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Ansari: diplomat, scholar and quintessential gentleman

The new vice-President of India is a warm and engaged human who brings to his new position a rare blend of intellectual gravitas, sincerity and tact.
By Manish Chand and Murali Krishnan | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 10, 2007 08:46 PM IST

Diplomat, scholar extraordinaire and the quintessential gentleman, Hamid Ansari is the new vice-president of India. He is all of these but, above everything else, is a warm and engaged human who brings to his new position a rare blend of intellectual gravitas, sincerity and tact.

In sharp contrast to the bitterly fractious presidential contest, the nomination of the 70-year-old as the unanimous choice of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Left parties for the vice presidential post was hailed across the country and came as proof to many that ability, and not mere patronage, does get its rightful reward.

This near universal approval of Ansari's choice brought to the fore something essential about him - his ability to inspire respect cutting across the political divide that enabled him to notch up key jobs even after retirement from the Indian Foreign Service.

If he became vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, he was chosen to become chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities in the UPA dispensation.

Ansari, known as India's voice in the Middle East, was appointed as ambassador to Saudi Arabia by the PV Narasimha government and got repeated extensions from the governments of IK Gujral and HD Deve Gowda.

Although the news of his nomination for the vice presidential post came as a surprise to many who had a chance to rub shoulders with this low-profile, suave and soft-spoken diplomat and scholar, not many know that he is no stranger to the world of politics.

Ansari comes from a prominent political family with socialist leanings.

"I come from a family of freedom fighters. My father was in the forefront of the independence struggle. My uncle, Farid-ul-Haq, was secretary general of the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and was elected to the second Lok Sabha," Ansari told IANS after he was nominated for the vice president's post.

The PSP, which was in existence from 1952 to 1972, was founded when the Socialist Party merged with the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party.

Ansari also happens to be the grandnephew of Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, who was president of the Indian National Congress in the 1927 Madras session.

Born in Kolkata on April 1, 1937 - though his family belongs to Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh - Ansari studied at the St Xavier's in Kolkata and AMU. He later became the AMU vice chancellor.

Having joined the IFS in 1961, Ansari was India's envoy to the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Australia. He won the admiration of many with his charm, grace and sophistication when he was the Chief of Protocol during the Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi in 1983.

He was also New Delhi's Permanent Representative to the UN at a time when Pakistan launched a diplomatic offensive at the end of the Cold War in the UN on Kashmir by highlighting alleged human rights abuses in that state.

"Pakistan did not succeed in getting any resolution in any forum at the end of two years of desperate struggle. India had won the battle under Ansari's leadership," recalled TP Sreenivisan, who was his deputy in New York at that time.

A Padma Shri winner, Ansari has been a visiting professor at the Centre for West Asian and African Studies in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the Academy for Third World Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia.

Before he was appointed chairman of the Minorities Commission - his last major assignment before becoming the vice-president - in March last year, Ansari was co-chairman of the India-UK Round Table, a member of the National Security Advisory Board and convener (and later chairperson) of the petroleum ministry's advisory committee on Oil Diplomacy for Energy Security.

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