Mani Shankar Aiyar slams ex-PM P V Narasimha Rao, calls him 'first BJP PM'

03:11 PM Aug 24, 2023 | PTI |

Congress leader and former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar on Wednesday alleged that former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao was ‘communal’ and described him as the ‘the first BJP PM’ of the country.


The former diplomat, whose autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Maverick — The First Fifty Years (1941-1991)’ hit the stands on Monday, also batted for resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, saying that when it comes to that country, ‘we have the courage to carry out surgical strikes against them but we don’t have the guts to sit across the table and talk to a Pakistani’.

The book, published by Juggernaut Books, traces Aiyar’s journey from Welham preparatory school to Doon school and then on to St Stephen’s College and Cambridge University, and from being a top diplomat handling sensitive assignments to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s key aide who was dubbed his ‘Mani Friday’. Aiyar was part of Rajiv Gandhi’s PMO from 1985-1989.

In a free-wheeling conversation with senior journalist Vir Sanghvi at the formal launch of his book here, Aiyar talked about a host of issues — from his relationship with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to his stint as consul general in Karachi from December 1978 to January 1982.

Congress parliamentary party chief and Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi was present among the audience.


During the question and answer session when asked about his criticism of Rajiv Gandhi in handling the Babri Masjid issue, Aiyar said, ‘It shows that I am even-handed. I think the Shilanyas was wrong.’

‘I think the biggest mistake that Rajiv Gandhi made was to bring in awful R K Dhawan into the PMO which immediately politicised an office that was otherwise, for the previous four years, a purely technical office and was giving the right advice without getting into politics,’ the 82-year-old leader said.

In his remarks at the book launch, Aiyar said he discovered ‘how communal and how Hindu-oriented’ P V Narasimha Rao was.

Aiyar went on to narrate a conversation he had with Rao at a time when he was carrying out ‘Ram-Rahim’ yatra.

‘Narasimha Rao told me that he had no objection to my yatra, but he disagreed with my definition of secularism. I said what is wrong with my definition of secularism. He said Mani you don’t seem to understand that this is a Hindu country. I sat up in my chair and said that is exactly what the BJP says,’ Aiyar recounted.

The first BJP prime minister was not Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the ‘first BJP PM’ was Rao, he said.

Rao led a Congress government and served as the ninth prime minister of India from 1991 to 1996.

The diplomat-turned-politician also recounted that when it was suddenly announced that Rajiv Gandhi was going to be prime minister he wondered how a man who was an Indian airlines pilot was going to run the country.

‘It was only after I saw how he run this country, I came to admire him,’ he said.

Aiyar said he would be dealing with the controversies that surrounded Rajiv Gandhi such as the Bofors and the Shah Bano cases in the subsequent volumes.

‘My problem was that I was no confidant of Rajiv Gandhi. In fact, I think he thought that I was politically naive. He never consulted me and never took my advice on anything political,’ Aiyar told the audience that was packed with several Congress leaders and former Indian Foreign Service and Indian Administrative Service officers.

The only reason that Rajiv Gandhi did not continue as the prime minister was because he was such a good man, Aiyar said.

‘The man was most upright, straight forward and principled…He (Rajiv Gandhi) did not have the deviousness of V P Singh or the twists and turns of an Arif Mohammad Khan,’ Aiyar said. Aiyar, who was in the foreign service till 1989, also talked about Pakistan at length.

‘We were coming back from a dinner one day when my wife Suneet asked me a question that reverberated in my mind in my stay in Karachi — ‘This is an enemy country, right?” Aiyar said he asked himself the question through his three years there and for the last 40 years since he came back from Pakistan.

‘Is Pakistan an enemy country? My short answer to that is that Pakistanis are not enemy people. The government of Pakistan does a lot of things that does make them an enemy of ours. But how far are they reacting to us and how far are they provoking us? …When it comes to Pakistan, we have the courage to carry out surgical strikes against them but we don’t have the guts to sit across the table and talk to a Pakistani,’ he said.

Aiyar asserted that increasingly Pakistan ceased to be a foreign policy issue and become a domestic one.

‘(This is) Because the word Pakistan and the word Pakistani are used as dog-whistles to indicate Indian Muslims and that is why these icons of Indian youth — Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan Shahrukh Khan — have in the past been told to go to Pakistan. Why go to Pakistan, why not Bangladesh, why not Saudi Arabia. They are told to go to Pakistan so that the prejudices that we have against Pakistanis are transferred to the Muslim icons of India’s youth,’ he said.

He said former prime minister Manmohan Singh showed that by engaging with Pakistan they could arrive at a four-point agreement on Kashmir.

‘So long we are not able to settle issues with Pakistan, I am afraid Pakistan will be an albatross around our necks and we will never become ‘vishwaguru’ of the world,’ he said.

Aiyar also hailed Sonia Gandhi for being a pillar of support as he navigated in politics after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. ‘With Rajiv gone many thought that let’s finish this guy. I survived in the party only because of her (Sonia Gandhi)’.

He said he was made cabinet minister by Sonia Gandhi even though the prime minister wanted to have him as a minister of state.

Talking about his flirtations with communism, Aiyar also said he was ‘probably the poorest boy in the richest school’. This led him to question inequalities in society.

In Cambridge, he said, he took tutorials under Maurice Dobb who was highly regarded as Britain’s leading Marxist analyst. Dobb could not answer most of his questions and he was disillusioned with Marxism.

Aiyar said the Intelligence Bureau meanwhile learned that he was very Left wing and so when he passed the foreign service exam, they ‘banned’ him from all services.

Aiyar narrated it was finally then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s nod and file noting that brought him in the service which he said was worth the trauma he had to go through.


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