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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In defence of Hamid Ansari

The erudite Hamid Ansari, who has served as vice chancellor of a national university, can be expected to defend himself. His delectable drubbing of the Hindutvavadis over their term at the helm of India indicates as much. The crescendo in their attacks on him today shows that they have not really been listening all through. They seem to have woken only last week when while demitting office, the former vice president Hamid Ansari referred to the (in)security of India's Muslims. 

Way back in February in his K. Subrahmanyam memorial lecture he had warned against 'religious majoritariansm'. Perhaps that was a bit cerebral for our Hindutva brethren to catch on to. They sugarcoat their ideology under the term 'cultural nationalism'. He should perhaps have said out loud that it is Hindu supremacism, but that would be reduce himself to their level. After all, not all Hindus are majoritarian and most - though currently in embarrassed silence - are possibly as aghast with the antics of their Hindutvavadi brethren as anyone else. The scholar and diplomat in Hamid Ansari was not quite heard out earlier. 

But he has done a signal service on departure from high office by setting the cat among the pigeons. This was necessary to do since for the foreseeable future the ones in high office are unlikely to squeal, leave alone say a critical word. It is no secret that the president is from the Hindutva brigade and to state this out loud is no longer disrespectful. 

For his part, the vice president has already done a hit-wicket even as he takes stance by being the first to discourteously shout down his predecessor, Hamid Ansari, opining that Ansari's take smacks of a 'political agenda'. It no doubt missed the vice president that keeping silent is no less striking as 'political agenda', and partaking of the majoritarian project - that accounts for his elevation to august office - is exponentially more so - and more dangerous. 

At the death anniversary of Mr. K. Subrahmanyam, once the long standing doyen of Indian strategists, Hamid Ansari had spelt out his fears, stating, 'The operative principle for this [national identity] is 'national-civic' rather than 'national-ethnic,' though a segment of opinion today would want to modulate or amend it and espouse instead an Indian version of 'cultural nationalism' premised on 'religious majoritarianism.'

Hamid Ansari spelt out his view of the dangers further. In his answer to Karan Thapar's question pertaining to the 'mood' among Indian Muslims, posed in a parting interview on Rajya Sabha TV on the eve of leaving office, he said that, 'there is a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in.' This phrase was lit upon by his Hindutva inspired detractors and trolls. 

He connected the thread between majoritarianism and Muslim perception of insecurity in his last speech as vice president, at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore. There he quoted Israeli thinker, Yael Tamir: '…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.'' 

Essentially, what Hamid Ansari is saying is that 'illiberal nationalism' in the form of 'religious majoritarianism' has created an atmosphere of 'arrogant patriotism', which has led up to the 'insecurity' of various sections of society, including within India's largest minority, its Muslims.

For his pains Hamid Ansari has been characteristically advised by RSS ideologue, Indresh Kumar, to go where 'he feels secure'. After the fashion these days, presumably, Kumar has Pakistan in mind. Or perhaps like they did with MF Hussain, they wish to banish Ansari. It is here that Indresh and his ilk err.

The country Hamid Ansari should head for instead is an India in which such elements are once again marginalized as they were earlier. As a democracy there is no reason to deny them their space, but it needs to be at the periphery and under the constraints of the law. They can be represented by the conservative party of their choice, the BJP. 

However, what has happened over the past decade is that they have emerged behind the chariot of their points-man in politics, Mr. Modi, to take over not only the BJP, but the center-stage of politics. Their minions have spread through society and eaten away at its vitals, including its tolerance, pluralism and diversity. 

The 'Modi wave' does not appear to have exhausted itself, with Bihar only recently falling in his lap. Even the ill effects of demonetization and the indignity and inconvenience it forced on people appears to have been forgiven. Within society, lynch mobs are rampant enforcing their cow related dictates, even at the cost of human lives. 

The country that Hamid Ansari should head towards is an India that shall emerge after the Modi tide has been reversed. It would not be easy. The middle class is still looking for the promised economic dividend. The country is latched down by its two rivals on either side and, therefore, there is always the call for national unity against these bogeys to fall back on. The institutions are being hollowed out. Even the redoubtable Economic and Political Weekly has suffered a setback to its reputation from seemingly tanking in to mere legal notice from a corporate house with links to the government. 

Rolling back this tide of hate would not be possible any time soon. The tide will first have to culminate in some dangerous and self-destructive climax. Arundhati Roy has prognosticated as much in her latest book. Though a work of fiction, she rightly takes India's current and ongoing hardline approach in Kashmir as symptomatic of India in a self-destruct mode and as precursor to such a denouement.

For sure, the insecurity Hamid Ansari refers to can only deepen. This would involve Muslims in their mohallas or in areas where they predominate such as in tracts of Bengal, Assam and in Kashmir. The Muslim predicament posed by lynch mobs across north India is well known. In the Deccan, the selective killing of a body builder was no doubt to send a message. The 'beef ban' law has one unstated aspect to it: that of defanging Muslims, better represented in the meat industry, and, therefore, better able to defend themselves, having the knives, the know how to use these and the stomach that does not turn on the sight of blood. A Muslim student of a premier university continues to be missing a year on. 

The Kashmir story is too well known to the readers of this to dwell on here. In Bengal, the BJP is reportedly growing inroads, using the communal tensions from incidents such as in Basirhat as they best know how. Of Assam, the Director General Assam Rifles, is emboldened enough to write in a respected strategic journal, the USI, thus: 'Districts of Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar are likely to suffer mainly on communal lines with noticeable increase in Muslim population, seeping in of fundamental ideas and support for Islamic Fundamental Organisations.' He goes on to say that the Rohingya refugees are falling to ISIS inducement. This perhaps explains India readying to send 40000 of them back, and allowing the refugee agency to cater for only 15000 of them. So much for India as a regional power. 

Ansari's pointing all this out led to a veiled attack on him by the prime minister in parliament. Modi more or less had it that Ansari's roots and professional confines in Muslim related issues and causes had constricted his thinking. Mr. Modi is either India's Nero or its pied piper. Both avatars do not bode well for India's future. Clearly, even though Ansari will not fetch up at an India with religious majoritarianism bottled up once again in this lifetime, it is equally clear that it is in this direction he - and all the rest of us in India - must head. If Muslim insecurity is an index of India's security, we need to heed Ansari.

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