“Pluralism is not anybody’s gift, it cannot be taken away”: Former vice president Hamid Ansari

Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Hamid Ansari was the vice president of India for two consecutive terms, from 2007 to 2017. A career diplomat, he joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961. Ansari subsequently served in the Indian missions in Iraq, Belgium and Saudi Arabia, and was the ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. From 1993 to 1995, he was India's Permanent Representative at the United Nations. After his long tenure in international diplomacy, Ansari was appointed to the position of vice chancellor at the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, in 2000. He also served as the chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities from 2006 to 2007.

In May this year, in an interview at his Delhi residence, Ansari spoke to the independent journalists Jipson John and Jitheesh PM on foreign policy, the importance of the constitution, the challenges to Indian democracy, and the threat of majoritarianism. “We are an electoral democracy and we conduct the elections very well,” he said. “But are we a substantive democracy? The answer is no. There is a vast difference between the two.”

Jipson John and Jitheesh PM: You have spoken about the importance of the constitution. Do you think that it is under threat today?
Hamid Ansari: I will not use the word “threat” but certain sections of the public are beginning to ask whether it can be recast. So, to that extent, it is a matter of interest to every citizen, including myself. I think [the economist] Prabhat Patnaik in his recent article “Shadow of Fascism” in Frontline has articulated well the present situation. It is looming but we are refusing to accept yet.

Jipson John and Jitheesh PM are fellows at the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research based in New Delhi.

Keywords: Hamid Ansari democracy plurality Constitution majoritarianism foreign policy Elections 2019