Ansari sounds caution for democracy in parting note
Outgoing VP irks govt, saffron brigade with tirade against intolerance

On the last day of his decade-long tenure as the Vice President of India and the Upper House Chairman, Hamid Ansari ruffled a few feathers in the government by saying that a democracy could degenerate into a tyranny if free and frank criticism of government policies was not allowed.

The remark came a day after Ansari, whose second five-year term as the Vice President ended on Thursday, said in an interview that there is a feeling of unease and a sense of insecurity among Muslims in the country, claiming that the “ambience of acceptance” is now under threat.

Extensively quoting former Vice President S Radhakrishnan, Ansari in his farewell speech, said, “A democracy is likely to degenerate into a tyranny if it does not allow the opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government.”

He said while the members “have every right to criticise, their right of criticism should not degenerate into wilful hampering and obstruction of the work of Parliament. All groups, therefore, have their rights and their responsibilities.”

He added that “a democracy is distinguished by the protection it gives to minorities. But at the same time the minorities have also their responsibilities.”

Ansari, who has been instrumental in the decision that laws should not be passed amid din, said there should be a calibrated restraint on hasty legislation. He said the Rajya Sabha upholds democracy’s sacred creed that debate and discussion were not a stumbling block, but an indispensable preliminary to wise action.

Stressing that the Chair was like an umpire in cricket or a referee in a hockey match, witnessing the play and the players but without becoming a player, Ansari said, “Its only source of reference is the book of rules. This House is a creation of the Constitution and reflective of the wisdom and foresight of the founding fathers, who wished it to portray India’s diversity and to be a calibrated restraint on hasty legislation. It has upheld democracy’s sacred creed that discussion, instead of being a stumbling block in the way of action, is in fact an indispensable preliminary to wise action. Deviations from this golden rule contribute neither to diligent policy making nor to our claim to be a mature democracy based on rule of law.”

Ansari said he hoped that all sections of the House would seek to achieve this laudable objective, as the manner in which they conduct business is watched by the citizens with a discerning eye.

Earlier, Ansari was accorded a warm farewell by leaders from across the political spectrum, with members recalling his contribution towards enriching Parliament’s functioning. Most of them appreciated his constant endeavour to stick to the rules and not allow any legislation to be passed during din. Some members also said that his decision to change the timing of the Question Hour from 11 am to 12 pm every day had proved beneficial. Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that he had done his best to uphold the Constitution.