There was an underlying unease when Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood up in the Rajya Sabha to deliver his speech at the farewell of vice president Hamid Ansari. Just a day before, Ansari surprisingly gave a television interview to Karan Thapar, the son of former chief of Army Staff General PN Thapar. During a controversial interview aired several years ago on CNN-IBN, Thapar’s straightforward questions concerning the 2002 Gujarat riots infuriated Modi to such an extent that he abruptly ended the conversation within four minutes. The unexpected finish till date remains one of the biggest memories in Indian news television history.
Unlike that interview, Ansari’s parting tête-à-tête with Thapar wasn’t sensational in any manner whatsoever. However, it had its own significance. “Yes it is a correct assessment, from all I hear from different quarters, the country; I heard the same thing in Bangalore, 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,” said Ansari, when asked about the growing apprehension and insecurity among members of the Muslim community. He was also quite critical of the muscular nationalism which has been on the rise since the emergence of Modi Sarkar.
Labelling the “propensity” to wear one’s nationalism on his/her sleeve as “unnecessary”, he argued that the loyalty of common Indians shouldn’t be put to test every single day. Given the obvious criticism of his government, Modi could not have remained a mute spectator. Therefore, when he rose to address the Rajya Sabha on the day of Ansari’s departure, he was quick to point out that a large part of the latter’s diplomatic career was spent in West Asia. “You spent a number of years in that region, thinking, environment and among those people,” said Modi. Post retirement, Ansari continued to operate within a particular domain by being associated with the National Commission for Minorities and Aligarh Muslim University, claimed Modi.
Finally, he went on to add that it was during Ansari’s ten-year long tenure as VP that he had to strictly abide by and operate as per the Constitution. On a lighter note, he even said that Ansari may have had to outmanoeuvre some of his internal desires in order to uphold the Constitution. Interestingly, the prime minister’s words prove his disdain for all things Muslim. It is true that Ansari was dispatched to a number of Muslim majority countries as a diplomat. Nevertheless, he was always required to work within the constitutional confines of varying roles such as the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1995-99), Ambassador to Iran (1990-92), Ambassador to Afghanistan (1989-90) and Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (1976-79).
As an Indian diplomat, any official is required to bear allegiance to his country’s constitution and not the Shariah law which the country he/she may be posted to is following. Hence, it was inappropriate on the part of Modi to try and draw a question mark on Ansari’s commitment to the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution by talking about the time he spent in Muslim majority countries alongside those people. Moreover, the National Commission for Minorities was set up through an act of parliament in 1992 and Aligarh Muslim University is a well-respected central government university. These institutions work in tandem with the constitution while retaining their special character. How can one even indicate that such bodies are at loggerheads with the Constitution when they have been created or empowered through the same law which flows out of the Constitution?
Though his days as a full-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak might be over, Modi does not seem to have travelled a lot of distance when it comes to phasing out his sectarian bias. Ansari is not a holy cow and his conduct during the Lokpal debate in the Rajya Sabha at the peak of the anti-corruption agitation was questionable. He can be criticised for not maintaining enough transparency and non-partisanship during that particular episode by hastily adjourning the house at midnight. But to try and discredit him by positioning his work in certain Muslim-majority countries and minority institutions as opposed to the Constitution is something which only a disciple of an RSS shakha can manage to do.
Instead of lecturing Ansari, Modi should control his own ministers, party affiliates and Sangh Parivar operatives who have been constantly spewing venom by questioning the patriotism of fellow Indians, forcing them to adhere to a certain diet and making attempts to exile dissenters to Pakistan. At this juncture, it is also important to remind Modi that the carnage in Gujarat would not have occurred had he acted in accordance with the Constitution. While reopening the trial in the Best Bakery case in 2004, the Supreme Court bench of Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Arijit Pasayat was quite categorical in its assessment of the role of the then state government led by Modi.
“It leaves much to be desired. One gets a feeling that there was really no seriousness in the state's approach in assailing the trial court's judgment. Whether the accused persons were really assailants or not could have been established by a fair and impartial investigation. The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when the Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning and were probably deliberating on how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected," said the two-judge bench. If Modi cannot learn from his own example then he should ideally look around for gaining wisdom.
Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has a five-star resume full of vitriolic speeches against the Muslim community. In fact, a leader in Adityanath’s presence called for digging the graves of Muslim women and raping their corpse. Such a politician has been forced upon the largest state in the country by Modi-led BJP. Even BJP, which always claimed to be a democratic party, has been reduced to the duo of Narendra bhai and Amit Shah. The state of party elders like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie is on display for everyone. This obviously does not mean that these leaders are themselves not guilty of injecting communal poison in India’s body politic.
But Modi has taken things to a completely different level. He is an all-powerful saffron demagogue and the one guy whom he is known to trust is no better. Amit Shah, who is garnering a lot of positive media coverage courtesy his electoral exploits, has been given total charge of the BJP by Narendra bhai. What is Amit Shah’s qualification? He was once accused of orchestrating fake encounters by conniving with highly placed police officials in Gujarat. Interestingly, he had to visit the jail as well and was banished from his home state of Gujarat by the Supreme Court. Later on, he was granted a reprieve.
To sum it up, one can only say that Modi needs to refrain from putting an unconstitutional tag on countries or institutions associated with Muslims or minorities. He does not have the courage to utter the word Muslim while referring to AMU. But he feels compelled to score brownie points against the community or individuals professing that faith. There is a need for him to look inwards because he carries RSS’s anti-Muslim baggage which reflects in his politics and speeches. Being well-wishers of Indian democracy, we can only hope that he doesn’t let his RSS schooling come into the way of his governance but that is surely not turning out to be the case.
(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi with contributions in several news websites and newspapers.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.