Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mohammed Hamid Ansari Reelected Vice President of India: Becomes Second Person To Get Two Terms in Country’s Second Highest Office

United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) candidate Mohammed Hamid Ansari was reelected vice president of India on August 7, defeating NDA’s candidate Jaswant Singh by a large margin of 252 votes. As expected, the election of Ansari for a second term as the vice president was noncontroversial and smooth. The surprise, if any, was not in the outcome, but in the political churning that overflowed from the presidential election. After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made an overambitious attempt to disrupt Pranab Mukherjee’s bid for the presidency, this was an occasion to recover lost ground. The party sought to first retain its old allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (United), and then win over non-Congress allies such as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, instead of looking to poach disgruntled elements within the UPA. The less ambitious strategy was not intended to win the election for its candidate, Jaswant Singh, but to keep the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) united and in fighting mode for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Seventy-five-year old former IFS officer, Ansari becomes the second person after Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, India’s first vice president (and second president), to get two terms in the second highest office.

Ansari got 490 votes, against Singh’s 238, of the 736 votes polled. Eight votes were declared invalid. Altogether 787 members of two Houses of Parliament were eligible to vote.

Ansari, a Padma Shri recipient, was a surprise choice for vice president in 2007, proposed by the Left, then giving outside support to the UPA government. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had named Ansari as the second choice of her party for the presidential election after Pranab Mukherjee. The Left had no problem supporting him again.

Among those who did not vote were ailing Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, admitted to a Chennai hospital, and BJP’s Shatrughan Sinha, recovering from surgery, in addition to 21 BJD members, 11 from TDP and six from the Congress and supporting parties.

Others who did not vote included two nominated MPs, two each from the BJP, AGP, RSP and TRS and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, one of two YSR Congress members.

Ansari will once again be the chairman of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Parliament) by virtue of his election as vice president.

Career Profile
Born in Kolkata (Calcutta) on April 1, 1937, while his family hailed from Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, Ansari completed his schooling from St. Edwards High School in Shimla, attended the St. Xavier's College, University of Calcutta, and pursued MA in Political Science at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), where he also got his doctorate degree and worked as lecturer.

Ansari – the grand-nephew of former Congress President Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, a leader of the Indian independence movement – is also a reputed West Asia scholar. He has authored a book-- Travelling Through Conflict. He has written books on Palestine, Iraq and Iran. Some of his views have run contrary to India's official position. He had questioned India's vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran's nuclear program where the country voted against Iran.

Ansari also upheld a decision as NCM Chairperson when in 2007 he agreed with the position taken by St. Stephens College, Delhi, to earmark seats for Dalit Christians.

Ansari was chairman of a working group on "Confidence building measures across segments of society in the State," established by the Second round Table Conference of the Prime Minister on Jammu and Kashmir in 2006. The report of the working group was adopted by the Third round Table in April 2007.

In the past, a suave and sober Ansari has served in many positions, including as Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Indian High Commissioner to Australia and Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961.

Ansari became vice chancellor of the AMU in May, 2000 and held the post until March, 2002. He is also known for his role in ensuring compensation to the victims of the Gujarat riots and pushing for a complete re-look into the relief and rehabilitation for riot victims since 1984. He is also known for his strong views on burning issues.

"The language used by the Pope sounds like that of his 12th-century counterpart who ordered the crusades... It surprises me because the Vatican has a very comprehensive relationship with the Muslim world," Ansari had said in 2006 as Chairman, Minorities Commission of India, in reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam.

As chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Ansari faced criticism when the Opposition parties expressed unhappiness at the manner in which he “abruptly” adjourned the House on the night of December 29, 2011 (Winter Session) during the debate on the Lokpal Bill.

Advantage UPA
The result of the election was a foregone conclusion as the numbers were stacked in favor of the ruling alliance. It managed to get the backing of its estranged ally Trinamool Congress and the parties extending it outside support. These include arch rivals, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. The Left parties also supported Ansari.

Undoubtedly, the importance of the reelection of Ansari as the country's vice president lies not just in the United Progressive Alliance managing to get its candidate through with a convincing margin, after sending its presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee to Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House).

Both these victories have undoubtedly come as a morale-booster for an otherwise beleaguered ruling combine, battered over the last two years by scams and crises. There was a time two months ago when the ability of the UPA to get its candidates elected as President and vice president was under serious doubt.

Nor does Ansari's import lie merely in him being able to successfully transit from being viewed as a nominee of the Left parties -- which had supported him for vice presidentship in 2007 and they had their way because of the clout they carried in UPA I -- to being adopted as the candidate of the Congress, and the UPA.

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