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Manispeak on modi

MANISPEAK ON MODI By Prem Chandran When you have friends like Mani Shankar Aiyar, do you really need an enemy? .....

: Oct 2012
: Adur, Kerala, India
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By Prem Chandran

When you have friends like Mani Shankar Aiyar, do you really need an enemy? It would take only time to testify whether the former minister, self-acclaimed sycophant of the Gandhi-Nehru family, and one among the rootless wonders that straddle politics in the national capital, has done a service or disservice to the Gandhis and Nehrus by spiting PM hopeful Narendra Modi the way he did this past week. But, those who know this former foreign service official also know he draws his sustenance from badmouthing others and derives vicarious pleasure out of it. In other words, when Aiyar was not singing praise of the Gandhi-Nehru family -- a voluntary effort at that out possibly of a conviction that there is no India without this family -- he was spitting venom on someone, if talks in media circles some years ago were any indication.

Narendra Modi as a young boy might have sold tea at a railway platform where his family had run a tea stall, which is the way with life in entrepreneurial Gujarat, but are we here to label a three-time Chief Minister as a tea-seller? It is another matter whether Modi relishes it or cares two hoots about it. It is a question as to whether we, as Indians, possess a culture that we speak highly about, both in place and out of place.

With age, men can become senile. But, Mani Shankar Aiyar is not old enough to be senile. His problem, one suspects, might be a frustration welling in him as he, with his acid- sharp tongue and an ego larger than the size of the Himalayas up north, finds himself on the sidelines of the political spectrum for quite some time now. We are not here to probe why.

Well-publicized is the comment he once made against Mulayam Singh, and that too to Amar Singh! “Oh that bloody Mulayam… he looks just like me… It could be because my father visited Uttar Pradesh at some point. Why don’t you check with Mulayam’s mother?” Fact is, neither his vicious language nor the blatant praise he kept showering on the ruling family ever gave him a dignified aura. Even little educated Congressmen have not gone that far, at least in the open. This is common knowledge. Nor does his occasional references to his Doon School background in the company of worthies like Rajiv Gandhi, gave him that special halo. In the capital’s elite clubs and ordinary hangouts, Doon School and JNU are labels quite a few flaunt to reinforce their credentials or to make sure that they are not seen as ordinary cast-away. One gets to meet with such men even in cities abroad where Indians reach out to. If that gives them some comfort, why deny them that?

With the kind of education Aiyar got, and the upbringing one supposes he had, one might expect of him to write and talk in a more refined way. But, alas, he does not. There was a time when he made a profession out of vicious writing, tastes of which were amply evident over two decades ago, perhaps his prime time, when he spit venom on the likes of Ram Jetmalani through his weekly column in Sunday magazine published from Calcutta. He went as much as to call the seasoned lawyer a (barking) dog. Jetmalani’s fault was that he had sharply criticised Rajiv Gandhi or the Nehru family. Times might have changed, but clearly Aiyar has not calmed down on his viciousness. Rather, either with possible feelings of having been sidelined in the party edifice, or with hopes of a reentry in Delhi’s corridors of power, he seems to enjoy spitting more of venom these days, its targets being the likes of Narendra Modi. (“If he wants to make tea, we will give him space at AICC pandal”).

Likely, the past is hanging heavy on this Doon School alumni, who rightly boasts of being a Brahmin who may not necessarily claim to carry the sense of refinement that goes with being part of the priestly class, both in words and deeds.

There are very many reasons to cite and put Narenda Modi on the mat, if only for the reason he held the reins of administration of a vast state of four crore people for well over a decade, and is still being battered for the way he handled a Hindu-Moslem riot in the state in the initial years of his governance. This is what one expects of a seasoned and educated politician like Mani Shankar Aiyar. Instead, he seems to have sought the easy but vicious route to seek to tickle the sensations of those who he thinks might one day run the Congress show or wield the destiny of the nation. Certainly, he is not a semi-literate who dawned out of the blue on the political horizon in Uttar Pradesh, to make silly comments as the one he made.

Modi might love to flaunt his tea-seller image if only to prove that by his individual strengths he rose to such heights. But, those who know the life in Gujarat should also know that is the way children are trained there to face life’s struggles. The man who set up India’s first private port, the Pipavav, in the west coast, Gujarat, started earning small coins by selling plastic feeding bottles in the streets after his school hour. He went on to do betel leaves business, going to Calcutta, procuring it, keeping it in plastic buckets close to the toilets of unreserved railway compartments on his journey back to Mumbai, occasionally sprinkling water from the toilet tap, and making small profits by selling the commodity for higher price in Mumbai. That is Gujarat for you!

Mani Shankar Aiyar possibly had the luxury of having been born in what looks like a middle class family in Lahore where his father was some kind of an accountant. (Story also goes that after his father’s sudden death, the family found it difficult to pay his school fees, and his mother sought to compensate it by taking up a job at the school). Stints abroad as a foreign service officer had not helped level his ego; rather, it looks like, that added to his sense of arrogance. At one time, he used to boast how Rajiv Gandhi, a junior at Doon, backed his candidature for school student union presidentship, though there was no mention whether he won it or not. At the end, at his present age, if he is still in his school-boyish swagger, can anyone help?

Last edited by Premchandran; 01-20-2014 at 09:56 AM
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