India: Why Pluralism and Secularism Are Essential for Our Democracy

The Wire: In his final address as vice president, Hamid Ansari spoke at the annual convocation ceremony at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, on August 6. Reproduced below is the text of his speech.

It is a privilege to be invited to this most prestigious of law schools in the country, more so for someone not formally lettered in the discipline of law. I thank the Director and the faculty for this honour.

The nebulous universe of law and legal procedures is well known to this audience and there is precariously little that I can say of relevance to them. And, for reasons of prudence and much else, I dare not repeat here either Mr Bumble’s remark that ‘the law is an ass’ or the suggestion of a Shakespearean character who outrageously proposed in Henry VI to ‘kill all lawyers.’ Instead, my effort today would be to explore the practical implications that some constitutional principles, legal dicta and judicial pronouncements have for the lives of citizens.

An interest in political philosophy has been a lifelong pursuit. I recall John Locke’s dictum that ‘wherever law ends, tyranny begins.’ Also in my mind is John Rawl’s assertion that ‘justice is the first virtue of social institutions’ and that in ‘a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled and the rights secured by justice and are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interest.’ To Rawls, the first task of political philosophy is its practical role to see, whether despite appearances on deeply disputed questions, some philosophical or moral grounds can be located to further social cooperation on a footing of mutual respect among citizens.

The constitution of India and its preamble is an embodiment of the ideals and principles that I hold dear.

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