. Following a public outrage Madhav had apologized. But it should be surprising if in the coming days, Ansari’s views are attributed the fact of his being a Muslim.