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On the last day of his 10-year tenure as the vice president of India, M Hamid Ansari was pilloried on social media by Sangh Parivar affiliates for his comment that there was unease among minorities as the “ambience of acceptance” was now under threat.
In Parliament, when the Rajya Sabha sat on Thursday morning to bid adieu to Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Ansari’s diplomatic stint in West Asia had an influence on him. He said Ansari could freely pursue his “basic ideology” now after shedding Constitutional duties.
In his speech as the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Ansari said a democracy could degenerate into a tyranny if free and frank criticism of government policies was not allowed. At a time when some politicians and columnists have questioned the relevance of the Upper House, the 80-year-old former diplomat said the Council of States upheld democracy's sacred creed that debate and discussion were not a stumbling block but an indispensable preliminary to wise action. He said the Rajya Sabha portrayed the diversity of India.
In an interview to the Rajya Sabha TV on Wednesday, Ansari had spoken on a range of issues, including the insecurity that the minorities in India felt in the current atmosphere. Outside the House, several BJP leaders, including his successor M Venkaiah Naidu, criticised Ansari for his comments.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya “condemned” Ansari’s “petty” comments. “It seems he is making such comments to find political shelter after retirement,” Vijayvargiya said. Vice President-elect Naidu, who takes oath of office on Friday, described the comments as “political propaganda”. “Compared to the rest of the world, minorities are more safe and secure in India and get their due,” Naidu told PTI.
The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) said Ansari had insulted the vice president’s post, the government, and the entire Hindu community. VHP’s Surendra Jain went as far as equating Ansari, who comes from a family of freedom fighters and has been a career diplomat, to Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
In the Rajya Sabha, Ansari said criticism should not degenerate into willful hampering and obstruction of the work of Parliament. He also said that “a democracy is distinguished by the protection it gives to minorities. .... But at the same time the minorities have also their responsibilities.” Ansari, who has been instrumental in the decision that laws should not be passed amid din, said there should be a calibrated restraint on hasty legislation.
The Rajya Sabha had its sitting on Thursday at its usual hour of 11am with the agenda of bidding farewell to Ansari. While the PM was scheduled to be the first speaker, he was delayed and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley, who was scheduled to pay the vote of thanks, had to start the proceedings.
Modi said Ansari’s family has been in public life for about 100 years. “You come from a family whose ancestors were associated at some of point of time with the Congress party and the ‘khilafat movement’,” he said. The PM said the major part of the outgoing vice president’s diplomatic career was associated with West Asia. “You spent many years of your life in that circle, in that atmosphere, in that ideology, in that debate and lived among such people,” he said.
Modi said even after retirement from service, Ansari’s work remained in the “same circle” as he worked with the Minority Commission and Aligarh Muslim University. “But during these 10 years (as vice president), you had to deal with a different kind of responsibility (of running the House). Every moment, you had to remain confined to the Constitution and you made a good effort to fulfil it. “There may have been some struggle within you (all these years) but from now onwards, you won’t have to face this dilemma. You will have a feeling of freedom and you will get an opportunity to work, think and talk according to your basic ideology,” the PM said.
Talking about the traits of a career diplomat, he said he understood these only after becoming the prime minister. “You cannot understand immediately what is the meaning of their smile or what is the meaning of the way they shake hands. Because they have been trained like this. I am sure those traits would have been used (by Ansari) in the Rajya Sabha over the past 10 years for the benefit of the House.”
Former PM Manmohan Singh, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury, Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien and others praised Ansari’s constant endeavour to stick to the rules, his decision to change the timing of the Question Hour from 11 am to 12 pm, for extending the working hours of the Rajya Sabha’s day from 5 pm to 6 pm and his initiative of starting the Rajya Sabha TV channel.
“I am sure you retire from this House with great memories. We all recollect the sage advice that you kept giving to us and through us to the country from time to time... We will always have memories of you as the Chair and how you lent dignity to the quality of the debates in the house while presiding over it,” Jaitley said.
Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien said, “If we were to choose our destiny, then we all would pass a resolution to have Chairman Hamid Ansari for another term.”