A necessary catharsis

Vice presidents are part of the constitutional woodwork, and they mostly remain so—as the woodwork. They are rarely active except while presiding over the Rajya Sabha; they create no controversies except perhaps when they have to act as presidents and decide on ticklish issues.

Hamid Ansari’s tenure, too, would have passed off thus—uneventful. But somehow that was not to be. In his second term, he had to deal with a government that seemed often ill at ease with him. Or rather, the government found itself ill at ease with him. A senior BJP leader tweeted why he was missing from the prime minister’s Yoga Day gathering. He knew not that, by protocol, the VP is not bound to attend an event where the prime minister presides. Ultra-patriots trolled him on the social media wondering why he was not saluting the national flag at the Republic Day. They knew not that only the president is expected to salute and receive salute at the parade.

Yet, all along Ansari kept his cool, refusing to honour his critics with even a reaction. He kept his dignified poise, even though he was known for his short temper while running the Rajya Sabha. But what seems to have hurt him most is the remark from the prime minister at his farewell. At the function, the prime minister “while being fulsome in his compliments 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.”

The PM, Ansari thinks, had been miffed by Ansari’s reference in his Bengaluru speech to an “enhanced apprehension of insecurity” among the minorities, and by a TV interview in which he had referred to “a sense of unease creeping in” among Muslims and other religious minorities. Though Ansari was trolled on social media, he draws comfort from the fact that “editorial comments and a good many serious writings considered the PM’s remarks to be a departure from accepted practice”.

This book is a collection of his speeches—some of which were not taken to kindly by the BJP leaders—most of them straight articulations of his thoughts on the polity, the society, the constitutional institutions, governance, foreign policy, running of institutions, education and so on. But, on almost everything, one can read a mind that is pained at the intolerances and exclusivities that are either preached, promoted or practised by certain majoritarian sections.

And, in the process, we also find a mind that seeks more than tolerance from society. The overriding spirit is liberal and secular, like the one that had shaped India’s national movement as well as its constitutional scheme.

Dare I Question? Reflections on Contemporary Challenges

Author: M. Hamid Ansari

Publisher: Har-Anand Publications

Price: Rs 795

Pages: 239