NEW DELHI: There has been a rise of vigilantism in the country and if "gau rakshaks" (cow vigilantes) are not listening to even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then it is a matter of concern, says former Vice President Hamid Ansari.
"Modi is a strong leader. He is the unquestioned leader of his party. If his words are not being listened to, that's a matter of serious concern. No need to say that there are people in his party who are defying him. I am not drawing that conclusion," Ansari said in an interview with IANS ahead of the release of his latest book "Dare I Question".
This book is a compilation of speeches that Ansari made on different occasions on different themes. He said he has explored various issues in the book such as what is it to be an Indian, what is Indian nationalism or why do we call ourselves plural, secular, democratic.
The former Vice President created a flutter recently when he said in the foreword to the book that the remarks of Modi at the farewell function for Ansari last year that his views were conditioned by his long career as a diplomat in Muslim countries and as a person who has dealt with minorities (as a member of the National Minorities Commission) were a deviation from tradition on such occasions.
While asserting that intolerance is indeed rising in society, he underlined that it cannot be said that the communal divide emerged only after the Modi government came to power as it has been there for very long.
"Intolerance has been there in our society for a long, long period. But I think if the level of water rises you don't notice it at first and it begins to rise higher and higher. Then you notice it. That's what is happening," he said.
"Yes, there has been a rise of vigilantism. It has been written (about) nationally as well as internationally. International newspapers have reported that there has been a rise in it. I can't put a precise date (as to when it was noticed first)... different occasions, different places. It has been going on for many, many years," he told IANS.
There have been incidents of attacks and lynchings of people belonging to the minority community suspected of cow smuggling or in the name of eating beef in some states.
Has it risen after Modi government came to power?
"No, no. Every government has been guilty of failures. Every time there has been a communal riot anywhere, it is a manifestation firstly of intolerance and secondly of failure of administration.
"You see two people can always have a disagreement. Two bicycles can collide on the road and there will be exchange of hot words. But what takes a small disagreement into a communal riot requires thinking and planning. And wherever there is such planning, there is failure of law and order," Ansari said.
Asked if he is particularly indicting the state governments headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for rising vigilantism, the former Vice President said: "Look, I am indicting the government of the day wherever it is. Whether it happens in Assam, Kerala or Punjab. It doesn't matter. I am not targeting political parties, I am targeting administrations."
Commenting on critics and trolls on social media tagging him as an "ungrateful Muslim" post his remarks in a TV interview just a day before his demitting office that there has been a rising sense of insecurity among the Muslims, Ansari pointed out that it was not for the first time that he had said as much.
"Ungrateful to whom? This is my land. I am an equal citizen of this country. I am an equal stakeholder of this country and I have been so for centuries. Where is the question of ungratefulness? Gratefulness or ungratefulness comes only if you are giving me something and I am receiving something. It is my right. I have my rights, I have my duties," Ansari said.
Asked if the incident of Hindutva goons barging into Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) when he was there to attend a function on May 2 happened with the local administration's connivance, Ansari said he would desist from drawing such conclusions but stressed that the Jinnah portrait there was just an excuse to create disruption.
"I don't draw that kind of conclusions. But I do know I was invited there, and there was disruption. The function could not take place. The senior police officer in the district next day admitted that there was a failure of arrangements and that he is going to inquire into it.
"I am not drawing a conclusion that there was a connivance of the local administration with the miscreants. But I see it as straightforward fact of failure. Now why that failure took place, let the inquiry find out.
"But yes, the Jinnah portrait was just an excuse. It's been there for a long time. The gentleman who objected to the portrait was a member of the AMU Court for three years. What did you do about it?" Ansari asked.
On the demand by rightwing politicians to end the minority status of the AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia, Ansari said that as the matter is being heard in the Supreme Court, he, and others, should not comment on it.
"Let the court's opinion come, we will see after that. The Acts of Parliament are there which created these institutions, the debates in Parliament are there as to what was the intention behind setting up these institutions. All this will be discussed threadbare in the Supreme Court and the court will decide," he said.
As the next Lok Sabha elections are nearing, it is pertinent to examine the present government's achievements and failures. While Prime Minister Modi used to bitterly attack the Manmohan Singh government over an "absence" of a tough policy on Pakistan, has the present government evolved a consistent policy on Pakistan after four years in office?
Ansari, who was a career diplomat, replied: "We have zig-zagged on Pakistan to the best of my knowledge. We have gone like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. If that is policy, then there is a policy. What can you do about it?"
He added that while India's traditional policy of non-alignment adopted under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was "fine" and earned the country respect in the world, India's neighbourhood policy has deteriorated in recent years.
"Our neighbourhood policy at the moment seems to be under some stress. People who are knowledgeable about it have written about it," he said.
Is India doing enough to counter China's growing influence?
"Successive governments have been very conscious about it. China is a big neighbour. And we have relations with China, different kinds of relations -- political, cultural and even military relations. Both countries understand that we have problems also, we have positive relations as well," Ansari said.