Why can't we listen to Hamid Ansari as vice-president, and not as a Muslim?
The BJP, driven as it is by its anti-Muslim paranoia, could only read his comments as coming from a Muslim.
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As he signs off after a decade as India's vice-president, a term marked by dignity, integrity and intellect associated with the post, Hamid Ansari had a clear warning for the government: that there is a feeling of unease and insecurity among India's Muslims.
As incidents of intolerance and vigilante violence continue to make headlines, Ansari was asked whether he agreed with the assessment that the Muslim community is apprehensive. "Yes, it is a correct assessment. From all I hear from different quarters, the country. I heard the same thing in Bengaluru, I have heard from other parts of the country, I hear more about it in north India. There is a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in." he said.
A few days ago, in his last public address as vice-president, Ansari had raised similar fears. "The version of nationalism that places cultural commitments at its core is usually perceived as the most conservative and illiberal form of nationalism. It promotes intolerance and arrogant patriotism," he said last week at the National Law School in Bengaluru.
"As Dr Radhakrishnan said, 'a democracy is distinguished by the protection it gives to minorities'. Democracy is likely to degenerate into tyranny if it doesn't allow opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government," he said to news agency PTI.
Image: PTI photo
"The PM’s slogan is impeccable — Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. But then sabka saath means sabka saath. If you and I are standing together, then we can move together. But if you are standing 10 or 20 yards behind me, then you cannot catch up with me," he told The Indian Express.
All these concerns and questions raised in the last few days. By someone who is under oath to uphold the Constitution. By someone who holds one of the highest constitutional positions in the country. But the BJP, driven as it is by its anti-Muslim paranoia, could only read them as coming from a Muslim.
Ansari's successor M Venkaiah Naidu rejected Ansari's statements as "political propaganda". "Some people are saying minorities are insecure. It is a political propaganda. Compared to the entire world, minorities are more safe and secure in India and they get their due," he said. "For ten years 'my Hindu majority nation' (emphasis added) accepted you with open arms, placed you at pinnacle of power and you still feel uneasy? Agendya kya hai? (What's your agenda?)," BJP leader and famous Twitter troll, Priti Gandhi, asked.
Others in the BJP also read an agenda. "I condemn his comments. He has made political comments as he is retiring. He is still a vice-president and such comments do not suit his office's dignity. It seems he is making such comments to find political shelter after retirement," Kailash Vijayvargiya said. Nobody expects such "petty comments" from a person holding such a high post, he added.
"Petty comments", made by a top Muslim authority, who, on retirement, is now driven by "political propaganda" and an "agenda".
That, in brief, is how the BJP chooses to respond to Ansari on the Muslim question. Shoot the messenger down. Don't bother with the message.
The truth is this is not the first time Ansari has raised such fears.
Also, not the first time he has been hounded, primarily for his identity as a Muslim. Whether it was the controversy over him saluting the national flag (as demanded by the protocol), or skipping the Yoga Day event, Ansari has been seen first as a Muslim and a constitutional authority later.
But how off is Ansari from his mark? Is the sense of insecurity and fear among India's Muslims exaggerated? The answer, as they saw, is blowing in the wind.