Widely hailed as a gentleman and a scholar, M Hamid Ansari today stepped down as the vice president of India, bringing to an end what was largely an uncontroversial tenure with unexpected outspoken comments that stirred a national debate. The soft-spoken former diplomat -- the only vice president to serve two terms after S Radhakrishnan -- marked his departure with words of concern about threats to plurality and about insecurity among Muslims in a television interview yesterday.
"I am an Indian and that is it," he said, describing as "unnecessary" calls for assertion of a citizen's commitment to nationalism.
Ansari, 80, was first elected Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman in 2007, when he defeated the NDA's candidate Najma Heptullah.
In 2012, he was re-elected to the post when he won against the BJP's Jaswant Singh by 252 votes.
Kolkata-born Ansari, who schooled at St Edwards in Shimla and graduated from St Xavier's College in what was then Calcutta, joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961. The grand-nephew of former Congress president and freedom fighter M A Ansari, the VP - originally from Ghazipur in UP -- was India's permanent representative to the United Nations.
Ansari's forte was West Asia, where he served as ambassador in Indian missions in the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
The editor of 'Iran Today: Twenty Five Years After the Islamic Revolution' earlier wrote columns on foreign affairs, often focusing on West Asia.
The former vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University -- from where he completed his doctorate -- was the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities post retirement when the United Progressive Alliance government and the Left named him as their candidate for the vice presidential post.
In the last few years, Ansari has occasionally been criticised by members of the National Democratic Alliance. BJP leader Ram Madhav, for instance, had made adverse comments when Ansari did not salute the national flag at the Republic Day Parade when then US President Barack Obama was the chief guest.
It was later clarified by Ansari that he was following the protocol, under which only the President saluted the flag at the ceremony.
"From now on you will be free to act, talk and work in accordance with your basic political ideology and instinct," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Ansari -- who will be succeeded by M Venkaiah Naidu tomorrow -- in the Rajya Sabha at a farewell function today.