Aiyar's Party

Liberals like Aiyar are fast becoming misfits in present scenario of Indian politics

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 15 2017 11:04PM | Updated Date: Dec 15 2017 11:04PM
Aiyar's PartyFile Photo

Pak-bashing has yet again overtaken an Indian electoral process. The run-up to Gujarat election had an incidental side-show, a dinner party hosted by Mani Shankar Aiyar. Apart from former PM—Manmohan Singh, former vice-president—Hamid Ansari, the party had a mix of former Indian diplomats, journalists, retired army general—Deepak Chopra and some Pakistanis. Former Pak foreign minister—Khurshid Kasuri was a prominent invitee, as well as Pak ambassador to India. The meeting became a bone of contention. PM Modi picked on a reported comment by a Pakistani guest that Ahmad Patel should become CM of Gujarat as interference in the elections in the state. In fact he took it further, alleging conspiracy.

Mani Shankar Aiyar’s comment during a tour of Pakistan that with Modi in the saddle of power there is hardly a chance of improving Indo-Pak ties was taken to be a ‘supari’ for eliminating Modi. ‘Supari’ is the underworld offering for eliminating a potential foe. It was taking things too far. In spite of being an avowed supporter of Indo-Pak reconciliation, Aiyar’s comment on PM Modi having reservations on Indo-Pak ties could hardly hike to the level of elimination. ‘Supari’ comment could be uncalled for, unbecoming of PM Modi. Having interacted with Mani Shankar Aiyar as a member of civil society, I could vouch for his love for his country and its institutional make-up. His punch for Indo-Pak reconciliation does not extend to any concession on Kashmir beyond an autonomous status within the Indian Union. It falls far short of Kashmiri aspirations, and opts for status quo. His opinion about Modi aside, it takes nothing away from love for his country. There are nuances of Gujarat election beyond what Aiyar might have said or left unsaid.

Mani Shankar Aiyar has for his outspokenness become a liability for his party. He calls himself a freelance congressman. Congress in an attempt to outdo BJP is going to lengths which liberals like Aiyar find offensive. In cultural nationalistic drive, Congress is one-upping on BJP to an extent where any distinction between the two appears blurred. Rahul Gandhi feels compelled to visit more temples than BJP in order to profess his love for religion. Visiting temples or mosques could hardly be taken as moving against secularism; however visiting religious sanctuaries for electoral gains fits neither the normal religious practice nor the secularist realm. It amounts to politicising religion, a practice seen with regularity in Gujarat election. Liberals like Aiyar are fast becoming misfits in present scenario of Indian politics.  One comment on Modi has even cost him basic membership of congress party, though he tried to explain it in different context, given his poor understanding of Hindi. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s tone and tenor, his comments on PM Modi, above all his dinner party formed the cannon fodder for Modi to use in Gujarat electoral hustings.        

Electoral politics may not as a rule affect relationship with any country, especially a neighbouring nation state. It might be conceded though that foreign relations form a part of state policy, hence focussing on it in an electoral contest could be taken as a routine. However, foreign relations should remain within the purview of elections to the national parliament, given that foreign relations form a central subject. In elections to state assemblies, the focus may remain on matters pertaining to the state, particularly developmental activities. The constitution is clear on subjects falling in the state list; foreign relations do not form a part of it. It might thus be prudent to leave foreign relations out of an electoral contest to a state assembly. In run-up to Gujarat elections, Pakistan was dragged into a controversy, obviously for electoral gains.

Pakistan exists as a separate nation state since August, the 14th 1947, however the umbilical linking with the mother country does not appear to be totally severed on the psychological plain. Though physical separation is a historical fact, the feeling of an identical twin having opted out stays. It is an eerie feeling that pervades. Hence, conspiratorial theories abound. Gujarat electoral run-up was no different, with PM Modi suggesting at an election rally that Manmohan Singh and others held a ‘secret meeting’ with Pakistani officials at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence to ‘influence’ the outcome of the Gujarat elections. Contrary to his usual mild demeanour, the allegation evoked sharp response from Dr. Singh. It had him relating that, “I am deeply pained and anguished by the falsehood and canards being spread to score political points in a lost cause by none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi." To get one-up on Modi, he added--prime minister travelled to Lahore uninvited after two terrorist attacks in Udhampur and Gurdaspur. Whatever the tone and tenor of Dr. Singh or his emphasis, it is clear that he was trying to corner Narendra Modi vis-à-vis conduct of foreign policy. Pak-bashing remained the central plank in what Modi emphasized or Manmohan retorted. Comments on Pakistan—straight or tangential were meant for electoral dividends. 

It brings larger questions into focus. Does Pak-bashing make a sound national policy, irrespective of the party—BJP or Congress holding the reins of power?  Or, is it proper to sacrifice foreign policy objective of good neighbourly relations at the altar of domestic considerations? Or, do perpetual acrimonious relations with Pakistan fulfil long term policy objectives?  Questions abound—questions that crave for serious answers.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]


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