Imagine having a friend nominated as Vice President of India! I am sure there are other people whose friends have entered high portals, but one would be hard put to find one so eminently deserving of recognition, one who does, not just his friends, but his country proud, as Hamid Ansari. The pride and glee are however, tempered with a hint of regret; no longer would we be able to have long discussions on the state of India’s educational system, the problems in the Middle East, gossip about the UN or India-US relations, in the lounge of the IIC or even on the telephone! Protocol, security will, and have already, reared their heads as Hamid moves into inaccessible circles One cannot really gossip with the Vice President of the country—or can one?
Years ago, when we were relatively junior officials in the Indian Foreign Service, Hamid had, in his understated and quiet way grumbled about the stereotyping of Muslims in the service, most of whom were posted to Muslim countries. Of course, Hamid broke the mould, and while retaining his intense interest in the countries of West Asia, he went on to become the Chief of Protocol, High Commissioner to Australia, Ambassador to Iran and Permanent Representative of India to the UN in New York! And his West Asian experiences made him an authority on issues relating to developments in that volatile region. Not that we always agreed, but Hamid’s cultural sophistication and passion for the country frequently had me mumbling agreement, even after weakly trying to defend my own less literate views.
After we had both left the service, I saw Hamid in another incarnation, as Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University. In fact, that year, friends celebrated, at the home of another high achiever, the nomination of three friends as Vice Chancellors. Bets were taken as to who would give up first! Incidentally, and to the credit of all three, not one gave up before their tenures were completed. I saw how deeply Hamid had immersed himself in the challenges facing AMU when, during a relaxing weekend with the Ansaris, I was given the opportunity by Hamid to meet young faculty members and students, both formally and informally, to hear from them their views on the issues facing the university. A Foreign Service officer, a retired Ambassador supposedly out of touch with the "real" India, was reacting with an innate and sincere sensitivity to issues troubling his charges. Somehow, one took it for granted that Hamid would be able to cope, little realizing what an effort it must have been to move from diplomacy and the byways of international relations to academia! One frequently wondered at his energy, his involvement with issues both domestic and international, his extensive reading and writing, and then of course, his appointment as Chairman of the National Commission on Minorities , a charge which reflected his own passionate interest in and desire to achieve something concrete in what may well be one of the most complex challenges facing the country. Of course, our discussions inevitably became progressively more and more telephonic, though not less lengthy.
As a friend, one cannot be impartial or unbiased about Hamid Ansari. But there is no doubt that Hamid’s experience and the way in which he dealt with each of the responsibilities given to him have prepared him as few others, for his current nomination. There was a feeling of vicarious pride when a Foreign Service officer became President of the country, but he was a respected senior, an already lofty personage. Hamid, on the other hand, is one of us, one of the fewer and fewer persons one really talks to when things happen, in the country, in the world and even when they don’t. As a friend one knows he will handle challenges with dignity and sophistication, he will cope.
Once Hamid’s nomination as Vice President was announced, the newspapers greeted the appointment with delight—a scholar, a statesman and above all a gentleman—to a Bengali, a ‘bhadralok’ .He is all of those, but he is also a man of firm and strong views and an impartiality of spirit, articulate and self deprecating, a warm and loyal friend. For once, one salutes those who had the discrimination to select him to uphold the honour of the country.
Arundhati Ghose was India's permanent representative/ ambassador to the United Nations. In 1996, she dramatically vetoed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament, a step that some say would not have been taken without her. This piece was originally written for Outlook Saptahik