Former Vice President Hamid Ansari says two happenings in his last week in office tended to cause "offence" in some quarters and were perceived to be teeming with "hidden meanings" — a reference to his convocation address and a TV interview where he spoke about apprehensions of insecurity among minorities.
Ansari, who demitted office on August 10, 2017 after two terms as Vice President (2007-2017) and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, makes these comments in his latest book "Happy Accident: Recollections of a Life" in which he talks about growing up to cultivation of the mind and representing India as a diplomat to vice presidency.
Mentioning about his last days in office, he says that no landing is complete till it is completed and the aircraft towed to the disembarkation point. "I was to discover, later, that two happenings in my last week in office tended to cause offence in some quarters and were perceived to be teeming with hidden meanings," he writes.
The first was an address to the 25th Convocation of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, where his theme was Two Obligatory Isms: Why Pluralism and Secularism Are Essential for our Democracy, wherein "I had argued for an urgency of going beyond tolerance, to acceptance, through continuous dialogue for promoting harmony since the need for it is highlighted by enhanced apprehensions of insecurity among segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians".
The second was an "unscripted interview to Karan Thapar on Rajya Sabha TV on 9 August 2017, which covered all aspects of the work of the vice president. It also included questions about 'illiberal nationalism' and perceptions on Muslims in Indian society and polity". "Some questions were focused on my Bengaluru address as also on the earlier speech of August 2015 at the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat. In answer to them, I said that 'a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in' among Muslims. I said that affirmative action where needed should be taken and opined that Indian Muslims are sui generis and are not attracted to extremist ideologies," he writes in the book, published by Rupa Publications.
Then he goes on to describe about the last day of his term of office and his last day as Chairman, Rajya Sabha — August 10, 2017. "The day's proceedings record the details of the morning session. The interventions from party leaders, front and backbenchers, and nominated personalities were full of compliments and complimentary references. Procedural correctives, the 'no legislation in the din' rule and dignified impartiality were specifically mentioned. One senior member on the back benches blessed me with a Sanskrit verse and wished me long life in Upanishadic terms! "The PM participated in this, and while fulsome in his compliments was somewhat selective in his reference to my work. Hardly any mention was made of my period as Chairman, Rajya Sabha and while my professional career as a diplomat was alluded to and lauded, it was sought to be pigeonholed in the 'atmosphere, thought process, debates amidst such people' (meaning Muslim countries) where I was assigned, supplemented by work in Muslim surroundings as VC of AMU and as Chairman of NMC," Ansari says.
"There may have been some struggle within (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 ideology," Ansari quotes Modi as saying in his speech. "The tilt in overlooking my work elsewhere as a representative of India and particularly in the UN in a critical period was fairly evident and so was the reference to 'your ideology' and can hardly be attributed to poor staff work; nor can the fact be evaded that a Representative of India, anywhere and at any level including the highest, works on the articulation of Indian views and promotion of Indian national interests uninfluenced by personal preferences or prejudices of host countries," the former diplomat writes.
He also mentions about a farewell function later that day in the Balayogi Auditorium on behalf of the Rajya Sabha members, where a Scroll of Honour was presented to him. "The PM spoke there too; he referred to my family background and experience in public life, mentioned Brig. Mohammad Usman and his martyrdom in the 1948 conflict and said nothing adverse had come to his notice about my long spell in office. He hoped that the insights gained during the tenure would be recorded for public benefit," he recalls.
In the book, Ansari also writes about the position he had taken as Rajya Sabha chairman that no bills will be passed in the din. This, he said, was appreciated by the principal Opposition leaders and the principle was steadfastly observed throughout his tenure. It, however, brought "discomfiture to both the governments, but the UPA took cognisance of my principled stand and compensated it by floor management and adjustments" with the Opposition, he says. "The NDA, on the other hand, felt that its majority in the Lok Sabha gave it the 'moral' right to prevail over procedural impediments in the Rajya Sabha. An expression of this was conveyed to me authoritatively, and somewhat unusually, when one day PM Modi walked into my Rajya Sabha office unscheduled. After I got over my surprise, I made the customary gestures of hospitality. "He said that 'there are expectations of higher responsibilities for you but you are not helping me'. I said that my work in the Rajya Sabha, and outside, is public knowledge. 'Why are bills not being passed in the din?' he asked. I replied that the Leader of the House and his colleagues, when in Opposition, had appreciated the ruling that no bills will be passed in the din and that normal procedures of obtaining consent will be observed," Ansari writes.
"He (Modi) then said that the Rajya Sabha TV was not favourable to the government. My response was that while I had a role in the establishment of the channel, I had no control over the editorial content and that a committee of Rajya Sabha members, in which the BJP was represented, provided broad guidance to the channel, adding that from all accounts, the channel's programmes and discussions were appreciated by the viewers," he adds.