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Attacking India’s Ex-Vice President Hamid Ansari, the BJP Has Gone Too Far

Both when he was VP and after demitting office, Ansari has been loyal to the ideals of the Constitution.

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Opinion
7 min read
Attacking India’s Ex-Vice President Hamid Ansari, the BJP Has Gone Too Far
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It is both sad and ironic that just when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to get its candidate elected as the Vice President of India – and it is highly likely that Jagdeep Dhankhar will be declared the ‘up-Rashtrapati’ on 6 August – it has doubled down on its attack on former Vice President Dr Hamid Ansari.

Questioning the patriotism of Indian Muslims, barring those who have joined its ranks, has become routine for the BJP’s official spokespersons and unofficial megaphones ever since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014. But when this is done even in the case of one who held the second most important Constitutional office of the Republic (2012-2017), the ruling party insults not only the person so targeted but also the Republic and its Constitution. But such, currently, is the level of hubris in the party that it seems simply not to care.

Snapshot
  • Questioning the patriotism of Indian Muslims has become routine for BJP leaders. But when this is done to even a VP, the party insults not only the person so targeted but also the Republic and its Constitution.

  • That a VP attends a conference is hardly proof that he invites Indian guests or recommends visas for foreign guests. That process involves the organisers and the relevant agency of the government.

  • Ansari has become a bête noire for the BJP cecause both when he was VP and after demitting office, he has been loyal to the ideals and values of the Constitution.

  • Bhatia is a relative non-entity in the BJP and hence his allegation, otherwise, could have been ignored. But the kind of online trolling Ansari is being subjected to points to the fact that the attacks perhaps have a green signal from the party's top rank.

The most recent attack on Ansari is by the BJP’s national spokesman Gaurav Bhatia, who has accused him of inviting Nusrat Mirza, a Pakistani journalist with alleged ISI links, to India. The journalist has claimed to have shared with the ISI information about his visit. Ansari has dismissed the charge as a “litany of falsehood” and said he never met or invited the journalist. He has further said: “I am bound by the commitment to national security in such matters and refrain from commenting on them. The Government of India has all the information and is the only authority to tell the truth.”

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This did not deter Bhatia. Stepping up the attack, he then showed a picture of Ansari sharing a stage with Mirza at a conference on terrorism in New Delhi in 2009. Many pro-government TV channels obediently showed the photograph, adding their own masala to the story. The charge against the former VP is that he “jeopardised national security by rolling out a red carpet to ISI agents”.

Evidence and Logic Be Damned!

As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the photograph to substantiate the charge. Yet, Bhatia persisted. In a newspaper article, he wrote: “The higher the position, the greater the responsibility. The response from Hamid Ansari that he never knew or invited Pakistan journalist Nusrat Mirza to any conference on any other occasion raises a million more questions, especially in light of the facts that have surfaced recently.”

A million more questions? Bhatia seems to believe that exaggeration is evidence. But what new “facts have surfaced recently” to show that the former VP met the Pakistani journalist or, much less, facilitated his visit to India by inviting him? None.

That the Vice-President of India attends a conference is hardly proof that he invites the Indian guests or recommends visas to be granted to foreign guests. The process of invitation involves the organisers of the event and the relevant agency of the government. Knowing that Ansari cannot be held responsible for this score, Bhatia then directed his barbs at other predictable targets. “Why should Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi not answer to the nation regarding the lapse of the then-Congress government in granting visa to a Pakistani journalist who has admitted to sharing sensitive information with the ISI? Should Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, as leaders of the Congress party, not share the reason why a visa was granted to a Pakistani journalist of such dubious background on five different occasions?”

Dragging the names of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi into this controversy is condemnable, and it only highlights Bhatia’s political motive behind the controversy.

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Modi's Attack in December 2017

Bhatia is a relative non-entity in the BJP and hence his allegation, in normal times, could have been ignored. However, what cannot be ignored is the fact that when it comes to targeting Ansari, BJP spokespersons and trolls on social media probably have a green signal from higher quarters in the ruling establishment.

Public memory is not so short as to forget that in December 2017, during the campaign for the Gujarat Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had accused former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Ansari of being part of a “secret meeting” at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence, in which the Pakistani High Commissioner and “an ex-Pakistan Foreign Minister” (Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri) were present. The insinuation was that Singh and Ansari were engaged in some anti-national parlays with Pakistani officials, who were interfering in Indian elections.

Those present at the dinner meeting at Aiyar’s residence were stunned by Modi’s allegation, because they included, besides a former Prime Minister and a former VP, several reputed ambassadors and bureaucrats who served the nation with distinction.

It created a storm and a stalemate in Parliament that was broken only when the late Arun Jaitley, then-Finance Minister in Modi’s cabinet, acted as an able trouble-shooter. He told the Rajya Sabha:

“Let me categorically state that the Prime Minister, in his statements or speeches, did not question nor did he mean to question the commitment to this nation of either Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister, or Hamid Ansari, the former Vice-President. Any such perception is completely erroneous. We hold these leaders in high esteem, as also their commitment to this nation.”
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Why Does Ansari Irk the BJP So Much?

Why has Ansari become a bête noire for the BJP? Because both when he was VP (and thereby Chairman of the Rajya Sabha) and, especially, after demitting office, he has been loyal to the ideals and values of the Constitution. This makes the ruling party uncomfortable.

Here is an example: while chairing the Rajya Sabha sessions, he introduced a new rule – not allowing any legislation to be put to vote in the midst of a ‘din’. It was enthusiastically welcomed by the BJP-led Opposition then. However, when the BJP came to power in 2014, the same rule became unwelcome.

The Prime Minister himself met Ansari in his chambers to complain that his government’s legislative agenda was being affected. The BJP now wanted Bills to be passed fast, din or no din.

His last public lecture as Vice-President underlines more reasons for the BJP’s ire. In August 2017, at the 25th convocation of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru, he delivered a classic address on “Why Pluralism and Secularism are essential for our Democracy” . He said:

“For many decades after independence, a pluralist view of nationalism and Indianness reflective of the widest possible circle of inclusiveness and a ‘salad bowl’ approach, characterised our thinking. More recently, an alternate viewpoint of ‘purifying exclusivism’ has tended to intrude into and take over the political and cultural landscape. One manifestation of it is ‘an increasingly fragile national ego’ that threatens to rule out any dissent, however innocent. Hyper-nationalism and the closing of the mind is also a manifestation of insecurity about one’s place in the world."

He also added, “It is evident that both pluralism and secularism would be abridged since both require for their sustenance a climate of opinion and a state practice that eschews intolerance, distances itself from extremist and illiberal nationalism, subscribes in word and deed to the Constitution and its Preamble, and ensures that citizenship irrespective of caste, creed or ideological affiliation is the sole determinant of Indianness. In our plural secular democracy, therefore, the ‘other’ is to be none other than the ‘self’. Any derogation from it would be detrimental to its core values.”

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The BJP could not have been happy about his views, as also about what he said in his Fakhruddin Ahmed memorial lecture in July 2020. “India has travelled from its founding vision of civic nationalism to a new political imagery of cultural nationalism that seems embedded in the public domain”. He cautioned that “a subversion of core values is now underway” and the ruling dispensation had adopted “a strategy to obtain and retain power … thriving on conspiracy, criminalisation of all opposition, playing up external threats” and assisted by “authoritarianism, nationalism and majoritarianism”. The allusion to the BJP was unmistakable.

Ansari's Biting Response to Pak on Kashmir

The trolls who seek to taint Dr Ansari with the charge of being a ‘gaddaar’ (traitor) should take the trouble of reading his autobiography ‘By Many a Happy Accident: Recollections of a Life’. If they do, they will see in him a highly erudite career diplomat who served India with immense devotion and competence. His long stints in ‘registan’ – several Arab countries such as Iraq, Morocco and Saudi Arabia – and in other Muslim countries such as Iran and Afghanistan contributed greatly to strengthening India’s ties with them. He also served as India’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York.

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Here is an episode from that stint that is sufficient to silence Bhatia and his ilk. I must acknowledge here that I have referenced it from Mani Shankar’s superb review of Dr Ansari’s autobiography.

“Pakistan was determined to internationalise the Kashmir issue and the Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar’s speech at the UN was acerbic and had to be responded to in kind. Throwing off his usual polite restraint, Ansari thundered, ‘All the waters of the East River (that flows along the UN building) cannot wash off the stains of falsehood, prejudice and perversion’ that characterised Sattar’s intervention. The dispute went on in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Human Rights Council in Geneva. When a Pakistani diplomat told Ansari privately that India must accept that ‘the face of Kashmir is turned towards Pakistan than India’, Ansari responded that ‘the Kashmiris’ faces are turned towards themselves’. No assessment has proved to be more searching.”

There is no further need to counter the falsehoods being spread about this eminent Indian patriot, who is being hounded only because of his religious identity. It does not behove the ruling party to do so. The truth about Dr Ansari can defend itself against all the motivated calumny. It’s enough to conclude with those apt lines from a famous song in Rajesh Khanna-starrer ‘Dushman’ (1971):

Sachchaai chhup nahin sakati banaawat ke usulon se

Ki khushbu aa nahin sakati kabhi kaagaz ke phoolon se

(Truth can’t be hidden by false and fake principles

Fragrance can never come from flowers made of paper)

(Sudheendra Kulkarni served as an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is the founder of the Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni and he welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BJP   Hamid Ansari 

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