Country cannot be run with the PM as the “head priest”: Mani Shankar Aiyar

The Congress leader says that India has reached its ‘moral nadir’

January 26, 2024 09:38 pm | Updated February 14, 2024 03:33 pm IST - CHENNAI

The Maverick politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar with Chandan Gowda at the The Hindu Lit Fest on Friday.

The Maverick politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar with Chandan Gowda at the The Hindu Lit Fest on Friday. | Photo Credit: M. Srinath

Claiming that India is at its “moral nadir”, veteran Congress leader and former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Friday that the country cannot be run with the Prime Minister acting as the “head priest”. He was speaking at The Hindu Lit for Life.

In a discussion with author Chandan Gowda, who is the Ramakrishna Hegde Chair Professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Mr. Aiyar said that he was optimistic that the country with a civilisational history of embracing diverse cultures for over 5,000 years would assert itself against ten years of misusing religion for politics.

He said that he was optimistic that India will eventually win, although INDIA — the Opposition alliance — may lose some elections. He said it was because of this optimism that he refused to leave the Congress even though the party was neglecting him.

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Pakistan ties

Mr. Aiyar pointed to Pakistan, which he claimed is collapsing without political stability or economic or social progress, as an example for why a nation cannot be formed on the basis of religion. Stating that Muslims chose to remain in India during the partition and have proved their loyalty, he said the dog whistles projecting Muslims as a kind of fifth column sitting in India cannot be allowed to continue.

Recalling the warmth he experienced from local residents while serving in Pakistan as an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) official, he said that if one gave Pakstanis hatred, they would give hatred 20 times back. “If you give them love, it is amazing how friendly they are,” he said. Arguing that the people of Pakistan were India’s biggest asset, he said that the trouble with the IFS was that they knew how to make friends with far-off Paraguay, but not with neighbouring Pakistan.

Stating that bilateral issues could be resolved in no time if one engaged properly with Pakistan, Mr. Aiyar recalled how the Manmohan Singh-led government was close to signing an agreement on Kashmir with Pakistan if the Pervez Musharaff’s government had not faced its own troubles at that time.

Discussing his book, Memoirs of A Maverick, he recounted the extraordinary struggles his mother — who was orphaned as a child and later widowed at a young age — went through to educate herself and to ensure a quality education for him and his siblings.

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