OPINION |Mani Shankar Aiyar, a politician inspired by Jawaharlal Nehru & Rajiv Gandhi

Recently, Congress president Rahul Gandhi revoked Mani Shankar Aiyar’s suspension from the grand old party on the recommendation of its central disciplinary committee.

Mr. Aiyar was suspended from the primary membership of the Congress on December 7 last year for his “neech aadmi” remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the eve of the Gujarat Assembly polls.

Gandhi’s decision triggered a strong reaction from the BJP which called him a “man of many controversies”.

Suspending Mr. Aiyar and after eight months undoing the same–both decisions–I think, have surprised many within the political corridors of the country.

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After his revocation order, I recently met the 77-year-old leader. It was a courtesy meeting as I have already met him twice–once during the beginning of my journalism career in December 2013 and then again in July 2017 when I took his interview.

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During the recent meeting, at one moment I casually asked him why he decided to leave his lustrous Indian Foreign Service (IFS) job and joined politics. While going down the memory lane, he said and I quote:

“I was very much influenced by Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru. I was six-year-old when he became PM and I was 23-year-old when he died. So the whole of my childhood, my youth was completely dominated by one man. And my admiration for him has never ceased. And all my political thinking has been very deeply influenced by my understanding of what Mr. Nehru stood for. It is not that I’m blind to the many mistakes he made. But I can’t imagine anyone being PM for 17 years and making no mistakes.”

Mr. Aiyar further added:

“But it seems to me that every mistake he made was when he walked away from the path of Nehruism. When Nehru was Nehru he made no mistakes.”

He recalled that he met “Panditji” only once during his IFS training.

Going further down the memory lane, remembering first PM’s death, with a heavy voice, Mr. Aiyar said, “And one of the saddest memory I have is standing outside Teen Murti House waiting for his mortal remains to pass after he died.”

When Congress stalwart was talking about the former PM of India, I was looking directly at him and he was talking with so much interest as if he was reliving those days. There was a spark in his eyes when he was mentioning about ex-PM Nehru.

He then moved to another generation and started talking about another former PM-Indira Gandhi-and how she faced the Syndicate.

He also talked about the Emergency period and said, “When the Emergency came, I lost all my illusions about the Congress party. I was so disillusioned with the Congress that I went to the polling booth in Moti Bagh (Delhi) in December 1984 to cast vote against the Congress candidate.

“Fortunately, my name was not in the voter list. I didn’t cast my vote.” Mr. Aiyar said while laughing.

“But that month Rajiv Gandhi won the election and when I heard his speeches…I was very keen to work with him,” he said while remembering his old days.

He further elaborated how he got the chance to work with Mr. Rajiv Gandhi.

He recalled that he was assigned the job of organising the tour programmes for the then PM Gandhi. He said he grabbed that opportunity as he always wanted to travel across the country.

While smiling, Mr. Aiyar recollected that how traveling with Mr. Rajiv Gandhi on the flight was also part of work as he used to draft his speeches as he was his principal speechwriter. He recollected that between 1985 to 1989, he must have drafted a thousand speeches for him and not even once failed to provide the draft on time and slowly and gradually his bond with Mr. Gandhi grew stronger.

He remembered how Mr. Gandhi wanted good relations with the neighbouring countries of India.

Reliving old days, Mr. Aiyar said that on many issues his views and those of Mr. Gandhi were similar like on nuclear disarmament and the Panchayati Raj.

He said Rajiv Gandhi’s work made him his great admirer and till today he admires Mr. Gandhi.

Mr. Aiyer while summing-up said, he always wanted to be in politics and finally, he decided in 1989 that the rest of his life he will spend in politics. He while smiling said that Rajiv Gandhi had warned him from entering politics but he was very adamant.

Remembering his four terms in Parliament (one in RS and three in LS) he said-“My best term was my first term. The party had placed great reliance on me. And was trusted…I was offen with Ms. Gandhi, I was allowed my independence, I could have my own thoughts.”

He further added and I quote:

“Now, I have no ambition for myself except being given another opportunity to fight my 8th election from Mayiladuthurai which was gifted to me by Rajiv Gandhi. I want one last 8th time. This is one final desire.”

No doubt sometimes, like many other politicians, Mr. Aiyar also said some things over the top or which he should not have said but then the point remains that there are many others who have said many things about many other politicians which they also shouldn’t have said!

In his 30 years of career in Congress (not adding the approx. 4 years which he had spent with Mr. Rajiv Gandhi as an IFS officer), Mr. Aiyar has served the party in many ways.

So Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s decision of revoking the suspension seems justifiable.

Who knows what plans Congress president has in his mind now for Mr. Aiyar. Maybe he is planning to give Mr. Aiyar a bigger role like fighting another election or just stopping the things at the point of revocation of suspension only!

Mani Shankar Aiyar
Mani Shankar Aiyar

About the author: Anurag Sason is journalist with more than 7 years of experience in mainstream journalism. He has worked in newspaper, news agency, TV and digital media.  He tweets at @AnuragSason

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are personal.

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About feature image: EXCLUSIVE, any use of the image (Mr Aiyar with Mr Gandhi) without permission may lead to legal action.

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