New Delhi: He is only the second person since 1962 to have held the second highest constitutional post in independent India for two, successive, full terms and now Hamid Ansari, the country’s 12th vice president, has bowed out of office. An academic and career diplomat, Ansari comes from a family, which as Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted in his farewell address in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, “has been involved in public life for more than a hundred years". He is the grand nephew of freedom fighter and former Congress president Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari.

Born on 1 April 1937 in Kolkata, Ansari is an academic and a career diplomat—he joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961—who has brought his own combination of sincerity, grace, dignity, and integrity to the various positions he has held : India’s high commissioner in Australia; the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations; vice chairman of the Aligarh Muslim University; and chairman of the National Minorities Commission. In 2007, the then ruling alliance of the United Progressive Alliance (and its partner from outside the government, the Left Front) picked Ansari for the vice president’s post. In 2012, he was nominated again and pitted against Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Jaswant Singh, who he defeated. The last vice president to be elected twice was S. Radhakrishnan, who served between 1952 and 1962.

On Thursday, referring to Ansari’s background as a diplomat, the Prime Minister credited the outgoing vice president with giving him added perspective on visits and meetings held with international leaders. In fact the tone of nearly every farewell speech was adulatory even as the Twitterverse was exploding over an interview the outgoing vice president had given to Rajya Sabha TV the day before. Speaking to journalist Karan Thapar, the vice president minced no words when he said that a sense of insecurity is creeping in among Muslims.

Several BJP leaders saw red. Political analyst Pushpesh Pant said Ansari has, at the risk of being labelled communal, “red-flagged an issue that needs to be red-flagged. Muslims have felt insecure in this country under different governments and are insecure right now too."

“One will have to be very biased or very partisan to argue that Ansari brought anything but great dignity to the office he held for 10 years, “ he added.

“He is a highly intellectual and very principled individual who brings great clarity as well as depth to everything that he does," said Gurdeep Singh Sappal, officer on special duty to the vice president. Sappal is also the chief executive of Rajya Sabha TV and has worked with Ansari since the latter assumed office.

In the past 10 years Ansari has not been on a holiday, Sappal said, adding, “He is an avid reader who almost always prepares the first draft of all his speeches himself. He knows the Constitution well enough to verbally refer to sections we needed to consult every time some issue or the other comes up in Parliament."

His commitment to his duties, extensive knowledge of the Constitution, as well as his polite and soft-spoken demeanour are the qualities that almost everyone who has worked with Ansari mentions.

As vice president, Ansari served as chairman of the Rajya Sabha and presided over the functioning of the upper house. He is credited with getting Rajya Sabha TV off the ground, with the hope that it would be an Indian PBS. His tenure was marked by quite a few stormy sessions but as finance minister Arun Jaitley pointed out on Thursday, “You take the good with the not so good. We have seen... when we members... disrupted the house, your anguish was visible."

From nationalism to growing instances of vigilantism, Ansari made his views clear on pressing issues of the day. Perhaps hinting at that, Modi, in his farewell address, told Ansari that, free from the restraints that the position of vice president placed upon an individual, “you will be free to act, talk and work in accordance with your basic political ideology and instinct".

My Reads Logout