Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Vice President of India, since August 2007, is a man without blemish who has achieved one position after the other and has proved thoroughly competent in each. He is sophistication and dedication personified whose contribution to the nation is beyond doubt. What distinguishes him from most other eminent personalities is his being a man without controversies, one who is respected by everybody, and one who has won only friends and no enemies and one whose suave style of working charms everybody. He has been India’s Ambassador to several countries, became Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, then became Chairman of National Minority Commission, and then became India’s Vice President becoming only second person after Dr. Radha Krishnan to serve the office in two consecutive terms. . He also presently serves as President of the Indian Institute of Public Administration and Chancellor of Panjab University, Chandigarh.
The Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University is perhaps the most coveted position a Muslim academician or civil servant wants to hold in India. But this is also the most thankless position. Almost every Vice Chancellor of the University has to undergo the severest test of patience. It goes to Ansari’s credit that he came out unscathed even from that position, and has remained acceptable for all political parties and social groups throughout his career as Vice President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
Mohammad Hamid Ansari was born on 1st of April, 1937 in Kolkata. Originally his family belonged to Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, and a family with considerable political influence. He is the grandnephew of Congress President Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, a leader of the Indian independence movement who switched to politics from Medicine, being one of the first Muslim Medical postgraduates of the country. Mukhtar Ansari was also one of the founders of Jamia Millia University and remained its Chancellor from 1928 to 1936. Hamid Ansari’s schooling took place at St. Edward's School, Shimla and the St. Xavier's College of the University of Calcutta. He then joined Aligarh Muslim University and obtained BA degree and then M.A. in Political Science. He started his career as Officer in the Indian Foreign Service in 1961. After postings to several countries over some 15 years (Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Belgium), Ansari was named ambassador to the United (1976–79). He also served as ambassador to Afghanistan (1989–90), Iran (1990–92), and Saudi Arabia (1995–99), as well as high commissioner to Australia (1985–89) and permanent representative to the United (1993–95). In between those foreign postings, he was the chief of protocol for the Indian government in 1980–85.
Ansari was the chairman of a working group on "Confidence building measures across segments of society in the State," established by the Second round Table Conference of the Prime Minister on Jammu and Kashmir in 2006. He became the chairman of India's National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on 6 March 2006. In June 2007, on 20 July 2007, he was named by the UPA-Left, the ruling coalition in India, as its candidate for the post of Vice President for the upcoming election. He secured 455 votes, and won the election by a margin of 233 votes against his nearest rival Najma Heptullah. He was reelected as Vice President for the second term on 7 August 2012, defeating the NDA's nominee Jaswant Singh by a margin of 252 votes.
He was visiting professor at two New Delhi schools—Jawaharlal Nehru University (1999–2000) and Jamia Millia Islamia (2003–05)
He also worked for a private think tank and served on several government commissions and committees.
Ansari is the author of the book Traveling Through Conflict. He edited a book titled Iran Today: Twenty – five Years after the Islamic Revolution (ISBN 81-291-0774-0).
As chairman of a working group on "Confidence building measures across segments of society in the State," established by the Second round Table Conference of the Prime Minister on Jammu and Kashmir in 2006, he submitted the report which was adopted by the Third round Table in April 2007. Among other things, the report advocated recognizing the right of Kashmiri Pandits to return to “places of their original residence.” This right, it argued, should be recognized without any ambiguity and made a part of state policy.
In his capacity as NCM chairman, upheld the decision of India's premier educational institution, St. Stephens College, to earmark a small percentage of seats for Dalit Christians.
He is also known for his role in ensuring compensation to the victims of the Gujarat riots and pushing for a complete reexamination of the relief and rehabilitation programs for riot victims since 1984.
Ansari has not been a diplomat in the style of diplomats who normally are experts in speaking what their governments want them to. He has been a man of vision who has his own ideological convictions and his own judgments on various issues of national or international importance.
Ansari did not always toe the official line but also voiced his own assessment of the situation even if it differed with the governmental position. He is a West Asia scholar and has written on the Palestinian issue and the issues related to Iraq and Iran. He questioned India’s vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program where India voted against Iran. He said that though the Indian Government claimed to have acted on "its own judgment," this was not borne out by facts.
Hamid Ansari has tried to be as unbiased as he can be, and he is respected by all parties. As Vice President of India is also the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, he has to preside the proceedings of Rajya Sabha as well, and it is very hard for a Chairman to stay non-controversial in that capacity, due to pulls and pushes from different political parties. Still he has managed to stay least controversial if not wholly so. Encyclopedia Britannica agrees:
“Ansari’s tenure in office was largely noncontroversial. He became known for his role in ensuring compensation to the victims of communal riots in Gujarat state in 2002, and he subsequently pushed for a complete review of relief and rehabilitation efforts for all riot victims in India since 1984. On occasion he articulated strong views in public. In 2006, while serving as chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, he denounced as anti-Islamic the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI in which the pontiff used the terms “jihad” and “holy war.” Earlier, in 2005, Ansari had questioned India’s vote against Iran’s nuclear program in the International Atomic Energy Agency, stating that the Indian government’s position was not supported by the facts.
“With his many years of diplomatic postings in the Middle East, Ansari developed a reputation as a scholar of that region. He wrote in particular on the Palestinian issue. He is the author of Travelling through Conflict: Essays on the Politics of West Asia (2008) and the editor of Iran Today: Twenty Five Years after the Islamic Revolution (2005).””
But it is not that he has not invited criticism at all. Economic Times, describing his tenure as Vice President and Speaker Rajya Sabha, says:
“In the last five years, he had carried himself well except for the controversial decision to abruptly adjourn the Upper House on the last day of the winter session last year when the House was expected to vote on the Lokpal bill.
BJP was critical of the adjournment decision alleging it was done to rescue the government from a possible embarrassing defeat. The main opposition party cited it as one of the reasons for putting up a candidate against him in the current election.
Ansari also tried to innovate in the House proceedings when he shifted the Question Hour to post-lunch session to avoid loss of opportunity for members to question the government on account of routine disruptions in the morning.
The move was given up after just a session when he found the members themselves being absent from the House when their questions were taken up and the government also not very enthusiastic about the move.”
It must ideally be a positive attribute if a President or Vice President keeps himself aloof from politics. But this positive attribute also came under criticism when his name was floated for the second term. Economic Times says,
“He also dealt with barbs thrown at him for being non-political when he took over as vice-president in 2007 in his own inimitable way.
"No citizen is apolitical; as a citizen, by definition, has to take interest in public affairs," he had then said.”
“Our 4,635 communities, according to the Anthropological Survey of India, is a terse reminder of the care that needs to be taken while putting together the profile of a national identity,” Mr. Ansari said while inaugurating the 75th session of the Indian History Congress here.
“The global scene in modern times has been replete with complexities and tensions of what has been called the national question. We live in a world of nation-states but the idea of a homogeneous nation-state is clearly problematic. Diversity is identifiable even in the most homogeneous of societies today,” he said.
Warning against any straight-jacket edifice for national identity “that came to grief” in other societies, Mr. Ansari said the pluralist structures in India that had stood the test for over six decades needed “constant nurturing.”
3.2 Hamid Ansari, on "Identity and Citizenship: An Indian Perspective" at Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in London, United Kingdom on November 1, 2013
“It is a privilege to be invited to address this august audience. Conscious of the gap between the immensity of the honor and the inadequacies of the speaker, I am humbled by the realization that six decades earlier Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a very distinguished predecessor of mine as Vice President of India, was for long the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at this University.
A few years back, when I was in the vicinity of Oxford in a group dabbling in the unfathomable mysteries of the Iraq quagmire, Dr. Nizami provided a welcome distraction by inviting me to see the site, and the plans, for the new building of the Centre. He also mentioned the debate on the proposed architectural design, and of the view in some quarters that it would change the inherited landscape of a hallowed community.
The change, as I understood it, implied an assertion of identity. It is now conceded, I am told, that the new structure did no aesthetic or spiritual damage to the skyline of Oxford. Perhaps, the injection of diversity has enriched it.
Speculating on the ‘ifs’ of history, Edward Gibbon had visualized a course of events that might have resulted in the teaching of the interpretations of the Qur’an at Oxford. He could not foresee a happier, intellectually more rewarding, happening that the concluding decades of the twentieth century would bring forth. Among its manifestations is the establishment of this Centre.
This is a tribute to Oxford’s capacity to accommodate the unusual.
I encouraged by this accommodative approach, I wish today to share some thoughts on the twin concepts of identity and citizenship and the manner of their impact on the building blocks of modern States.
Needless to say, it is an Indian perspective and draws in good measure on the Indian experience. It may be of relevance to some of the objectives of this Centre, since India counts amongst its citizens the third largest Muslim population in the world and the largest Muslim minority anywhere.
It is a truism that the human being is a social creature and societies consist of individuals who come together for a set of common purposes for whose achievement they agree to abide by a set of rules and, to that extent and for those purposes, give their tacit or explicit consent to the abridgment of individual free will or action. They, in other words, do not get subsumed totally in a larger whole and retain their individual identity. This identity, as pointed out by William James and sustained by more recent social-psychological research, is a compound of the material, social and spiritual self. Furthermore, and when acting together in smaller groups, they develop group identities and these too are retained. Thus in every society we have identities at three or four levels, namely individual, group, regional and national. We can also, in this age of globalization, add an international dimension to it. The challenge in all societies, therefore, is to accommodate these layered identities in a framework that is harmonious and optimally conducive to social purpose.
Much has been written about identity, its theoretical framework and practical manifestations. An eminent sociologist has defined it as ‘the process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute, or a related set of cultural attributes, that is given priority over other sources of meaning. For a given individual, or a collective of actors, there may be a plurality of identities.’ The question is to determine how this identification is expressed in everyday life of individuals who are members of such specific groups?
Conceptually and legally, citizenship of a modern state provides this framework and encapsulates the totality of rights and duties emanating from the membership of the citizen body, inclusive of the right of representation and the right to hold office under the state. By the same logic, a certain tension is built into the relationship, even if the society happens to be relatively homogenous, in itself a rarity in modern times. Rabindranath Tagore described his family background as a ‘confluence of three cultures, Hindu, Mohammedan and British’. Away from India but in our own neighborhood, Abdolkarim Soroush depicted the Iranian Muslim as ‘the carrier of three cultures at once’ having national, religious and Western origins.
Thus instead of a narrow concept of a singular identity implied by the classical concept of citizenship, the need is to recognize and accommodate the existence of a plurality of social identities. The contours of this were explored earlier by Thomas Marshall, and more recently by Will Kymlicka, Manuel Castells, Charles Taylor, Gurpreet Mahajan and others. Put simply, it has been argued that identity encapsulates the notion of authenticity, the demand for recognition, the idea of difference and the principle of equal dignity.
What then has been the Indian approach to, and experience of, the concepts of identity and of citizenship in a modern state? What is the accommodative framework for identities in modern India?
A distinctive feature of Indian society is its heterogeneity. The historian Ramachandra Guha depicts our recent history as ‘a series of conflict maps’ involving caste, language, religion and class and opines that conflicts relating to these ‘operate both singly and in tandem’. Each of these also brings forth an identity of varying intensity; together, they constitute what the opening line of the Preamble of our Constitution depicts as We, the People of India.
In other words, the superstructure of a democratic polity and a secular state structure put in place after independence on August 15, 1947 is anchored in the existential reality of a plural society. It is reflective of India’s cultural past. Our culture is synthetic in character and, as a historian of another generation put it, ‘embraces in its orbit beliefs, customs, rites, institutions, arts, religions and philosophies belonging to different strata of societies in varying stages of development. It eternally seeks to find a unity for the heterogeneous elements which make up its totality’. It is a veritable human laboratory where the cross breeding of ideas, beliefs and cultural traditions has been in progress for a few thousand years. The national movement recognized this cultural plurality and sought to base a national identity on it. The size and diversity of the Indian landscape makes it essential. A population of 1.27 billion comprising of over 4,635 communities 78 percent of whom are not only linguistic and cultural but social categories. Religious minorities constitute 19.4 percent of the population; of these, Muslims account for 13.4 percent amounting in absolute terms to around 160 million. The human diversities are both hierarchical and spatial. ‘The de jure WE, the sovereign people is in reality a fragmented ‘we’, divided by yawning gaps that remain to be bridged.’ Around 22 per cent of our people live below the official poverty line and the health and education indicators for the population as a whole, despite recent correctives, leave much to be desired.
The contestation over citizenship surfaced early and was evident in the debates of the Constituent Assembly. The notion of citizenship was historically alien to Indian experience since throughout our long history (barring a few exceptions in the earliest period) the operative framework was that of ruler and subject. There was, of course, no dearth of prescriptions about the duties of rulers towards their subjects and about the dispensation of justice but none of these went beyond Kautilya’s pious dictum that ‘a king who observes his duty of protecting his people justly and according to the law will go to heaven, whereas one who does not protect them or inflict unjust punishment will not’. The constitution-makers therefore had to address three dimensions of the question relating to status, rights, and identity, to determine who is to be a citizen, what rights are to be bestowed on the citizen, and the manner in which the multiplicity of claimed identities is to be accommodated. This involved addressing three aspects of the question: legal, political and psychological. The outcome was the notion of national-civic rather than national-ethnic, emphasizing that the individual was the basic unit of citizenship whose inclusion in polity was on terms of equality with every other citizen. At the same time and taking societal realities into account, the concept of group-differentiated citizenship was grafted to assure the minorities and other identity-based groups that ‘the application of difference-blind principles of equality will not be allowed to operate in a way that is unmindful of their special needs, and that these needs arising out of cultural difference or minority status will receive due attention in policy, and that the polity will be truly inclusive in its embrace’.
The crafting of the Constitution was diligent and its contents reflective of the high ideals that motivated its authors. The Preamble moved Sir Ernest Barker to reproduce it at the beginning of his last book because, as he put it, it seemed ‘to state in a brief and pithy form the argument of much of the book and it may accordingly serve as a keynote’. The Constitution’s chapter on Fundamental Rights addresses inter alia the protection of identities, and accommodation of diversities. These identities could be regional, religious, linguistic, tribal, caste-based, and gender-based. The right to equality and equal protection of the laws and prohibition of discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth is guaranteed. Affirmative action is mandated by law in favor of those historically discriminated against on grounds of caste or tribal origin as well as all those who are identified as socially and educationally backward. Also guaranteed is freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. Yet another section safeguards the right to have and conserve language, script or culture and the right of religious or linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The purpose of these, taken together, is to bestow recognition, acknowledge the difference and thereby confer dignity that is an essential concomitant of equality.
An inherent problem nevertheless was evident to the constitution-makers, or at least to some of them. This was expressed candidly, almost prophetically, by Ambedkar in words that need to be cited in full:
‘On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.’
Thus the objective of securing civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights as essential ingredients of citizenship was clearly delineated and the challenge squarely posed to the beneficiaries of the new dispensation. The dire prognosis of the last sentence, however, has not come to pass! The very complexity of the landscape impedes linear and drastic happenings. One serious student of Indian polity has noted that ‘the Indian model of development is characterized by the politicization of a fragmented social structure, through a wide dispersal and permeation of political forms, values and ideologies’. As a result and in a segmented society and unequal economy, the quest for substantive equality and justice remains work in progress. Nevertheless, the slowing down of the egalitarian social revolution that was envisaged by the Constitution-makers and the implicit social contract inherent in it, does give rise to wider concerns about its implications.
Two questions arise out of this and need to be explored. Firstly, what has been the impact of this on the perception of identity? Secondly, how has the challenge been addressed?
Identity assertion in any society has three sets of impulses: civic equality, liberty and opportunity. Identity groups are a byproduct of the right of freedom of association. They can be cultural, voluntary, ascriptive and religious. They are neither good nor bad in themselves but do present challenges to democratic justice. This is true of India also. The functioning of democratic institutions and the deepening of the democratic process along with the efforts to implement constitutional mandates for affirmative action induced higher levels of political mobilization. These manifested themselves, most visibly, in demand groups each with its own identity. A multiplication of identities seeking social status and economic wellbeing through the route of politics thus emerged as a logical consequence.
It has been argued that ‘casteism in politics is no more and no less than politicization of caste which, in turn, leads to a transformation of the caste system’. The same holds for religious and tribal minorities. In an evolving quasi-federal state structure, yet another imperative emanates from the requirements of regional or state identity. ‘The new politics of caste has also reinforced old, upper caste solidarities. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Bramharishi Sabhas have reemerged and the logic of electoral politics has forced the forces of social justice to strike strategic alliances with them’. These, together, have induced political actors to develop narrower foci on their electoral management methodologies; these have been reinforced by the shortcomings of the first-past-the-post electoral system and the ability of a high percentage of candidates to win on a plurality rather than the majority of votes cast in an election.
A society so diverse inevitably faced the challenge of integration. It was two fold, physical and emotional. The former, involving the merger of 554 large and miniscule princely states with those parts of the former British India that became the Indian Republic, was attended to with commendable speed and was almost completed by the end of 1949. Emotional integration, on the other hand, was a more complex process. As early as 1902, Tagore had cautioned that unity cannot be brought about by enacting a law and in 1949 Sardar Patel, the architect of integration of states, had laid emphasis on the process taking ‘healthy roots’ and bringing forth ‘a wider outlook and a broader vision.’ The challenges posed by it were aptly summed up by a political scientist:
‘In the semantics of functional politics the term national integration means, and ought to mean, cohesion and not fusion, unity and not uniformity, reconciliation and not merger, accommodation and not annihilation, synthesis and not dissolution, solidarity and not regimentation of the several discrete segments of the people constituting the larger political community.
‘Obviously, then, Integration is not a process of conversion of diversities into a uniformity but a congruence of diversities leading to a unity in which both the varieties and similarities are maintained.’
Thus the Indian approach steers clear of notions of assimilation and adaptation, philosophically and in practice. Instead, the management of diversity to ensure (in Nehru’s words) the integration of minds and hearts is accepted as an ongoing national priority. Some have described it as the ‘salad-bowl’ approach, with each ingredient identifiable and yet together bringing forth an appetizing product.
The question of minority rights as a marker of identity, and their accommodation within the ambit of citizenship rights, remains a live one. It is not so much on the principle of minority rights (which is unambiguously recognized in the Constitution) as to the extent of their realization in actual practice. A government-commissioned report on Diversity Index some years back concluded that ‘unequal economic opportunities lead to unequal outcomes which in turn lead to unequal access to political power. This creates a vicious circle since unequal power structure determines the nature and functioning of the institutions and their policies’. This and other official reports delineate areas that need to be visited more purposefully.
How far can this to be taken? A Constitutional Amendment in 1977, adding a section on Fundamental Duties of citizens as part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, carries a clause stipulating promotion of harmony and spirit of brotherhood “transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.” It is at this point that the rights of identity and the duties of citizenship intersect. The identification of this point, with any degree of precision, is another matter. The litmus test, eventually, must be the maintenance of social cohesiveness through a sense of citizenship premised on equality of status and opportunity so essential for the maintenance of democracy. The need for sustaining and reinvigoration of this sentiment is thus essential.
The Constitution of India was promulgated in 1950. The past six decades have witnessed immense changes in social and political perceptions in societies the world over. Theories and practices of ‘assimilation’, ‘one-national mould’ and the ‘melting pot’ have been discredited and generally abandoned; instead, evolving perceptions and practical compulsions led individual societies to accept diversity and cultural pluralism. In many places, on the other hand, a process of reversal induced by xenophobia, Islamophobia and migrant-related anxieties, is also under way. The concept of multiculturalism, pioneered to address accommodation of diversity within the framework of democracy, is being openly or tacitly challenged. An ardent advocate of multiculturalism concedes that ‘not all attempts to adopt new models of multicultural citizenship have taken root or succeeded in achieving their intended effects’ because ‘multiculturalism works best if relations between the state and minorities are seen as an issue of social policy, not as an issue of state security’.
There is an Indian segment to the debate on multiculturalism. It has been argued that ‘while a multicultural polity was designed, the principles of multiculturalism were not systematically enunciated.’ It is asserted that multiculturalism goes beyond tolerance and probes areas of cultural discrimination that may exist even after legal equality has been established; it therefore ‘needs to explore ways by which the sense of alienation and disadvantage that comes with being a minority is visibly diminished, but in a way that does not replace the power of the homogenizing state with that of the community. It should therefore aspire towards a form of citizenship that is marked neither by a universalism generated by complete homogenization, nor by particularism of self-identical and closed communities’.
These debates and practices vindicate in good measure the vision and foresight displayed by the founding fathers of the Republic of India. The vindication is greater when considered in the context of the size and diversity of India and the stresses and strains it has withstood in this period. And yet, we cannot rest on our laurels since impulses tilting towards ‘assimilationist’ and homogenizing approaches do exist, suggestive of imagined otherness and seeking uniformity at the expense of diversity. Indian pluralism, as a careful observer puts it, ‘continues to be hard won’. Hence the persisting need of reinforcing and improving present practices and the principles underlying them. Such an endeavor would continue to be fruitful as long as ‘the glue of solidarity’ around the civic ideal remains sufficiently cohesive, reinforced by the existential reality of market unity and the imperative of national security. There is no reason to be skeptical about the stability of the tripod.”
It was the poet Saadi who added a punch line to the celebrated romance Laila-Mujnoon: "The beauty of Laila has to be seen through the eyes of Majnoon”! A variant of it in statecraft was witnessed in Washington recently. Larry Franklin, Pentagon analyst on Iran's nuclear program, was found to be passing classified information to the Policy Director and the Senior Iran Analyst of the influential American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who, in turn, conveyed it to their handler, a senior diplomat in the political section of the Israeli Embassy.
As investigation progressed, the diplomat was quietly withdrawn and, in a move to restrict the damage, the two officials were dismissed by AIPAC but are being defended by its own high profile attorney. All three are to be charged under the Espionage Act. The case, reminiscent of the Pollard affair of 1985, has two significant aspects: the impeccable credentials of the two intermediaries, and the reaction of the political establishment. Details became public shortly before the Annual Convention of AIPAC held last month.
Normally in such cases and even if friends are involved, the aggrieved party signals displeasure. Official Washington chose to do otherwise in its public posture. In the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and a distinguished gathering that included Senators and Congresspersons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used the AIPAC forum for a policy speech on West Asia, reaffirmed friendship and support for Israel.
She described Mr. Sharon's disengagement strategy as "an unprecedented and incredibly delicate opportunity for peace." She scrupulously avoided a mention of the Road Map but selectively referred to some of its ingredients. The audience was left in no doubt about U.S. preferences, Israeli misdemeanors notwithstanding.
Ms. Rice described the Bush plan for democracy in West Asia as an instance of "moral clarity", adding that this dramatic shift in the political landscape of the region remains "very fragile" on account of Iran and its policies. She repeated Madeleine Albright's diplomatically inept phrase about "unelected leaders" of Iran.
Separately, AIPAC persuaded over 200 members of the House of Representatives to cosponsor a bill that would tighten existing sanctions on Iran, bar subsidiaries of American companies doing business there, and cut foreign aid to countries that have businesses investing in Iran. The Administration has yet to take a view on this but is, nevertheless, dropping hints the world over (India included) about possible consequences for those wishing to further business relations with Iran.
Crafty maneuvering nevertheless is under way in West Asia. The United States, rhetoric notwithstanding, is reported to be at the beginning of a process of reappraising the post-9/11 policies of shock and awe, of seeking the road to Jerusalem through Baghdad, of reforming and democratizing the Greater Middle East, of cartographic engineering, of allowing Israel to procrastinate on the Road Map, and of changing the Muslim world.
First Lady Laura Bush, after her visit to the region in the third week of May, said Americans should be prepared for the slow spread of democracy in the region. Her interlocutors told her that the most important issue for the region is peace between Israel and the Palestinians: "I can't reiterate this enough. They want the United States involved". Is this a signal of changing perceptions, of tactics, or of both?
Israeli antennas, always sensitive to American perceptions, have sensed the rethink. The first to speak publicly, in April, was former Mossad chief and Mr. Sharon's National Security Adviser Efraim Helevy who questioned the wisdom of the democratization drive in the war on terror and predicted more U.S. military interventions and longer term military presence in the region. He conceded that Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan is a device to bypass the Road Map: "What is emerging is that Israel and the United States have created the framework for an imposed resolution of the conflict" by 2008. It would be determined "not only on the balance of forces between Israel and its neighbors but in large measure by the outcome of other campaigns that are taking place around us"— in other words, establishment of Pax Americana in the region. On Iran, he said Israel "could not hope for a better combination of players and circumstances in the political campaign that is under way" against Iran.
In this context, the visit of President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington was of significance.
Official Palestinian sources appear happy at the outcome. He sought, according to some, "a road map for the road map" — a clear enough U.S. affirmation of its continuous engagement in the peace process as a neutral referee.
He put three specific requests to Bush: a commitment that (1) the Gaza disengagement plan would be an integral part of the Road Map rather than its prelude or substitute; (2) Israel be persuaded to fulfil its Road Map obligations especially a freeze on settlement construction and withdrawal of Israeli troops to pre-intifada positions in September 2000; and (3) concrete assurances be given about the contents of the Palestinian state and the timeline for its realization.
The text of the welcome speech of President Bush makes good reading and made the desired impact of the Palestinians: Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes roadmap obligations or prejudices final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, must remove unauthorized outposts and stop settlement expansion, must not make the security barrier into a political one, the Palestinian state must have territorial contiguity, the final status agreement must be a negotiated one and changes to the 1949 Armistice Lines must be mutually agreed to. "This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of the final status negotiations."
On the face of it, the Bush statement dilutes the commitments given to Mr. Sharon in the letter of April 2004 stating that "in the light of new ground realities, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." A spokesman of the National Security Council, however, denied a change of position. Arab observers, too, are skeptical of the Palestinian claims of success.
The Delphic element in the President's pronouncement lies in the conceptual and linguistic refinement of the small print and in the Israeli capacity both to influence the American establishment and to procrastinate on commitments.
The political calendar gives Mr. Bush about 18 months to win the war on terror, pacify Iraq, deliver on the peace process, democratize `Middle East', and chastise Iran. Each would be a pre-requisite for Pax-Americana; slippage on any would endanger the edifice.
It is of course possible that quiet negotiations may have preceded the Abbas visit. Herein lies the relevance of Mr. Helevy's remarks; they have to be read together with the texts emanating from the Palestinian visit, and the joint statement issued after the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to the Bush ranch at Crawford.
In such a scenario, formal allegiance would be rendered to all the ingredients of the peace process. Negotiations would be held; their outcome would be pre-determined! Would Palestinian opinion go along?
(Published in the Hindu)
(While inaugurating the International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development (ICED) set up by the Supreme Audit Institution of India, headed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India)
CAG has an important role to play in efforts towards improving environment by not only commenting on the effectiveness of the rules and regulations in this regard but also by offering suggestions to the government for the purpose…India has been active in international forums relating to environmental protection, and is party to 94 multilaterals environmental agreements. We have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002…
The importance of environment audit has been compounded by the ever increasing expenditure on protection and conservation of environment.
There is an increasing environmental awareness as corroborated by various grassroots green movements across India.
Ansari said the impact of indiscriminate human action and insatiable consumption on global environment has manifested itself in what is widely accepted as the phenomenon of climate change.
The high social, economic and political cost of environmental degradation and climate change is clear to all, even though the international community continues to debate on how to tackle climate change and who should foot the bill for ensuring sustainable development.
"The language used by the Pope sounds like that of his 12th-Century counterpart who ordered the crusades... It surprises me because the Vatican has a very comprehensive relationship with the Muslim world." – 15 September 2006, as Chairman of the Minorities Commission of India, on the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy.
"No citizen is apolitical; as a citizen, by definition, has to take interest in public affairs.” – 10 August 2007, after being elected Vice-President, on being asked whether he is apolitical.
"There is no shame in acknowledging the faults and the lacunae that exist in the policies and institutions pertaining to Human Rights." -26 September 2013, addressing the First Convocation of Central University of Bihar.
I extend my greetings and good wishes to all our citizens on the joyous occasion of Deepawali. The festival of lights, celebrated with gaiety and enthusiasm all over the country, signifies the victory of good over evil and is an appropriate occasion for us to resolve to follow the high ideals in life.
Gender injustice is a social impairment and therefore has to be corrected in social attitudes and behavior.
Certain media-related developments in the country are raising questions regarding its objectivity and credibility. Paid news and the declining roles of the editors and their editorial freedom is posing a major threat to the Indian media.
Most of India's 300 odd news channels are making losses and are dependent on dubious cross holding, black money and dodgy private equity investors, both foreign and Indian.
His wife is Salma Ansari who has been well-versed in social issues, and often takes part in social programs. At Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, she once said, “By making these children self-sufficient, you are doing a great service. I am also part of your family now, let me know if I can help in any way," Appreciating her support, Mahantesh G Kivadasannavar, founder managing trustee of Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled said, "It feels great to be acknowledged by people like Salma Ansari. Very appreciative of our efforts and projects, she promised to help us in our endeavor to serve the physically challenged from the underprivileged community". Once in a program, she became so emotional with the plight of girl children that she went on to say that ““My view is that parents should poison their girl child as soon as she is born.” Obviously, the words did not have literal sense but only showed her extraordinary frustration and helplessness. On the issue of Reservations for Women in Parliament, she had stressed that mere reservation in the highest level will not serve the purpose and “Unless awareness is created among women at the grassroots and they are educated, such legislations will not be of much help”
Ansari has two sons and a daughter.