Bidding farewell to outgoing Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday said “it is possible that there was some restlessness within you as well but from today you will not face that crisis”. He told Ansari “you now have the joy of being liberated, and the opportunity to work, think and speak according to your core beliefs”.
The Prime Minister’s remarks in Rajya Sabha come four days after Ansari, speaking at the annual convocation of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru, expressed concern over “enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians”.
Noting that Ansari belonged to a family which had been in public life for about 100 years and that his grandparents had at some point headed a national party or were in the Constituent Assembly, Modi recalled the family’s association with the Congress and the Khilafat movement.
He said Ansari’s life was that of a “career diplomat”, and it was “only after I became Prime Minister that I understood who is a career diplomat. Because one cannot immediately understand the meaning of their laughter or their handshake. That is their training. But I am sure this expertise must have been used during the 10 years here, benefiting the House.”
“You were associated with West Asia for a major part of your career as a diplomat. You spent many years of your life in that circle, in that atmosphere, in that thought, its debate and amid such people. For a major part after your retirement, whether it was in Minority Commission or Aligarh University, you remained in that circle. But for 10 years, you got a different responsibility. Every moment, you had to remain confined to the Constitution and you tried your best to fulfil that responsibility,” Modi told Ansari.
He said though he did not interact much with Ansari, he got insight into many issues from him whenever they met before or after his foreign visits. He conveyed his best wishes to Ansari and wished him long life.
Ansari, on his part, said: “The Chair is like an umpire in cricket or a referee in a hockey match, witnessing the play and the players, but without becoming a player. Its only source of reference is the book of rules. This House is a creation of the Constitution and reflective of the wisdom and foresight of the founding fathers who wished it to portray India’s diversity and to be a calibrated restraint on hasty legislation. It has upheld democracy’s sacred creed that discussion, instead of being a stumbling block in the way of action, is, in fact, an indispensable preliminary to wise action.”
He quoted Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: “A democracy is distinguished by the protection it gives to minorities. A democracy is likely to degenerate into tyranny if it does not allow the Opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the Government. But, at the same time, minorities also have their responsibilities. Well, they have every right to criticise, their right to criticise should not degenerate into wilful hampering and obstruction of the work of Parliament. All groups, therefore, have their right and have their responsibilities.”
A PTI report quoted Vice President-elect M Venkaiah Naidu rejecting as “political propaganda” the view that there was a sense of insecurity among minorities. Without naming anyone, Naidu said: “Some people are saying minorities are insecure. It is a political propaganda. Compared to the entire world, minorities are more safe and secure in India and they get their due.”
He disagreed with the view that there was growing intolerance, saying Indian society was the most tolerant in the world because of its people and civilisation. There is tolerance, he said, and that is why democracy is so successful. “If you single out one community, other communities will take it otherwise. That is why we say all are equal. Appeasement for none, justice for all,” Naidu said.
The BJP was more direct in criticising Ansari’s remarks on the sense of insecurity among minorities. Condemning the remarks as an “insult to the country”, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayavargiya said the outgoing Vice-President had “damaged the country’s image”.
“He held a constitutional post and was Vice-President of this country for ten years. He says Muslims do not feel safe in this country. It is an insult to this country and its institutions. India has more Muslims than many Muslim countries in the world. He should not have said so,” Vijayavargiya told The Indian Express.
“Under Modi’s leadership, the entire world is looking up to India and the world respects this country and its leadership. His (Ansari’s) remark will damage the country’s image. I condemn it,” he said. “He may be having a political agenda. He may want to come under a particular political umbrella,” he said.