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इंडियन आवाज़     13 Apr 2021 10:42:19      انڈین آواز

Hyper-nationalism creates socio-political problems: Hamid Ansari

Exclusive interview of former vice president Hamid Ansari

Former Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari’s memoir, “Many A Happy Accident’: Recollections of a Life”, has created a flutter for many reasons, mainly for his observation that secularism is “disappearing from the Narendra Modi government’s vocabulary”.  Before becoming VP, Ansari, 84, served as Indian ambassador to Australia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. He also served as Permanent Representative of India in the UN between 1993 and 1995. He was also Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University from 2000 to 2002 and Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities from 2006 to 2007. In an exclusive interview with Abdul Bari Masoud, Ansari spoke at length on his memoir and other issues concerning the country and the community as well. Excerpts:

QuestionAfter the change of guard at the Centre, things are moving in a particular direction. How do you see the change?  

Answer: It is a fact that the neutrality of the State has been diminishing. The State has to function under the ambit of the Constitution. We have all the advantages of a diverse society and as long as we remember our diversity. But that is not happening. What we are witnessing is that hyper-nationalism has created a lot of socio-political problems, making citizens intolerant and triggering sharp divides among communities. It has subverted our core civilizational values. Disturbingly, the term secularism itself has almost disappeared from the government’s official vocabulary”. Isn’t it disappointing to see erosion of our social and political beliefs which kept us together for centuries?

Q:  In your memoir, you have mention some “unhappy” incidents particularly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in your chamber?  

A:  See, I said from the first day that I visualize the role as that of a match referee in hockey. PM’s meeting with the chairman is not unusual except it was on this occasion rather sudden without notice. There is a certain protocol. He had a point of view over which I replied to him what I thought appropriate and the matter ended there.

Q. The right-wing forces are angry with you over your remark that secularism has almost disappeared from the government’s vocabulary?

We are a secular country, although India’s interpretation, understanding and practices are unique. We are not a country like France. Even in France separation is not total. It is a Catholic country and there are certain marks of identity in the Catholic Church. However, on various occasions, we as a society committed the folly of trying to seek special concessions. We used a term reservation which is a very deceptive term.  It got used in a certain context. The right term is affirmative action. In my lecture at Shibli Academy in Azamgarh I had appreciated PM Modi’s “sab ka saath sab ka vikas” statement provided everybody is standing at the same starting point in the same line. If I am ten steps behind then I cannot compete equally. It should be no concern of the government whether I pray every day or do not.

The consequence of cultural hyper-nationalism was that the State’s commitment to the rule of law seems to be under serious threat and the country had lapsed into “arbitrary decision-making and even… mob rule, with a noticeable decline in the efficacy of the institutions of State. I think there was also  no need for the amending  Citizenship  Act.

Q:  There is a general impression in the Muslim community that ‘Sarkari Musalmaan’ is shy of speaking their problems?

A:  It is not a question of me. We are all citizens; nobody is Sarkari or Ghairsarkari. In the heat of debate the terms are coined without thinking about it.  There is a shortage in dispensation of justice. Let us focus on justice, a few critical terms in the constitution. If justice is not being given then it is shortcoming.  It is the right of citizens to seek justice and it is the duty of the State to provide justice including political justice, economic justice and social justice and all of them together. I said what I said. Please go back to the speech of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in the 1940 Congress session. What did he say, “I am a part of this session and no critical decision is being taken without my participation”.  What did he say in Jama Masjid in October 1947? All we have to do is to not let go of the thread of the Constitution.

Therefore, the Sarkari Musalman is not a term that I subscribe to. I spent 40yrs in the service of State and as an ambassador 25 years in Foreign Service. Does that mean I abandon my thinking capacity? NO!

Q:  But India’s minorities, specifically Muslims, Dalit often say they are living in state of insecurity?

A:  Insecurity is always there. Participate and demand what is legitimately yours. You cannot say you will not participate; it should be delivered in my cocoon. If the government is giving Rs 100 I have to share it. The approach of the superior judiciary does little credit to an iconic institution and damages public confidence and India’s minorities, specifically Muslims were   feeling them insecure.

Q: It is said you faced some hard times in the evening of your tenure as the chairman of the Upper House?

A:  This is not correct.  From the first day to the last day the functioning of the House of Rajya Sabha was smooth.  There were good days and bad days but my channel of communications with members, and leaders of political parties whether sitting to my right or left always remain intact.

Q: What do you want to say about the PM’s remark on the last day of your in office?

A:  He has a perception. Okay, I don’t quarrel with it, but people do not remember PM made two speeches in Rajya Sabha and another in Balayogi auditorium again with MPs. So why he said it in a particular way,  I don’t know. I stand by my position as I have maintained consistency in my approach – follow the rule book. Two years back when I delivered the Fakharudddin Memorial Lecture in  Aiwan-Ghalib, see its text. I have not deviated from my point of view.

 Q:  A section in the Muslim community feels that during an interview with a private TV channel, you did not withstand what you wrote in your book on rising intolerance and diminishing feeling of insecurity among Indian Muslims?

A: The gentleman was referring to my lecture I delivered at the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat golden jubilee event in New Delhi. What I spoke was not unique. Many scholars, academicians and community leaders had already said so. The journalist might have come with a certain mindset. See, I did schooling and pursued my higher education and cracked the civil services exam. Whatever I got, it was according to the service rules. I was posted at various places including dangerous ones. I fought for the country at an international forum.  Do these things come in a golden platter to me! This is rubbish, nonsense, idiot people talk like this. The interview with that TV channel was arranged by my publisher for the publicity of the book.  I didn’t do it.   

Q: You spent 25 year in diplomacy, how do you see the country’s image is being soiled at the international level?

A: The world has changed. This is bound to happen. You can’t say this is my cocoon nobody else should know about this. What has happened here within a minute is known all over the world. The people say good things; they can also say adverse things. After all, Delhi is not a close city. There are many foreign correspondents here who report from here.

Q:   You spent a lot of time in the Middle East as an envoy, how do you see the tussle between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region?

A: First, I don’t like the term Middle East. I always said this term was imposed by the West. The correct term which India adopted right in the beginning is West Asia. Geographically correct, just as we are in South Asia and China in East Asia. So far as Arab world and Iran is concerned, political disagreement is nothing new. There was a time when Iran and Saudi Arabia were cooperative. At the time of Shah Iran, there was close cooperation and both of them were cooperating with America. After the revolution in Iran things have changed. Even then Saudis and Iranians have cooperated. Iran hosted the OIC conference in Tehran and also Crown-Prince King Abdullah. Iranian leaders also visited Riyadh. They are vying for influence in the region. These are temporary things. Saudi Arabia has certain concerns while Iran has other concerns. Answer lies in sitting and talking.

Q: Many Arab nations are recognizing Israel, what’s your take?

A: Arab countries have taken certain positions and it was their political perception. You see, Israel as a country exists irrespective of how it came about.  If it exists then taking note of its existence is not a great favor. But me recognition of existence is a fact of life.

Q: Coming back on the autobiography, what motivated you to pen down your memoirs?

A: My children insisted that I should write something about my life. Few of my friends pushed me into that direction. One day I decided to write. Once you start you follow a certain discipline. I never kept a diary or notes. This is all my recollection and I have said that in the title of the book. 

Q:  Will you share juicy parts of the book?

A: There is nothing juicy about in it.  I spelt out my approach in the first page in an Urdu couplet.  Because the majority of people who come to talk to me about the book have read three or five pages, the book is much more. You have to read it. 

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