Cautioning against “a trend towards sanctification of military might”, and expressing concern over “enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians”, Vice President Hamid Ansari on Sunday underlined the values of pluralism and secularism enshrined in the Constitution. Delivering his final address as Vice President, at the 25th annual convocation of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru, Ansari said that cultural nationalism is an “illiberal form of nationalism”, which “promotes intolerance and an arrogant patriotism”.
Speaking a day after the election of NDA candidate M Venkaiah Naidu as vice president, Ansari said that “citizenship does imply national obligations” and “necessitates adherence to and affection for the nation in all its rich diversity”. “This is what nationalism means, and should mean, in a global community of nations.
The Israeli scholar Yael Tamir has dwelt on this at some length. Liberal nationalism, she opines, ‘requires a state of mind characterised by tolerance and respect of diversity for members of one’s own group and for others’; hence, it is ‘polycentric by definition’ and ‘celebrates the particularity of culture with the universality of human rights, the social and cultural embeddedness of individuals together with their personal autonomy’,” said Ansari. “On the other hand, ‘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’,” he said, quoting Tamir.
Pluralism and secularism “require for their sustenance… a state practice that eschews intolerance, distances itself from extremist and illiberal nationalism, subscribes in word and deed to the Constitution and its Preamble, and ensures that citizenship irrespective of caste, creed or ideological affiliation is the sole determinant of Indianness,” said Ansari. “In our plural secular democracy, therefore, the other is to be none other than the self. Any derogation from it would be detrimental to its core values,’’ he said. The Vice President chose his speech to young law graduates and students at NLSIU to provide an assessment of how India has fared as democracy in the 70 years since Independence.
“For many decades after Independence, a pluralist view of nationalism and Indianness, reflective of the widest possible circle of inclusiveness and a salad-bowl approach, characterised our thinking. More recently, an alternate viewpoint of purifying exclusivism has tended to intrude into and take over the political and cultural landscape,’’ he said. “One manifestation of it is an increasingly fragile national ego that threatens to rule out any dissent however innocent. Hyper-nationalism and the closing of the mind is also a manifestation of insecurity about one’s place in the world,’’ he said.
“While ensuring external and domestic security is an essential duty of the state, there seems to be a trend towards sanctification of military might overlooking George Washington’s caution to his countrymen over two centuries earlier about ‘overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty’,” Ansari said. Indian politicians and leaders need to promote the value of fraternity enshrined in the Constitution more firmly to address the growing insecurity in sections of society, the Vice President said.
Quoting Swami Vivekananda, he said, “We must not only tolerate other religions, but positively embrace them, as truth is the basis of all religions.” “Moving from tolerance to acceptance is a journey that starts within ourselves, within our own understanding and compassion for people who are different to us and from our recognition and acceptance of the ‘other’ that is the raison d’etre of democracy,’’ said Ansari.
“It has to become an essential national virtue to promote harmony transcending sectional diversities. The urgency of giving this a practical shape at national, state and local levels through various suggestions in the public domain is highlighted by enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians,’’ he said. Intolerance and lack of acceptance of people has resulted in questions about our commitment to the rule of law and the emergence of arbitrary decision making and mob rule in society, he indicated.
The farm distress, Naxalite insurgencies, re-emergence of language related identity questions, indifference to excesses on the weaker sections of society, and lingering claims of local nationalisms cannot be ignored or brushed under the carpet, Ansari said. “The political immobility in relation to Jammu and Kashmir is disconcerting,’’ he said.
The Constitutional principle of equality of status and opportunity amplified through Articles 14, 15, and 16 has to be given shape through affirmative action in order for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of ‘Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas’ to have a bearing in society, the Vice President said. Indian democracy has done reasonably well in procedural terms through the regular conduct of elections, “efficacy of the electoral machinery, an ever increasing percentage of voter participation and formal functioning of legislatures’’, said Ansari.
However, he said, the performance in terms of “substantive aspects’’ like the gap between equality before the law and equal protection of the law, representativeness of the elected representative, functioning of legislatures, gender and diversity imbalance, and secularism in practice has not been satisfactory.