Hamid Ansari comments on human rights irk BJP: What you need to know about controversy

The former vice-president expressed his concern over the rising trend of Hindu nationalism at a panel discussion organised by the Indian American Muslim Council, which in the past has raised issues pertaining to the safety of Muslims in India

FP Staff January 27, 2022 18:20:27 IST
Hamid Ansari comments on human rights irk BJP: What you need to know about controversy

File photo of Hamid Ansari. Getty Images

Former vice-president Hamid Ansari, along with four US lawmakers, on Wednesday sparked controversy as he raised concern over the human rights situation in India.

Ansari was speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Indian American Muslim Council, which in the past has raised issues pertaining to the safety and security of Muslims in India.

Participating in the virtual panel discussion from India, Ansari expressed his concern over the rising trend of Hindu nationalism.

His allegation of "intolerance", "insinuating otherness", and "promoting disquiet and insecurity" on the current government were not received well as several BJP leaders have since spoken strongly against the retired diplomat.

Why Ansari’s comments have irked BJP leaders and how they have reacted, let’s take a look at why it is making headlines:

What did Ansari say

The former vice president said that in recent years, the country has “experienced the emergence of trends and practises that dispute the well-established principle of civic nationalism”.

“…and 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,” Ansari said.

He added: “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.”

What did the US lawmakers say

US senator Ed Markey was among the speakers at the session. Markey is known for his anti-India stands in the past including opposing the India-US civil nuclear deal during the Manmohan Singh regime.

"As the Indian government continues to target the practices of minority faiths, it creates an atmosphere where discrimination and violence can take root. In recent years, we have seen an uptick in online hate speeches and acts of hate, including vandalised mosques, torched churches, and communal violence," Markey said.

The other three Congressmen -- Jim McGovern, Andy Levin and Jamie Raskin -- also have a history of taking anti-India stands irrespective of the governments at the Centre.

Raskin said that there have a lot of problems with the issue of religious authoritarianism and discrimination taking place in India.

"So we want to make sure that India stays on the path of respecting religious liberty, freedom, pluralism, toleration and dissent for everybody," he added.

Meanwhile, Levin said that the world’s largest democracy was seen backsliding as human rights are under attack.

"Regrettably, today, the world's largest democracy is seeing backsliding, human rights under attack and religious nationalism. Since 2014, India has fallen from 27 to 53 on the Democracy Index. And Freedom House has downgraded India from free to partly free," Levin said.

McGovern, co-chair of the powerful Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US House of Representatives, listed several warning signs that showed India's "alarming backsliding" on human rights, according to a media release issued by the Indian American Muslim Council.

Who are the organisers

According to its website, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) is “the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the US”.

The organisation has been outspoken about alleged crimes against minorities in India.

According to a report by CNN-News18, the IAMC had reportedly collected funds for the cause of the Rohingya crisis and paid to lobby firm FGR for getting India blacklisted by the USCIRF.

FGR head Terry Allen was a long-time associate of Nadine Maenza, USCIRF Chair. IAMC’s Shaik Ubaid is friends with Abdul Malik Mujahid, who headed Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) - the US front for Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan. The ICNA has known links with Pak-based terror groups including LeT.

IAMC is headed by Rasheed Ahmed, who was Executive Director (2008-17) of Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) that was accused of looting public Covid funds. Meanwhile, IMANA’s Director of Operations Zahid Mahmood is an ex-Pak Navy official.

How the BJP has reacted

Addressing a press conference, Minister of Minority Affairs and BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi slammed Ansari terming the incident “anti-India propaganda at its peak”.

“This is unfortunate. These people are targeting our nation to target PM Modi. These people know well that the country is in a good position. This is anti-India propaganda at its peak,” the union minister said.

“He (Ansari) was amongst the people who held a prominent position in India. Our nation is safe and secure for all individuals. This anti-India bashing brigade doesn’t need to give any suggestions on how to run the country in a secular way. This brigade never leaves a single moment to defame India,” Naqvi added.

Ansari’s previous statements that caused controversy

In November 2020, the former VC said that even before Covid-19 hit the country, it had become a victim of two other pandemics – religiosity and strident nationalism.

Speaking at the virtual launch of senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor's book 'The Battle of Belonging', Ansari said that in a short space of four years, India has made a long journey from its founding vision of civic nationalism to a new political imagery of cultural nationalism that appears to be firmly embedded in the public realm.

"The Covid-19 as a pandemic is bad enough, but before it our society became a victim of two other pandemics -- religiosity and strident nationalism. Religiosity is defined as extreme religious ardour, denoting exaggerated embodiment, involvement or zeal for certain aspects of religious activity enforced through social and even governmental pressure," he said.

In October 2018, Ansari found himself in the eye of the storm when he said that Pakistan alone was not responsible for the Partition and that India was equally responsible for it.

"We are not ready to accept that we are equally responsible for the division," he said according to a report by news agency ANI.

"While people like to believe that people across the border (Pakistan) or the British were responsible for India's partition, no one wants to admit that India and Indians were equally responsible for it," he reportedly said.

With inputs from agencies

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