Dhaka, Bangladesh
Should Hamid Ansari have spoken his mind?

Should Hamid Ansari have spoken his mind?

By D. Raja

(From yesterday's issue) Again in August 2013, the Chairman wondered if "members (of the Rajya Sabha) wish the House to become a federation of anarchists"; both Congress and BJP members protested. In 2010, it was alleged that a poor farmer's hut was brought down to make way for his helicopter to land. For the record, Mr. Ansari also castigated Pakistan in very strong words for using terrorism as a state policy and rearing terrorists to be deployed in India. I don't remember if anyone commended him then. Naturally, therefore, I was surprised at some parts of the last speech he made [as Vice President, at the 25th annual convocation of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru] and some points he flagged in an interview to Rajya Sabha TV while answering questions on Muslims in India and how they feel, about "a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity creeping in". Not a Muslim spokesman Now, Hamid Ansari is no ordinary Muslim from a poor background. He is an educated former Indian Foreign Service officer who has effectively represented India abroad, especially in Islamic countries. Does he reflect the views and sentiments of the ordinary Muslim? I don't think so. By creating a halo of victimhood around Muslims, the Congress effectively insulated the community from mainstream politics, empowerment and benefits of development. In the bargain, a ready-made vote bank was created. The Left parties, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and others took over from where the Congress had left and benefited politically. What they actually did was to create a false sense of insecurity among sections of the Muslims and use the influence of the clergy to corner their votes. The 2014 elections and others held after have shown that sections of Muslims are turning towards the BJP, or at least turning away from the Congress and other parties that trumpeted that they are the true representatives of Muslims. India is secular not because the Constitution says so (since 1976) but remains secular because of its centrist Hindu ethos. The real danger to secularism is from Islam-khatrey-mein-hai (Islam is in danger) brigades as much as it is from the so-called Hindu fringe. I don't know why Mr. Ansari said what he said. I had even tweeted expressing my surprise at his views and felt that he has actually done a disservice to the Muslim community. Instead of becoming a bridge between the government and the Muslim community, he has probably burnt his bridges. In many of the controversies, reported and unreported, I was on Mr. Ansari's side as he is sober, logical, and not the kind who can be compelled or convinced to wear his religion on his sleeve. For once, I am surprised that he chose to speak like a politician rather than a centrist thinker whose views may be unpalatable but not wrong on facts. Seshadri Chari is a former editor of 'Organiser', commentator on strategic, security and foreign affairs, and member of the BJP National Executive He should have spoken out when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched. He should have gone for Akhlaq's burial Article 60 of the Constitution lays down the oath to be sworn by the President before entering office. What is vital in this oath are the words "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law". The oath of the Vice President contained in Article 69 is virtually analogous. Article 65 further states that in the event of the occurrence of any vacancy in the office of the President, the Vice President shall act as President until the date on which a new President is elected. Though the Vice President is also Chairperson of the Council of States and theoretically is but a heartbeat away from the presidency, in real terms it means nothing. Both the President and the Vice President are but mere symbols of the state rather than its pillars. Nonetheless, both the President and the Vice President have a constitutional and moral obligation to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. That provides the constitutional leeway to step beyond the straitjacketed confines of their ceremonial existence. However, the timing of their actions or interventions is of the essence. Profound differences The first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, differed with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the Hindu Code Bill. Prasad wrote to Nehru on September 15, 1951: "My right to examine it (the Bill) on its merits, when it is passed by the Parliament, before giving assent to it is there. But if any action of mine at a later stage is likely to cause embarrassment to the Government, I may take such appropriate actions as I may be called upon to avoid such embarrassment consistently with the dictates of my own conscience." This was before the Bill was even formally presented to Parliament by the government. Giani Zail Singh had profound differences with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He refused to sign the contentious Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill, 1986, that would have empowered the government to censor personal mail; sought the government's reason for not embracing a clear policy on the appointment of Supreme Court and High Court judges; queried the government's media coverage policy… the list goes on and on. Was he right on doing so? Perhaps not. However, he did not wait for the end of his term to articulate his opinion. President K.R. Narayanan repeatedly wrote rather tough missives to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee between February 28 and March 15, 2002, calling for an explanation on why the NDA/BJP governments failed to pre-empt, prevent and then stop the Gujarat pogrom. It is sad the Delhi High Court blocked the release of those critical letters even 10 years later in 2012.

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