Mani Shankar Aiyer
It wasn’t for the first time that the seasoned Congressman tried to stand out in a crowd at a function attended by other Congressmen and students of Kashmir valley. While on his recent trip to Kashmir, Mani Shankar Aiyar triggered a fierce debate due to his ‘controversial’ statements which forced many of his detractors to term his understanding of Kashmir issue as “amateurish” when he said that ‘the governments of India and Jammu and Kashmir had failed people in Kashmir’.
Political observers labeled his comments as ‘sweeping’, seemingly addressing to the galleries. But that hardly bothered Aiyar, “I stand for that what I said and people have to decide now who is wrong or right,” he said. His Kashmir trip ran into rough weather when the celebrated diplomat turned politician addressed a gathering of students at an engineering college in Pattan last week and said, “It was J&K Police which killed people in 2008, 2009 and 2010.” He also questioned the magnitude of Army deployment in the state.
The state’s lawmakers soon reacted to Aiyer’s outpouring and said that such statements were aimed at demoralizing the J&K police. “Police is part and parcel of the state and its people. It is his (Aiyar’s) personal opinion and makes no difference”, Sajjad Kichloo, state home minister, said. But MY Tarigami, CPI (M) state secretary, hailed Aiyar for endorsing “reality”.
Mani Shankar Aiyar (Born April 10, 1941) has served 26 years in Indian Foreign Service, the last five of which were on deputation with the Prime Minister’s Office under Rajiv Gandhi (1985–1989). He resigned from service in 1989 to take up a career in politics and media, entering the Parliament as a Congress MP from Mayiladuthurai constituency of Tamil Nadu in 1991, 1999 and 2004.
He was a part of the first cabinet of Dr Manmohan Singh when Congress came to power in 2004 and served as the union Panchayati Raj minister till he lost his seat in 2009 elections. He served as the union cabinet minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas from May 2004 through January 2006 and ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports till 2009.
Aiyer was born in Laxmi Mansions, Lahore, in Pakistan which, as post-Partition refugee property housed the family of Saadat Hassan Manto. His younger brother is the well known journalist, Swaminathan Aiyar. At the function when Aiyar asked a student whether he was successful in winning his heart, the boy shot back, “Better luck next time, sir.”
I was at the function with Mani. There were no other “Congressmen” present. Not one. While he expressed his views as he always does, the function had nothing to do with politics. It was a graduation ceremony for students and a personal visit.