There was a common aspect about the first few speeches made by leaders from Opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha on Friday when MPs welcomed new Chairman Venkaiah Naidu as he chaired his first session of the Upper House.
All of them praised Naidu but many of them also made statements about how the Rajya Sabha Chairman needed to be unbiased and apolitical, irrespective of his political leanings earlier.
"A party leader's point of view often changes when he is appointed as a minister. That person then has to think of the country apart from his party too," Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
"Their is another post like that, which you (Naidu) have been appointed to now," Azad further said, adding that the symbol of weighing scales was behind Naidu on his chair.
Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav and Trinamool Congress' Derek O'Brien also reminded Naidu of the fact that the vice-president needed to have a balanced point of view.
"Ab aap sare desh ke hain, yaad rakhiyega," #ramgopalyadav tells M Venkaiah Naidu
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Merely a day earlier, Naidu had rejected as "political propaganda" the view that there is a sense of insecurity among minorities in the country, apparently a rejoinder to former vice-president Hamid Ansari, who had said that there is a feeling of unease and a sense of insecurity among the Muslims in the country.
Now, the Opposition leaders may or may not have expressed their concern about bias in Rajya Sabha proceedings directly because of Naidu's statement, but their apprehensions were certainly well-timed.
After all, if Hamid Ansari's remarks were more about "political propaganda", so were those made in response by Venkaiah Naidu, going by the same logic.
It is true that the Congress-led UPA government had appointed Ansari as vice-president. And it will also be naive to assume that Ansari's reference to incidents of lynching and 'ghar wapsi' and killings of rationalists as a "breakdown of Indian values" was purely out of concern for minorities and was completely apolitical.
But if saying that the social fabric of India is under threat is an exaggeration, so are statements about how the Indian society is the most tolerant in the world because of its people and civilisation, a remark Naidu made in response.
In fact, Naidu made a lot of generic remarks in his response too, based on vague assumptions.
"Compared to the entire world, minorities are more safe and secure in India and they get their due," he said, assuming that the condition of minorities in India is satisfactory just because it is worse in other countries.
Naidu also said that minorities "got in prominent positions including constitutional responsibilities because there is no discrimination, and also on account of their merit." But appointment of people from backward or oppressed sections of the society to important posts is not the only — and not even the most important criteria — to comment on the overall respect given to minorities.
This is like assuming that racism in the United States disappeared once Barack Obama became its president.
Moreover, when asked about incidents of alleged intolerance, Naidu said India is a huge country and there could be some "stray" occurrences, which are "nothing but aberrations".
Dismissing frequent incidents of hate crimes based on caste, religion or even food habits as mere anomalies at a time when a report has pointed out that almost all incidents of cow-related violence took place after 2014 is as political as you can get.
As a BJP leader, Naidu's remarks were perhaps necessary for him to defend the NDA government. But Naidu had quit BJP after being named the vice-presidential candidate.
As then vice-president-elect and now vice-president, Venkaiah Naidu's veiled response to Hamid Ansari was anything but apolitical.
With inputs from PTI
Published Date: Aug 11, 2017 14:08 PM | Updated Date: Aug 11, 2017 14:08 PM