I have interviewed Hamid Ansari, now Vice President of India, in the first week of March 2006 soon after he was appointed chairman of National Minority Commission. Perhaps it was first interview after his new assignment was announced. I, with my friend Irfan Ahmed (Editor Companion) met him at his residence in IFS apartment Noida. The interview first appeared in Radiance weekly in March 2006.
Hamid Ansari is among most distinguished intellectuals in India who, besides a career diplomat, is a prolific writer. His important book is ‘Traveling through conflict: Essays on the Politics of West Asia, 2008. He has published many articles in India’s leading dailies and journals about India’s foreign policy. In his new responsibilities, he has been speaking of empowering poor, women, children and marginalized people in the course of development. He is enough vocal to voice for their rights and responsibilities and asking the governing authorities to pay attention to them.
Omair Anas, New Delhi
Ambassador Hamid Ansari is a distinguished diplomat and former vice-chancellor of AMU has been appointed new chair man of National Commission for Minorities. He succeeded Sardar Tirlochan Singh who ends his term last week. Our special correspondent Omair Anas talked to him on range of issues related to minorities in India.
What are the major problems you see for minorities in India?
Minorities in India have been guaranteed full range of rights under the Constitution of India. The problems are in the realisation of those rights. That is the nutshell of the problem. The reasons for it are many. Somewhere it is the failure of state machinery, somewhere it is the failure of the society, and somewhere it is the failure of individual minority groups. And each of them is to be investigated pragmatically.
How far minorities are secure in India?
No general answer is relevant. After all we are talking that every fifth person in India is from minorities’ total population. So by and large minorities who are equal citizens of India live the same life as the rest of the country. But there have been some problems in relation with each of the minorities. There have been problems with Muslims; there have been problems with Christians and Sikh. So you have to investigate each case and then discover the findings. It is not that in the last 60 years everybody in India has been insecure. So large population is here; and many changes underwent. But periodically problems arise, sometimes to Sikhs, Muslims, Christian, and sometimes problems engulf the whole nation. So we have to investigate where the failure is and what is the remedy?
You have been a diplomat, academician and activist as well. What will be your role in this new responsibility as NCM chief?
Let me tell two things! One, the commission is for all minorities; secondly, the function of the commission has been clearly defined in the act of parliament. So the short answer of your question is that the commission must do what it requires to do by law. Perhaps commissions have not done so far; whatever reasons are there. I think power has been given by law and (you have to) discharge your duty. This is the simple thing. It does not need any interpretation. Law is clear, powers of commission are well explained – what it is supposed to do and what it can do.
Well, NCM has a long list of failures and achievements as well? How do you view these failures and achievements and where NCM stands?
It will not be better to comment on our predecessors. We have to see where we have to start from. History is not today and history is not tomorrow, so you won’t worry about history. I think there must be some failures. I have no confusion about my duties. There is no need of any external suggestion, order. Everything is written clearly. If the commission doesn’t perform its duties, it will be a mistake of the commission.
Don’t you think that the commission has not any constitutional rights like other commissions?
The deference between constitutional and legal bodies is only that a constitutional body is mentioned in the Constitution and NCM is not one such. But this commission has been established by an act of parliament. And it reports only to parliament. So legal position of NCM is clear and so are its duties. Well, human rights commission has more powers than NCM and that is because NHRC has investigative machinery that NCM hasn’t.
Would you go for demanding such investigative machinery to make NCM effective?
I think this is under discussion and there is going to be a change in the law and some of these things will be discussed in the parliament. But let parliament do its own duties, we cannot form or amend the laws. We can only suggest. It is decided that this issue will be raised before the Government.
What is your view about the budget of NCM?
Budget is limited; it needs to be increased. We will put the matter before the Government.
Some political parties are raising the issue of minorities and appeasement of minority?
I am neither an apolitical person nor member of any political party. I don’t know what they used to say. There is freedom of expression in our country but I know what the law is and what my duty that I am supposed to perform is. Minorityism as being raised by some parties is a meaningless word. You can coin any word. But there is no ism. Giving rights to citizens is legal obligation. It doesn’t need any ism.
Could you define the role and character of minorities in day-to-day life of the country?
Minorities are 20% population of the country. They have same rights and same duties as other citizens. They have right to benefit from the progress of state in the same measures as other citizens. They have a duty to contribute to that progress in the same measures. There are no relaxations in their duties and cut off in their rights as well.
Sikh riot victims have received their compensation but up to now, victims of Meerut, Gujarat, Bhagalpur, Mumbai and many other riots are not looked after. Why this discrimination?
Answer is clear. Sikhs got their stake because they represented their case consistently and in an organised manner. They had been struggling for 20 years but they had been single-minded about it. I think the answer to others is that, you just be organised and put your demand consistently.
If it means the Government will not give compensation to unorganised victims, will NCM not voice for them?
No, no. It is the nature of democracy. You see the commission is not only agency to voice for them. This mentality has to be changed. If I have any right, I must ask for it. This is part of democratic right. But you have to use all democratic means and cross all the required steps.
But democracy is always meant for majority, not for minorities as the real situation is before you?
No, I don’t think so. Democracy is also for minorities. You must not think like this. In my days at AMU I found that many Muslim students were not interested in UPSC exams because they used to think that they will not be selected at all. We must get rid of such thinking.
Now what do you say about discrimination in government offices. Even non-minority officers have same findings.
It is a fact. That is what Justice Sachar Committee has been established for. But we must understand that discrimination can be in military, police but not in exams like UPSC. As you are only a number for your examiners, they don’t know your name and identity unless you got listed for interview. Our job is to face exams and prove our ability. The real problem is our backwardness in education. Higher graph of dropout rate is real danger for us.
Then what do you say about the strong feeling of injustice and lack of equal opportunities? Feelings come from circumstances.
Feelings are physiological some times they are right and wrong. Let us investigate the feelings if they are right. In India you know, no one is denied access to higher education. Everyone can be admitted to any university of India if he has required eligibility.
There is blame of ghettoisation of Muslim mind. How do you see it?
If ghettos exist, let them be there. Ghetto is not a problem. Problem is how to live and how to think about us. People living in posh colonies are also in ghettos. They are living in fortified ghettos. Let us identify the real problem.
It is said Muslims are not in the mainstream of Indian society?
India is a mainstream; everybody is in mainstream. There is no such thing like mainstream and side stream. Muslims are from very Indian society.
Your last word to begin your new job?
I will try to do my job to the best of my ability. I hope I will be able to reach out to all sections of minority.¨
Originally appeared in Radiance Weekly a Delhi based English weekly.
Hamid Ansari’s articles and books: