As he demits office after 10 years as Vice President, Hamid Ansari says there is a feeling of unease and insecurity creeping in among the Muslims in the country amid rising incidents of intolerance and vigilante violence.
Ansari, 80, who has had two terms as Vice President, also says that there is a breakdown of Indian values and the ability of authorities at different levels in different places to be able to enforce what should be normal law enforcing work.
“Over all the very fact that Indianness of any citizen being questioned is a disturbing thought,” he told journalist Karan Thapar in an interview on Rajya Sabha TV, a channel for which he took the initiative as the Chairman of the Upper House.
Ansari talks about various issues including the attacks on Africans in India, the functioning of the Rajya Sabha and his relationship with two Presidents — Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee — and Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi.
He was asked a question on his lecture in the National Law School in Bengaluru where he had spoken about nationalism being practised as intolerance and arrogance and the reactions it had sparked whether the Muslim community was apprehensive and feeling insecure.
Ansari replied: “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 in north India. There is a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in.”
Asked if Muslims were beginning to feel they are not wanted, he said: “I would not go that far. (But) there is a sense of insecurity.”
He had a word of advice for the Muslim community: it has to move with the times and live with the requirements of the occasion.
“Do not create for one self or one’s fellow beings an imaginary situation which is centuries back, when things were very different. I mean the whole idea was that what are the challenges today… The challenges today are challenges of development, what are the requirements for development; you keep up with the times, educate yourself, and compete…”
On the controversy over Triple Talaq, he said the practice was a social aberration and not a religious requirement.
Asked if the courts should step in, he said: “You don’t have to. The reform has to come from within the community.”
To a question as to how he looked at the situation in the country in the context of cow vigilante attacks, lynchings, beef ban, love jihad and ‘ghar wapsi’ campaigns, Ansari said the idea that India has been a plural society for centuries and not for 70 years was under threat.
Asked about the fact that even the Supreme Court has ruled that the National Anthem should be played before film screenings and some other courts giving similar directions, Ansari said: “The courts are a part of society. So what the courts tend to say sometimes is reflective of the prevailing atmosphere. I call that a sense of insecurity… This propensity to be able to assert your nationalism day in and day out is unnecessary. I am an Indian and that is it.”
Asked if he had shared his concerns with the Prime Minister or with the government, he said: “Yes.. yes. But what passes between the Vice President and the Prime Minister in the nature of things must remain in the domain of privileged conversation.”
To a question about their response and whether he was satisfied, he said: “Well, there is always an explanation and there is always a reason. Now it is a matter of judgement, whether you accept the explanation, you accept the reasoning and its rationale.”
Ansari, a former career diplomat, was asked about his visits abroad, especially to Africa, during his vice presidency and about the attacks on Africans in India.
He agreed that such attacks created enormous concerns, particularly among African ambassadors who publicly commented with anger.
Asked whether the attacks were a reflection of Indian racism or simply a law and order issue, Ansari shot back: “Well, it is scandalous to begin with. It was the failure of law and order and it was the failure of public behaviour. There can’t be two views on a situation like this wherever it takes place, anywhere it takes place.”
About the official response, he said: “(It) could have been more forthcoming.”
Asked about the disruptions in Parliament and whether he was not imposing more discipline on members, he said the answer was simple.
“The Chair of the House, be it the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, is a referee… is an umpire in a cricket match. The referee is given a rule book and the referee cannot go beyond the rule book. Rules were made at a different stage in history when certain forms of behaviour were acceptable and certain forms of behaviour were not imagined. Things have changed over time, Indian society has changed over time, public behaviour has changed over time, we have not caught up with it.”