Two-terms Vice President’s memoirs, released today, has special mention of his last day in office when the PM made scant reference to his career as diplomat and ‘pigeonholed’ his work in Muslim countries
NEW DELHI — M. Hamid Ansari, after a long and distinguished career during which he served as India’s envoy to five countries and as the Permanent Representative at the UN, served two terms as Vice President, a honour previously accorded only to Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
Besides chairing the Rajya Sabha, Ansari used the vice presidency as a formidable pulpit to express himself candidly on a range of issues at different times in India’s changing political landscape. Their overarching theme was the need for modern India to re-commit itself to the constitutional principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, to the values of a composite culture, and for correctives in polity relating to identity, security and empowerment of the weaker segments of our society but the Prime Minister (he doesn’t name Narendra Modi) made scant reference to this on his last day in office and “pigeonholed” his work in Muslim countries, Ansari writes in his memoirs titled ‘By Many A Happy Accident – Recollections Of A Life’, that was released on Thursday.
As he walked out of Parliament on his last day in office, he also “wondered if this temple of noise and reconciliation would remain so amid suggestions of physical and spiritual ‘renovation’,” Ansari writes in the book, which has been published by Rupa.
“August 10, 2017 was the last day of my term in office and my last day as Chairman, Rajya Sabha. 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 V-C of AMU and as Chairman of NMC. ‘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’.”
“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 intended message of the seemingly laudatory remarks was picked up by party functionaries and sections of the media, as also by the ‘faithful’ in the social media, and by the listening public at large. The reaction so generated has been sustained in various manifestations. Its rationale is perhaps summed up in the Urdu couplet: ‘Bhari bazm main raaz ki baat keh di/Bara be-adab hoon saza chahta hoon’ (I have divulged in public what was hidden I am very insolent, chastisement I desire),” Ansari writes.
“On the other hand, editorial comments (the next day) and a good many other writings considered the PM’s remarks to be a departure from the accepted practice on such occasions,” Ansari writes.
“What was ironic was that his response that morning had begun with an Urdu couplet: ‘Mujh pe ilzaam itne lagaaye gaye/Begunahi ke andaaz jaate rahe (So much have I been accused of, at proving my innocence has deserted me).”
“As I walked out for the last time through Gate 9 of that iconic building escorted by the deputy chairman and many senior members of the House and my own team of officials, I wondered if this temple of noise and reconciliation would remain so amidst suggestions of physical and spiritual ‘reconciliation’,” Ansari writes.
Later that day, there was a farewell function where a Scroll of Honour was presented to him.
“It was attended by the Vice President-designate (M. Venkaiah Naidu), the PM, the Speaker (Lok Sabha), the minister for parliamentary affairs, leaders of the House and the opposition and the Deputy Chairman (Rajya Sabha). The PM spoke there too. He referred to my family background and experience in public life, mentioned Brigadier Mohammad Usman and his martyrdom in the 1948 conflict and said nothing adverse had come to his notice during my long spell in office. He hoped that the insights gained during the tenure would be recorded for public benefit.”
“This speech, different in content and tone, was not picked up by the media. The photograph of the function, with the Lok Sabha Speaker in the background, was!” Ansari writes.
Was Never in the Running for President: Hamid Ansari
M. Hamid Ansari has stoutly denied that he was in the running for President to succeed Pratibha Patil, depreciating the “Byzantine” process that dragged his name into the picture — and even played golf on the day the decision was to be announced. But one is left wondering whether he nurtured a secret desire that he held close to his chest.
“Media speculation initially named former president Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as a possible candidate; he, however, denied it. One report quoted the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha saying that the BJP will not support anyone connected to the Congress,” Ansari writes in his memoirs, “By Many A Happy Accident – Recollections Of A Life” (Rupa), which is being released on Thursday.
“A commentator (in May 2012) said that ‘almost no one is thinking of the other man in the race, who has done his work quietly for 10 years, always speaking his mind but never in a way that it causes controversy: Hamid Ansari’. Another report on 13 June said that ‘at this point one can only say that either Pranab Mukherjee or Vice President Hamid Ansari is likely to be the Congress candidate’, but this has to be finalised after acceptance by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee, whose votes would be essential, adding that a deal on many political issues’ with the former would be essential.
Another media report said that ‘a series of bizarre developments…made this contest quite intriguing’. On 15 June, Reuters reported the Congress party named Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as its nominee for president,” Ansari writes.
“The political thinking behind the decision was delineated later by M.L. Fotedar,” Ansari writes. (This was that Ansari should have been the presidential candidate by precedence but the view gaining ground was that elections to the 16th Lok Sabha could throw up a hung Parliament and Mukherjee’s vast skills would be required in such a scenario, Fotedar has written in his memoir, “The Chinar Leaves”.)
“Pranab Mukherjee’s memoirs give some details of the political background and the position and postures of the leaders involved.”
“Having nothing to contribute to the Byzantine process, on the day a decision was expected (12 June), I decided to play golf on a very hot afternoon with two of my friends, Ambassadors Garekhan and Naresh Dayal. Halfway through the game, a call from my office told me of the decision and the game continued. That evening, Pranab Mukherjee called on me and I felicitated him.
“Late in the evening the next day, I conveyed to a senior functionary of the Congress my unhappiness at being pulled into the process without having being consulted; he, in turn, shared with me some of the happenings that went into the decision making.
“A couplet of Daagh Dehlvi could have described the situation:
“Quismat ki khoobi dekhiye, tooti kahan kamand/Do char haath jab ke lab-e-baam rah gaya (See the irony of Fate, the ladder has given away when the rooftop was just a few feet away),” Ansari writes.
What followed was unanticipated as a few days later Prime Minster Manmohan Singh called on him, “was somewhat apologetic” for what had happened and “suddenly asked me if I would like to be considered for a second term”.
“It was my turn to be surprised; my answer was that I would be honoured. I thus became the second person, after Dr Radkahrishnan in 1957, to assume the office of Vice President for a second term,” Ansari writes.