FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Without fear or favour: A VP ends tenure with a sharp message
Updated:Aug 12, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
India’s 12th Vice President Hamid  Ansari, who handed over the baton to M Venkaiah Naidu  on August 11 after a  distinguished 10 years in office, has the  rare distinction  of being  only the second incumbent to have served for two full terms (2007 – 17) ,  the other being India’s first Vice President  Dr. S Radhakrishnan (1952–62).
 
A career diplomat and scholar who has also served as  Vice Chancellor  of Aligarh Muslim University,  Ansari discharged his duties as the Chairman  of the  Rajya Sabha, the upper house  of the Indian Parliament, with a deft mix of firmness and fairplay.  At his farewell he  was praised  by  most parliamentarians  across the political divide for his  legislative acumen and  his abiding commitment to the letter and spirit of  the Constitution.
 
However since the Modi government assumed office in mid 2014,  certain unbecoming  and baseless aspersions were cast on  Ansari  by some elements  of the ruling party. To his credit, Ansari maintained  both his silence and the dignity of the  high constitutional office he occupied.
 
Thus it was not surprising that in his farewell remarks, Ansari referred to being unjustly  accused  on so many occasions that proving his innocence was becoming difficult,  A speech that Ansari delivered  in Bengaluru on August 6 to a local law school has become the latest  lightning rod  for his detractors – though the content is vintage Ansari and will be long remembered for  its magisterial breadth of vision and its incisive interpretation of the Indian Constitution.
 
Dwelling on why pluralism and secularism are essential for the nurturing of equitable democracy  in India, the outgoing VP provided an empirical and interpretative underpinning to his remarks that are irrefutable. Over the last year plus,  the sectarian divide in India has come into undesirable focus and the beef ban is symbolic of this societal  animation.  The minorities – particularly the Muslims and Dalits (untouchables and lower castes in the Hindu social hierarchy)  have been the most affected  and there has been a steady rise in intolerance in  many parts of India. 
 
Highlighting the fact that India’s population of 1.3 billion comprised over 4365 different communities,  of whom a staggering 78 percent are autonomous linguistic, cultural and social categories, Ansari  added that the religious minorities alone constitute 19.4 percent – just under a fifth of the total population.
 
Drawing on a rich discourse on the linkages between democracy, dissent and diversity,  Ansari noted  that in its practice “Democracy has to be judged not by the institutions that formally exist but by the extent to which different voices from diverse sections of the people can actually be heard. It’s raison d’etre is the recognition of the other.”
 
The BJP’s majoritarian Hindu orientation has caused considerable disquiet among large cross-sections of the country and they have been intimidated into sullen silence or uneasy self-regulation. The rash of vigilantism directed against the minorities or gender related matters is illustrative.
 
Pointing to the normative benchmarks of the Indian Constitution, Ansari cautioned that  “Programmes or principles evolved by political parties based on religion amount to recognizing religion as a part of the political governance which the Constitution expressly prohibits. It violates the basic features of the Constitution.”
 
Over the last decade, a hallmark of Ansari’s  remarks in the public domain have been  the measured,  scholarly turn of phrase and the rectitude with which he has remained within the constitutional propriety of his office.  Referring to his role as the Rajya Sabha  Chairman being akin to an impartial umpire,  he said to deliberate and legislate in an informed and  sagacious manner was an important metric  in a robust democracy.
 
This aspect received mention at Bengaluru  and again the facts marshalled by Ansari are irrefutable.  Noting that in 1953 the number of sittings of the two houses of parliament were 137 and 100 for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha  respectively, he observed that this has declined to 49 and 52  sittings in 2016.  And furthermore, “over 40 percent of the Bills were passed  with less than one hour of debate.”
 
Reviewing the  substantive functioning of Indian democracy on the eve of the 70th anniversary  of its independence,  Ansari  reminded his interlocutors that the national track record is well below the median by way of equitable representation.  In 2014 women MPs   in India were 12.15 percent of the total and this figure “compares  unfavourably globally as well as within SAARC and is reflective of pervasive neo-patriarchial attitudes.”  
 
Extending this pattern of inequitable representation to the religious minorities, Ansari  spelt out  yet another irrefutable statistic  - Muslims constitute 14.23 percent of the population  but this is not reflected in Parliament.   Of a total strength of   790  parliamentarians , the number of Muslim MPs stood at 49 in 1980 and declined to 23 in 2014.  This works out to 2.9 percent of the  790 Indian MPs in both houses.
 
Specific to the internal security  challenge, Ansari warned there is evidence to suggest that “we are a polity at war with itself” and that the commitment to the Rule of Law is under serious threat.  Reference has been made to the dilution of the efficacy of the institutions of State and  the  dangers of  “ochlocracy or mob rule.”
 
The most salutary caution that the outgoing Vice President dwelt on was the currently contentious  issue  of nationalism.  Recalling  Nobel laureate Rabindranath  Tagore and his views about the "idolatry of the Nation", Ansari identifies the contour of what is emerging in recent years: “More recently an alternate viewpoint of "purifying excluvism" has tended to intrude into and take over the political and cultural landscape. One manifestation of it is "an increasingly fragile national ego that threatens to rule out any dissent however innocent.”
 
Ansari  warned against promoting  "intolerance and arrogant patriotism" and said, that left unchecked, these twin malignancies would have an adverse impact on pluralism and secularism, the precious core values so deeply embedded in the Constitution.
 
Public discourse in India in recent years has been diffident or timid in not unambiguously noting the many distortions and  illusory claims that have been made  by the government in upholding the spirit of the Constitution.  A not so subtly differentiated  class of  the ‘other’  is being  created  and different organs of the state have either been co-opted or compelled to acknowledge this deplorable  gradation.  
 
Ansari concluded by offering a bench-mark that is unexceptionable and non-negotiable within the context of  the normative ecosystem wherein “Citizenship irrespective of caste, creed or ideological affiliation is the sole determinant of Indianness.”
 
A rigorously crafted speech with as many as 34 end notes, Ansari,  in his August 6 speech,  discharged  his constitutional  responsibility without fear or favour to the very end. Neither condescension or disparaging criticism  are warranted.
 
Dr. B R Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution,  would have approved  of  this rare and  elegantly worded fidelity to its spirit.
 
(C Uday Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at cudaybhaskar@spsindia.in)
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has confirmed his presence for the occasion. In an exclusive interview with INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS, Indonesia’s Ambassador to India, Sidharto R.Suryodipuro, reminded Nilova Roy Chaudhury that the first Chief Guest for India’s Republic Day celebrations, in 1950, w
 
read-more
The words of Ho Chi Minh  “Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty” rang true for the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan when, with increasing brutality, the West Pakistani oppression spread across the land, writes Anwar A Khan from Dhaka
 
read-more
In a significant boost to New Delhi's Act East Policy, India and Japan set up the Act East Forum on Tuesday as agreed during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to India this year for the annual bilateral meeting that would help to focus and catalyse development in India's Northeast.
 
read-more
  United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated on Friday Washington's warning that “all options are on the table” to meet North Korea's nuclear threat while offering to keep the lines of communication with Pyongyang open.
 
read-more
The 15th trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China concluded in New Delhi on Monday with many nuanced takeaways embedded in the joint statement of 46 paragraphs. Reiterating that the forum “is not directed against any other country”, the statement underlined the importance of the establishment o
 
read-more
The first thing that one sees when a flight approaches New Delhi is thick smog that envelopes the city and its lack of greenery.  In almost all other major cities of India lack of greenery is the most obvious sight that one sees when approaching it by air.
 
read-more

Pakistan has agreed to allow the rupee to depreciate after holding talks with the International Mone­tary Fund (IMF) on the country's economy.

 
read-more

Two major global changes in the past year; the ‘Brexit’ referendum and the advent of Donald Trump, writes Sandeep Kaur Bhatia

 
read-more

It is also imperative for India to explore other regions for markets. Its trade deficit with Latin America has been narrowing. Also, its trade with Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala has increased, ...

 
read-more
Column-image

Over the last 25 years, India's explosive economic growth has vaulted it into the ranks of the world's emerging major powers. Long plagued by endemic poverty, until the 1990s the Indian economy was also hamstrung by a burdensome regulat...

 
Column-image

Title: A Ticket to Syria; Author: Shirish Thorat; Publisher: Bloomsbury India: Pages: 254; Price: Rs 399

 
Column-image

Gorichen, a majestic peak in the Eastern Himalayas at an altitude of 22,500 feet, is the highest in Arunachal Pradesh. Beautiful to look at and providing a fantastic view from the top, it is extremely tough climb for mountaineers.

 
Column-image

It is often conjectured if the reason for long-standing conflicts and insurgencies, in the developing world, especially South Asia, is not only other powers fishing in troubled waters but also the keenness of arms industries, mostly Western, to...

 
Column-image

Title: The People Next Door -The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations; Author: T.C.A. Raghavan; Publisher: HarperCollins ; Pages: 361; Price: Rs 699