By Quamar Ashraf
During the launch of his book “Memoirs of a Maverick,” former diplomat and Cabinet minister Mani Shankar Aiyar shared his perspectives on various political topics, including the Hindutva tilt of P.V. Narasimha Rao, the influence of Arun Nehru in the Congress party, the Shah Bano case, and India’s relationship with Pakistan.
Aiyar stated that he considers P.V. Narasimha Rao, a Congress leader, to be the first Prime Minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rather than Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
During a conversation with journalist Vir Sanghvi, Aiyar openly criticized those around former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who reportedly played a role in his entry into politics.
Specifically, Aiyar expressed concerns about the growing influence of Arun Nehru in Congress party affairs. Aiyar delved into a range of topics, spanning his association with ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to his tenure as consul general in Karachi from December 1978 to January 1982.
In his book, published by Juggernaut Books, Aiyar also addressed two contentious issues in Indian politics: the Babri Masjid demolition and the Shah Bano case. He considered opening the lock of the Babri Masjid in 1986 as a grave mistake. Regarding the Shah Bano case, Aiyar acknowledged its complexities and criticized the mishandling of the situation by individuals close to Rajiv Gandhi, particularly referring to Arif Mohammad Khan.
In terms of India’s relationship with Pakistan, Aiyar criticized a prejudiced mindset within India that hinders friendly relations. He highlighted that during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister, senior officers of the foreign ministry drafted a treaty, “hoping Pakistan would reject it”. Aiyar argued that such a mindset has become dominant in India’s current political discourse, particularly with the rise of Hindutva ideology.
Furthermore, Aiyar criticized the Narendra Modi-led government’s policy vis-à-vis Pakistan. He argued that it is absurd to ignore its neighbour and advocated for engagement, people-to-people contact, and goodwill gestures. “It is ludicrous to suggest that India is the ‘vishwaguru’ when we don’t know what to do with our neighbour,” Aiyar claimed.
The event, held in New Delhi, was attended by prominent figures including Vice President Hamid Ansari, former UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Salman Khurshid, and various renowned journalists, authors, and scholars.
Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Adviser under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, delivered opening remarks, emphasizing the book’s significance in providing valuable insights into Aiyar’s critical perspective on historical events and contemporary political issues.