Former vice-president Hamid Ansari has responded for the first time to comments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his last day in the Rajya Sabha, noting that “many considered the comments to be a departure from accepted practice on such occasions”.
In the preface of a book that compiles his selected speeches, Ansari talks about Modi’s remarks at a farewell event held for him, almost a year ago. “The Prime Minister participated in this and while being fulsome in his complements also hinted at what he perceived to be a certain inclination in my approach on account of my having spent, as he put it, both a good part of my professional tenure as a diplomat in Muslim lands and in post-retirement period on minority-related questions,” Ansari says.
“The context, presumably, was my reference in (a) Bengaluru speech to what I perceived as ‘enhanced apprehension of insecurity’ and in (a) TV interview to ‘a sense of unease creeping in’ among Muslims and some other religious minorities. The subsequent furore by the ‘faithful’ on social media tended to lend credence to this. On the other hand, editorial comments and a good many serious writings considered the PM’s remarks to be a departure from accepted practice on such occasions.”
The book of Ansari’s speeches, titled Dare I question: Reflections on Contemporary Challenges, is set to be released on July 17 in Delhi by former chief justice of India Justice T S Thakur.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ansari said, “The PM spoke a lot and was fulsome in his praise too. I responded in my speech, including a sher (couplet) at the end — but then his army of supporters feasted on it.”
In the long preface to the book, Ansari also comments on the values and institutions of a State and values of Indian nationalism. “So while electoral democracy on the first-past-the-post system is in place, it falls short of being substantive, inclusive and participatory… Alongside, some questions relating to it have risen: does it remain plural, egalitarian, secular and inclusive or does it with whatsoever subtlety metamorphose itself into an illiberal, ethnic democracy premised on the principles of Hindutva?” he writes.
Ansari’s farewell was held on August 10, 2017. As per tradition, leaders of political parties and members thanked the Chair for a few hours in the morning and then Ansari, also chairman of the Rajya Sabha courtesy his vice-president’s post, responded.
As foreign service officer, Ansari had served in West Asia and was India’s Permanent Representative to the UN. He also served as vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and chairman of the National Minorities Commission before becoming vice-president.
In his speech, Modi had said, “In the last 10 years (of vice-presidentship), your responsibility changed considerably and you had to confine yourself strictly to the Constitution. You may have been internally agitated by this, but from today, you will have the freedom to speak your mind and to think, speak and act according to your core set of beliefs.”
The PM had added, “You have held responsibilities and been associated with a certain ‘circle’ because of which you have certain opinions and perception.”
On how the book came about, Ansari told The Indian Express, “There was some interest in things I may have had to say, and I was being persuaded to do an autobiography, which I decided not to. I realised that my speeches from 2016-17 had yet to be published. So the core of the book is these essays, divided into essays dedicated to eight subjects, including gender, education, foreign relations, media and the rule of law, security, society and polity, and social justice.”
The former vice-president writes in the preface, “Two sets of challenges confront us. The first pertains to principles and values of public life and the second to institutional structures of the Indian polity.” The Indian Constitution underlines “a pluralist view of Indian nationalism and Indianness, widely accepted”, but which is “now being challenged by an alternate viewpoint depicting purifying exclusivism through the idea of ‘cultural nationalism’ premised principally on a shared culture narrowly defined”.
Ansari also asks why controversial ideas of Hindutva in RSS leader M S Golwalkar’s book We or Our Nationhood Defined, published in 1939, were not reproduced in a selection in 2008. “(It does) not include these passages, the omission is significant and the reader is left to guess the reason for it!”
Asked about Ansari’s remarks, BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao refused to comment, saying the party would react only after reading the contents of the book and seeing the reference in which he had said this. — With PTI inputs