In an interview to News18, former vice-president Hamid Ansari was also quite vocal about the ‘first past the post’ system of electoral victories in India.
Former vice-president Hamid Ansari has opposed the idea of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, dismissing the ‘one nation, one election’ theory as an “assault on India’s democracy”.
In an interview to News18, Ansari said, “India is a diverse land. To have the thought of one big country our size having one election is just an unworkable idea. You require security to move in multiple phases even during an Assembly election. So how are you going to provide security across the nation if polls were to be held simultaneously.”
The former V-P was also quite vocal about the ‘first past the post’ system of electoral victories in India. “The problem is that majority of leaders get elected despite not securing more than 50% votes. How can they then claim to represent the entire constituency?” he asked.
Ansari’s view comes even as the Law Commissioner is preparing a report on simultaneous elections after a discussion with political parties.
Ansari also spoke at length about the “environment of insecurity” among India’s minorities. “We must understand that even after so many years, Sachar Panel recommendations haven’t been implemented in full. This environment of creating the ‘other’ hurts our democracy,” he said.
On the specific proposal of seeking reservations for Dalits in minority institutes like the Aligarh Muslim University, Ansari, who is an alumnus of the prestigious university, said, “People must look at the law carefully. It’s mentioned very clearly which is the agency which can manage funds for any university.”
Transcript of Exclusive interview with Hamid Ansari on CNN-News18
Bhupen: You sir have occupied the highest positions in diplomacy, in the political establishments. But when I look at your book, I get a sense that you are indulging in a searing searing criticism of what the Indian state has become today. Are you a cynical individual today when you look at the state of affairs around you?
Ansari: No! Not at all. But as a citizen i question. That is my right as a citizen because I have rights, i have duties and if i find that there is some part of rights or some part of duties not being fulfilled whether by me or anybody else, then i have a right to raise a question to find out why the derailment is taking place and what is the corrective.
Bhupen: Do you believe sir as someone who has been in public life for so many years, do you believe that something fundamentally changed about our democracy, about the way we engage our interface with Indian political ecosystem, say the last 4 to 5 years?
Ansari: No, it’s not the question of 4-5 years, it’s not the question of just certain barriers. But a process has been on over a longest period. I give you a classic example. There was a time in the 50s, in the 60s, even the early 70s when parliament would sit for a 100 days. Now it’s just for 60 days. It didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen on this particular year or that particular year. But a process has been on for sometime. It started sliding down to 90 days, 80 days, 70 days, today you have about 60 days or something. So a process has been on when you know our investment in keeping our institutional structure and our value system intact and on 100% afficacy. Our investment has started declining.
Bhupen: Declining! I I distinctly remember that it was a fact of your tenure is the vice- president of India, when you started talking about insecurity of minorities, insecurity within Muslims. Many to que on directly and accused you of having being a beneficiary of everything that the Indian state or the Indian democracy had to offer and yet you felt that the Indian Muslim was insecure. Do you think you made a mistake in high insight or you still stand by your opinion?
Ansari: No, I did not and it was not the first occasion when I’ve talked about it.
Bhupen: But as vice- president, as ex-chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
Ansari: As vice- president, I had gone, I can recall two specific instances. I had gone to an anniversary function, 50th anniversary function of All India Majlis e Mushawarat and I had commented on this subject where the failings was on this side, where the failings were on the other side. I had gone to another function in a city, you would know Azamgarh where there is a famous academy by the name of Shibli Academy and I had talked there about it and i said that the Prime minister’s, this was in 1415. The prime minister’s slogan of Sabka Sath Sabka Vikaas is impeccable but to do that everybody has to be on the same start line. Only then can you march together and if there is somebody who is behind the starting line, then you have to do that exercise which is called a technical pollands affirmative action of bringing up the other person onto the starting point. Then you can walk together.
Bhupen: So what is happening sir, explain to me. I, I look at your book and there are various examples that you have given, you have looked at the Sachar panel recommendations, you have spoken about the plight of women. Do you think we would actually as a political ecosystem, are we living in denial? Are mainstream politicians living in denial certainly from the rural establishment about what’s going on or do you believe that actually there is an accentuation? This accentuation as far as insecurities of religious minorities is concerned.
Ansari: It’s a complex process. There is an element of denial. There is a denial of not fulfilling commitments made by the state. I mean I give you a classic example, it’s Sachar. Sachar made specific recommendations that were accepted by the government of the day. This is way back in 2006. Programmes were worked out but all programmes in our country because we are a federal system. The programme is made in Delhi, the financial allocations may be done in Delhi or shared. But the actual implementation is done at the state level and the sub- state level. That is where failings took place and this is not only with Sachar programme, it’s true with the whole range of programmes. I mean there were cases when the year mark funds and there is a separate category altogether for SC ST development funds. They were diverted by state government X or Y
Bhupen: To do something else?
Ansari: To do something else. So these derailments have been happening over a period of time and I think that our mechanism fall monitoring its adherence to the letter and spirit of the regulation has been faultery.
Bhupen: But look at where we are today sir. You know I specifically raise this subject because you must have seen what’s going on in Lucknow in the case of a passport which was to be issued for an interfaith couple. And you look at how the subject got reversed to whether this Muslim couple was indulging in blackmail of shots. And when you thought that this is blackmail only and only to target the mainstream politicians?
Ansari: No, it is silly. It is silly. It is a very sad commentary on all consent. I mean look what happened. As a citizen I may have a grievance A, B, C – X, Y, Z. There used to be a time when, you know getting a passport was very difficult because it had to go through a complex process of enquiries here, enquiries there, enquiries there, all over the place. It has been over the last 20- 25 years polished up very well and people get their passports in their normal course. Yes the police does its job. The bureaucracy does its job but people gets their passport and different ministers, clearly the present minister of external affairs has taken exceptionally good care.
Bhupen: And yet she was told for giving a passport to Muslim individuals.
Ansari: Look! I’m afraid. I’m a 20th century person, not yet involved into 21st century. So I’m not in this social media. But I’ve a point of view which I think is worth considering. There is a difference b/w, you know acquiring a technology as a product and acquiring it as a process. I’ve the money in my pocket, I can go and buy the latest invention of technology. But whether I understand how that technology works, its plus points and its negative points, its something that i have to understand and i have to devote mind and attention to understanding the process. So social media may be very good.
Bhupen: But was this about social media sir? Or was this about actually opening above fault line which is always existed in our society?
Ansari: Well you can’t say always because..
Bhupen: Certainly staring it in our faces, the ugly side of these fault lines.
Ansari: There have been odd characters, not all characters. I mean after all hundreds and thousands of lacs of passports are being issued. These questions are not being asked. There have been interfaith couples for a long long time.
Bhupen: Was this questionable Mr. Ansari tell me as someone in your position. Was this questionable if they say if this was a christian, or a Sikh or any other religion? Was this ques. raised only & only because one of the principle characters was a Muslim.
Ansari: I don’t know because i know, i mean i know from personal knowledge experience, interfaith marriage in India is not a novelty. It has been going on for a long long time and people accept it. I mean ultimately it depends on the individual. Do you like the boy or the girl. The family likes the boy or the girl, even that is secondary to the individuals concerned liking each other.
Bhupen: But you thought it was a sad commentary on..
Ansari: It was a very sad commentary because this is not what India is about. India is about acceptance of diversity. India is not merely tolerance of diversity. Its tolerance is a limiting concept. I go beyond it. I say we have to accept the diversity because this is precisely how we have lived down the ages.
Bhupen: Now that’s why, that’s why next ques sir, in your book you’ve dealt with this question in a very very vociferous manner. The ques of what ails our electoral democracy. You say “elctoral democracy on the first past supposed system is implaced but it falls short of being substantive, inclusive and participatory”. Are you suggesting sir that you don’t agree with the first past supposed system which existed?
Ansari: It could have been better.
Ansari: Because, you see when it was put in place way back in 49, 50, we had a two-party system. So votes would get divided b/w Party A and Party B. Then we have now over the years evolved a multi- party system. So they get further divided, sub divided. If you look at the Lok Sabha who is who, which gives at the end of the every CV, the electoral performance of the winning candidate, there would be very few, very few I forget the exact number perhaps no more than 9 or 10 who win on 50% or more of the votes cast and 50% of the votes cast in a system in which 65- 70% vote on an average really means that the winning candidate who gets 50% is actually getting something like 40- 45% and many others who get less than 50% may be winning on 25 or 30%. Therefore we call him a representative, but he is only representative of 30% of the elected.
Bhupen: But would that not be admonish understanding of the situation sir because if you look at the average voting which takes place in any election, be it in assembly level or Lok Sabha level, the average voting is always 65- 70% and this post the kind of electoral reforms, the remain of electoral roles, etc which has taken place. So are you saying that there should be 100% voting for a representative to actually come to this conclusion that define the majority of this constituency.
Ansari: No, no that’s not the answer because you can’t say 100% because then you’ll have to introduce penal provisions that if i don’t vote, I’m fine.
Bhupen: Did you support that?
Ansari: I’d rather not. If I decide that i don’t want to vote for whatever reason, i should have that freedom. My freedom should also include the freedom to abstain.
Bhupen: So what is your alternate that you would propose?
Ansari: I think, Well i am not the election commission of the day…
Bhupen: But you are a former vice-president so your voice can explain.
Ansari: So i have a citizen’s view. I think there are models available in the world. Well, they have a runoff b/w the two at highest, those who get two highest votes. so b/w 1 and 2 out of 5 or 7, you have a runoff and you then find out a little closer you’ll get to who has the maximum support in the constituency. It is doable bcz it is done in another countries
Bhupen: You know in UP, we have in Hindi heart line there is a phrase called “vote kutuwa”. Do you believe that actually the real problem with this first past supposed system is that even though an individual may not be the most popular person? It is possible through certain tricks of the book.
Ansari: I’m aware of those tricks.
Bhupen: To ensure that an individual, that what no. of votes that you require today to become an MP or MLA is actually on an average 30%..
Ansari: That is what I’m trying to point because this is less than substantive. You know the term that i have used is you know, substantive..
Bhupen: Ya, ya substantive…
Ansari: Substantive! This is really an expression used by Dr. Ambedkar. He said unless democracy is also political democracy has to be accompanied by social democracy. You have to have a measure of equality in the electorate. Only then can you say that the famous words he used was “One vote, one wait”.
Bhupen: And now see what are we talking about. We are talking about “one nation one poll”. Let that be one election.
Ansari: No, no that’s a different thing because that slogan I’m afraid cuts at the very root of a federal system.
Bhupen: You think it’s a bad idea?
Ansari: If we have a federal system, yes. If you want to change the system into a unitary republic of India, that’s a different matter altogether.
Bhupen: But there are many who say that there is just far too much energy, money, time which is spent on simply contesting elections, India’s forever electioneering mode. Is that a good idea?
Ansari: No! Why why we are spending so much money, why? Why does every national leader have to go and participate in every state poll. Why? Isn’t there talent in the state? Doesn’t the state of Karnataka or Assam or Gujarat have local talent? After all how do they produce a chief minister a minister. Let them do the local agenda at the local level or the unitary agenda and let the national leaders concentrate on national level. I mean I’ve known instances when sessions of parliament have been tweaked because leaders have to go to participate in the state elections. Why should they go? I don’t see the logic of it. The state has got its own leaders..
Bhupen: But the Mp also comes from the state no sir? Then why should that comes that particular MP not go back to the state?
Ansari: The MP may go but why does the leader have to go? Why does everyone have to go?
Bhupen: So you say that one leader! Your saying that this individual characteristic which seems to be now becoming a part of Indian politics. You believe that that’s something which takes the definition the notion of Indian democracy in a completely reverse direction?
Ansari: It is taking us into the direction of the unitary state and that was not the intention of the constitution makers and it is not the intention even today if you go by public pronouncements, we talk of cooperative federalism. But there are two words there. federalism. What does federalism mean? Federalism means that you have got federal units, whether it is Bihar, whether it is Karnataka, whether it is Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab.
Bhupen: So your advice to the powers it be today because I raised this ques about one nation one poll at a time in the law commission is busy preparing its report and that report I understand will be submitted within the next one month on whether India should be moving towards the one nation one poll system. Your vote is not for this one nation one poll system?
Ansari: Because I’ve another question. All these elections that have been conducted, let’s say in the last 2-3 general elections. The moment the election is announced, the election commissioner or the chief election commissioner makes a beeline to north block, to the union ministry of home office to sit down with the union home secretary, what is his requirement of paramilitary forces and then you get a situation I know my own state in UP you are familiar with it. Voting takes place in 7.
Bhupen: Correct! Last election was in 7 phases.
Ansari: 7 phases! Why? If you ask and talk to the people and I did talk to various people concerned. This is security forces have to move all the way from Meerut in stages to Gorakhpur. So i mean how much of security forces do you require nationally? We can’t visualize the situation when a million strong Indian army is taken off the borders and used for electoral processes. That’s not intention.
Bhupen: Okay! Let me move on the other points sir that you have dealt within the book is the university system, the education system of India. You come from AMU, you have pretty much been across the country. There is a new proposal sir which is being mooted these days which is to have a reservation for Dalits in minority backed institution, in minority dominated institutions and none less than the office of UP chief minister wants to pilot this project. Do you support this idea?
Ansari: Well! The honorable chief minister may be having his own reasons for making such a proposal but he should have consulted his lawyers. This matter, these things are not done in universities because somebody has a whimsical idea. These things are done as per rules and regulations. Universities function under the watchful eye of the grand commission and the HRD ministry so if university X or Y has a system or admission, it is known to all there is nothing secret about it.
Bhupen: The UGC incidentally is on its way towards extinction. The government doesn’t want UGC.
Ansari: You may have another institution, it does not matter you can call it by any name you like. But the point is, look we already have a situation in the country which I don’t think the public is sufficiently aware of. We had until recently perhaps 10-15 years ago, a public funded higher education system and all institution here and there started coming up which is privately funded and the fee structure was the same. A much higher fee structure. Now there has been a sudden proliferation I think over a decade and a half when private funded institutions have come up. I have a social and sociological ques then, until now irrespective of whether a child came from a fluent family or lesser fluent family or a poor family. Whether he went to a municipal school or he went to a private school and the best private school whether it’s Sherwood college or Doon school or anywhere else. There was a meeting point b/w the two. When they get to the Allahabad university, when they get to Benaras university, Delhi university JNU, the 2 streams meet socially, sociologically and then doesn’t matter whether you went to an allied school or you went to a municipal school. Now this is under..
Bhupen: Under fire!.
Ansari: Not under fire, it’s happening. The well to do’s family will send its child to an allied school, private of course and then the child will come out and go to an allied college or university private again. Where does the 2 streams meet? They don’t meet.
Bhupen: So they don’t meet at all.
Ansari: So it is sociologically from a point of view of social cohesion it is not a good thing. I mean university i was in, the university you were in. People from all the backgrounds came and when you came to the university you lived in the same hostel. You ate the same food, there was nothing special about you or me.
Bhupen: Does it sometimes hurt you sir, you have been associated with JNU as well, look at the discourse which takes place. It’s almost is a, what is nationalist and what is anti-nationalist. Everyone is forced to take a position, prove your nation, prove your commitment to the definition what should be…
Ansari: Who has the right to decide? I question that. I’m a citizen of this country by law.
Bhupen: By questioning itself you become anti-national.
Ansari: Why should your ambit of what is national be so narrow that everybody is outside it? The Indian approach traditionally, the Indian society’s approach, the Indian state comes later in the game. Indian society’s approach is to be as inclusive as possible. You come from rural U.P. I come from rural U.P. – what was the ethos then? You participate in other’s functions. On moments of joy, moments of grief, daily business, nobody questions whether your shop here, my shop there is divided by a line. It’s not. This is the traditional ethos of this society, this is how the society has lived. This is how our saints and preachers did the khauja of Ajmer or Guru Nanak, or Sant Kabir or any of the great gurus ask this question ki tumhara dharma hai? They never did.