Hamid Ansari – a man for all occasions!

By Murali Krishnan, IANS

New Delhi : Be it book launches, speeches or promotion of a website, Vice President Hamid Ansari – with 50 public appearances in just under five months – is a man for all occasions.

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Ansari, also the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of parliament, has set himself a scorching pace, be it in his role as chief guest to deliver public addresses, compulsory attendance during visits of foreign dignitaries or giving out awards.

From speaking at the Urs celebration of poet Amir Khusro to delivering the key address at the national conference on Dalit organizations, talking to an assorted audience at the convocation of Gwalior’s Lakshmibai National Institute or addressing alumni of Berkeley University, Ansari has been a big draw.

“Yes, we do receive a lot of invitations for the vice president to be present. He tries to accommodate most requests but sometimes because of his pressing engagements has to skip some,” said a close aide of the diplomat-turned-vice president.

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, during his five-year stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan that ended in July last year, set an unprecedented record by delivering over 1,020 speeches all over the country.

Loosely translated, this meant giving a whopping 250 speeches every year, which included multi-media tele-conferences, video addresses and educational satellite talks.

Ansari seems to be going Kalam’s way. He has been involved in at least 10 book launches till date, promoted a website bdguptafoundation.com – a tribute to late Haryana chief minister Banarsi Das Gupta – and released an audio CD “Sada-e-Sufi” by artiste Anita Singhvi.

Last month, Ansari released the Oxford India Anthology book of “Modern Urdu Literature”, the “State of India’s Democracy” brought out by the Centre for Policy Research and a quaint book “Jhansi Mein Kranti”.

He was also chief guest at the release of former UN undersecretary general Shashi Tharoor’s book “The Elephant, The Tyre and The Cellphone” and journalist Nirmala Lakshman’s “Writing a Nation – An anthology of Indian Journalism”.

The 70-year-old vice president – who has served as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to Iran, Australia and Saudi Arabia – also delivered the Justice Sunanda Bhandare memorial lecture as Kalam had done during his tenure, an honour normally reserved for presidents.

His innings as vice president has largely been smooth except when he created a small flutter at a seminar on emerging security concerns in West Asia in November last year where he remarked that US polices had given an impetus to terrorism in the Middle East.

Though it was unusual to see the vice president voicing an independent – even critical – opinion at variance with the government, Ansari declared there that US policies were aiding terrorism and even suggested that Iran’s nuclear programme was reasonably benign.

However, Ansari’s views found support among those who know him. “For a person who knows the region so well and having served in many missions during his diplomatic career and besides bringing out a book ‘Iran Today’, he is well within his rights to air his views at such a forum,” said a confidant who did not want to be named.