The good that came out of Modi’s Comments on Hamid Ansari

Interestingly, Indian media has not exercised any restraint in openly questioning the manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his comments directed at the former Vice President Hamid Ansari on his last day in office. During his farewell address, Modi commented that Ansari would be free to pursue his “core thinking” after demitting office. Modi pointed out that Ansari’s forefathers had been aligned with the Congress and Khilafat Movement over the past century. He also drew attention to Ansari having done his best to carry out his responsibilities during the past decade. Besides, Modi referred to Ansari having spent many years in West Asia as a diplomat. Subsequently, he served as Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and as Chairman of National Minorities Commission. It is debatable, while drawing attention to Ansari now being free to pursue his “core thinking,” what was Modi actually referring to, Ansari’s political background or his religious identity?

Critics are paying special attention to Modi’s use of the words “uneasiness” Ansari may have had and now his being free to “work, think and speak according” to his “core thinking.” The general impression is that Modi was specifically referring to “uneasiness” of Ansari as a Muslim. It may be pointed out that on the preceding day, Ansari had commented in a television interview about there being a feeling of unease and a sense of insecurity among Indian Muslims. He had asserted that “ambience of acceptance” of Muslims was under threat. These comments of Ansari, regarding Muslims’ feeling of insecurity against the backdrop of intolerance and vigilante violence had provoked a strong criticism from BJP leaders. And thus Modi chose to include them in his farewell address. 

The manner in which Prime Minister Modi took note of Ansari’s religious identity has raised several questions. Would he have made similar comments on the religious ideology of the vice-president if he was not a Muslim, but a Hindu? Would he have? Most probably, not. Indian cultural history stands testimony to no religious ideology, whether it is Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism or any other, preaching practises and/or beliefs which defy norms of humanitarianism. But little importance is given to their religious ideologies, by extremist elements who indulge in aggressive and/or passive communal behaviour against other religious communities.  It is time greater attention was paid to such behaviour being violation of secular norms of the Indian Constitution.

What an irony. Modi commented that with his term as vice-president over, Ansari will have “freedom” and “opportunity to work, think and talk according” to his “ideology.” Except perhaps for late President Kalam, practically no one has maintained any distance from his/her religious identity and practices while holding his/her office. If Modi’s comments indicate that those holding various offices in his government need to keep away from their respective religious ideologies, he needs to think again. Most are making a grand show of their religious ideology. This is also displayed by the dress code adhered to by quite a few of his own party members.

The criticism levied by the Indian media on Modi’s comments regarding Ansari’s religious ideology bears its own significance. This defies noise being made about Indian media having become a “puppet” of ruling party. As a Prime Minister, Modi heads a country that is populated by several religious communities, all of whom are supposed to be given equal respect and treatment. Whatever be personal perceptions of Modi about his own religious ideology, he has not done justice to his position as prime minister of the country by commenting in this manner on Ansari’s “core thinking.”

It cannot be ignored that former Vice-President Ansari belongs to that section of Indian Muslims who, at the time of Partition, preferred partition of their families than cross over the border that too in the name of religion. It is a tragedy that even seventy years have not sufficed to convince certain extremist elements of the patriotism of Muslims, whose love and passion for the soil of this land prompted them to stay here than join their relatives who opted to move out. We belong to that class of citizens who are proud of their identity as Indians as well as Muslims. Perhaps, Hindutva elements need to pay greater attention to understand us.

An attempt is certainly being made to question and target Muslims’ religious leanings on communal lines. However, extremist elements responsible for such incidents do not constitute even a percentage of this country’s population. Rather, the majority remains unmoved by their behaviour. Demonstrations held against cow-lynching are just a minor testimony to India still being a strong and vibrant secular nation. It is time Hindtuva elements paid some attention to understanding Indian secularism. Criticism levied against Modi for his comments on “religious ideology” of Ansari is the latest indicator of this country’s secular strength. All are aware of religious identities of both Modi and Ansari. But, secular credentials of both appear to have been of greater importance while taking note of the former’s comment regarding the latter!