Head-on | Of serving foreign, not Indian, interests: How Hamid Ansari is symptom of a deeper malaise

Former vice-president Hamid Ansari represents a species that abounds in India: former civil servants, elevated beyond their station, who ser...

Former vice-president Hamid Ansari represents a species that abounds in India: former civil servants, elevated beyond their station, who serve foreign, not Indian, interests.

In 2007, the Congress-led UPA I government was in full flow. Despite winning just 145 seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha election — only seven more than the BJP — the Congress government was propped up by the Left’s 59 MPs and other UPA allies.

Ansari, a retired Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, was plucked out from the National Commission for Minorities in 2007 by the Congress and elected vice-president of India. He was re-elected in 2012 for a second term under the UPA 2 government.

Ansari suited the Congress’ ideological purpose. On assuming office in 2004, the party had sought to establish itself as the principal protector of minorities. With Ansari as vice-president, the strategy seemed to pay off. Against the grain, the Congress won 206 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. Ansari was keen on a third term in 2017. Sensing opposition from the BJP-led NDA government, he quietly withdrew from the race.

While serving as an IFS officer till 1999, Ansari had kept a veil over his fundamentalist ideology. The veil though often slipped.

Between 1990 and 1992, Ansari served as India’s ambassador to Iran. The period was a penumbra in Indian politics. Prime Minister VP Singh had resigned in November 1990 after 11 months in office. prime minister Chandra Shekhar served for seven months till June 1991 before giving way to prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. Weeks before, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated by a woman suicide bomber from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Thus in a frantic period of less than two years, India had sworn in three prime ministers and witnessed the assassination of one former prime minister. No one in Delhi’s political establishment was paying much attention to what Ambassador Ansari was up to in Iran.

What was he up to?

RK Yadav, a former senior officer in India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), wrote a book titled Mission R&AW. Published in 2017, it bared Ansari’s role in Iran. Yadav said Ansari severely compromised India’s intelligence operations in Iran. He refused to cooperate when a RAW agent in Tehran was kidnapped by Iran’s intelligence agency.

Narasimha Rao was prime minister. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then leader of the Opposition, prevailed upon Rao to persuade Iran to release the RAW agent. Ansari though had caused long-term damage to India’s intelligence network in Iran.

As Yadav wrote in his book, “Most of the operations of R&AW received a setback after this incident since its operatives became insecure due to inaction of Ansari. R&AW operatives had penetrated inside the Qom religious centre to monitor the activities of some Kashmiri elements whose activities were detrimental to the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir but this incident made them abort further infiltration inside that centre at that juncture.”

***

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***

Given his track record in Iran, it was not surprising that Ansari accepted an invitation to attend a conference hosted by the radical Islamist Popular Front of India (PFI) in September 2017, weeks after stepping down as vice-president of India.

It is within this context that Ansari’s participation in a virtual conference organised late last month by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an Islamist body, needs to be assessed.

Ansari echoed worn-out tropes: the rise of “Hindu nationalism” and the “emergence of trends and practices that dispute the well-established principle of civic nationalism”.

Ansari went on to say: “This interposes a new and imaginary practice of cultural nationalism. It seeks to present an electoral majority in the guise of a religious majority and monopolized political power. It wants to distinguish citizens on the basis of their faith, give vent to intolerance, insinuate otherness, and promote disquiet and insecurity. Some of its recent manifestations are chilling and reflect poorly on our claim to be governed by rule of law. It's a question that has to be answered. These trends need to be contested and contested legally and contested politically.”

Other participants in the IAMC conference were American lawmakers well known as anti-Indian lobbyists, many on the payroll of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Ansari is not taken seriously in India or the United States. But, more importantly, he represents a cabal in India that seeks to undermine the national interest.

The tell-tale pug marks of this cabal are everywhere: among sections of the media, hard-Left activists and lawyers, Opposition leaders tasked with disrupting Parliament, retired army officers who write newspaper op-eds based on misleading defence data, former IFS bureaucrats who advocate rethinking on Siachen, Track 2 specialists with vested interests and — worst of all — a Delhi ecosystem of durbari journalists who form a mutual back-scratching club. Their Twitter feeds praise one another’s desultory articles. This cabal of socio-economic climbers, uprooted from Lutyens in 2014, has relocated to Khan Market.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with ventilating diverse views. A democracy would be intellectually parched without fierce dissent. The problem is when facts are manufactured to fit a pre-fixed narrative.

Governments need to be criticised, their policies scrutinised and their leaders held to account. But selective criticism based on fixed facts is not criticism. It is propaganda.

Ansari is a symptom of a deeper malaise that has gripped India since Modi came to power in 2014.

Modi-itis is an affliction that deranges minds in a group of ageing former power brokers, durbaris and dalals deprived of privilege and pelf. They demean India in order to demean Modi. It is a thoughtless tactic that will bring discredit to them, not him.

The writer is editor, author and publisher. Views expressed here are personal.

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India World News: Head-on | Of serving foreign, not Indian, interests: How Hamid Ansari is symptom of a deeper malaise
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