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Muslim, vice president: Hamid Ansari becomes fair game for attacks

So what makes Ansari -- the highest-ranking Muslim office-holder in the country -- a regular target of politicians as well as supporters of the Hindu right?

ht-view Updated: Jun 23, 2015, 16:57 IST
Abhishek Saha
Abhishek Saha
Hindustan Times

It is tough being Hamid Ansari: on the one hand you are the vice-president of India, and on the other your 'patriotism' is being questioned.

The latest controversy surrounding Ansari emerged after BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, in a tweet, questioned the VP's absence from International Yoga day celebrations at Delhi's Rajpath. Ironically, Ansari is a regular yoga practitioner.

Madhav deleted his tweet and the government apologised to the vice-president after controversy. Union minister Shripad Naik said there is a protocol which specifies that the vice-president can't be invited to an event where the Prime Minister is chief guest.

Congress has said the Madhav's tweet showed the ruling BJP was indulging in 'divisive politics' and 'communal polarisation'.

Ansari seems an easy target for hate-mongers. During the 66th Republic Day celebrations in January this year, Ansari followed protocol and did not salute the national flag, while standing beside US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Some social media users came down heavily on him, calling him a 'jihadi-sympathiser' and a 'traitor'.

The vicious tweets led the vice-president's office to issue a statement that explained how, as per protocol, when the national anthem is played, the principal dignitary and persons in uniform take the salute. But, those in civil dress simply stand in attention.

However, what set the Yoga Day controversy apart was, unlike the Republic Day rebuke, this time the criticism was not coming from online trolls but a senior politician.

So what makes Ansari -- the highest-ranking Muslim office-holder in the country -- a regular target of politicians as well as supporters of the Hindu right?

Many think it's only because he is a Muslim.

"It's obvious that he is targeted for being a Muslim," said Anjali Monteiro, professor and dean at School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

"Ansari is always being suspected and it seems there is an onus on him to prove his patriotism and nationalism," Monteiro said.

An editorial in The Indian Express echoed the same views and said, "… there is no escaping the impression that Ansari's religion has something to do with it."

Some commentators say the attack on Ansari is indicative of doubting the patriotism of Indian Muslims in general. It is reflective, they say, of a Hindu right-wing concept that Indian Muslims are less 'Indian' than Hindus, and their patriotism must be repeatedly questioned.

"The belief Muslims just aren't good Indians exists in the subconscious of many, even well-meaning people," wrote journalist Aditya Menon on the controversies surrounding Ansari.

Commentators say that attacks on Ansari are just like questioning Indian Muslims on whom they support during an India-Pakistan cricket match.

An article on the right-leaning website, while reporting on the Twitter outrage at Ansari after Republic Day celebrations, raises questions as to whether the vice-president has 'become a radical Muslim recently' and started believing that 'nationalism as a concept was anti-Islamic - something many radical Muslims believe in'.

The analysis at one point says, "Since we can't accuse Ansari of being a radical Muslim with enough credible evidences, we have to give him the benefit of doubt in the case of not saluting the Indian flag during the Republic Day celebrations today."

"For the Hindu right, Hamid Ansari is not a vice-president. He is a Muslim-a representative of the community," says Kavita Krishnan, women's activist and Polit Bureau member of the CPI-ML.

"The attack on Ansari is intended to humiliate the entire community, I feel. It's like telling them that we will criticise even a vice-president if he is a Muslim and then get away with it," added Krishnan.

(Views expressed are personal. The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990)

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