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OPINION | From Hafiz 'Sahab' to Mughal Kings, Mani Shankar Aiyar Keeps the Gaffes Coming

By: Kumar Dhananjay

Edited By: Aditya Nair

Last Updated: December 27, 2017, 11:33 IST

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. (Reuters)

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. (Reuters)

Attempting to hit back at Maharashtra Congress leader Shehzad Poonawalla’s allegation of organizational elections being rigged, Mani Shankar Aiyar said something which allowed political adversaries to take a jibe at him and his party.

Mani Shankar Aiyar had landed in hot water again. This time for remarks on Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to the post of Congress president.

Attempting to hit back at Maharashtra Congress leader Shehzad Poonawalla’s allegation of organizational elections being rigged, Aiyar said something which allowed political adversaries, including PM Narendra Modi, to take a jibe at him and his party.

"When Shah Jahan came in the place of Jahangir, did any election happen? And when Aurangzeb came in place of Shah Jahan, did any election happen? It was known to everyone that the throne of the king will automatically go to the heir."

Following this statement by Aiyar, the PM said he wanted to congratulate the Congress for ushering in Aurangzeb Raj’.

Statements like these have landed Aiyar in trouble in the past well.

Chaiwala Jibe at Modi

He had managed to put his foot in the mouth ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when he referred to Modi as a ‘chaiwala’. At an All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting, he had said: "I promise you, in the 21st century, Narendra Modi will never become the Prime Minister of the country.... But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him.”

The BJP and Modi used that remark to full advantage, selling it to the voters as an insult to Modi’s “humble roots”.

Aiyar vs Maken

Aiyar hasn’t even spared fellow Congressmen. In September 2013, he shocked many when, in an interview, he called then Sports Minster Ajay Maken a “BA pass from Hansraj College”, wondering how he could use “big words like ‘dichotomous’”.

Aiyar was referring to a letter Maken had written to then PM Manmohan Singh, accusing the former of being an “obstructionist” in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games.

Hafiz Saheb Gaffe

Aiyar had also courted controversy when he addressed 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind and internationally designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed as ‘sahab’.

“Hafiz Sahab belongs to a minority group and the majority of Pakistanis want peace with India. Like Hafiz Sahab, we also have some Hafizs who do not want progress but thankfully common people here want better links. We want him arrested and taken to a terrorism court.”

Terror Talk

After the terror attacks in Paris and the killing of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, Aiyar said, in an interview, said “We have to admit that ever since there has been a war on terror after 9/11, many innocent Muslims have lost their lives. This is what America did in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is, therefore, only to be expected that there will be a backlash. Countries like America can’t do what they want just because they are powerful. Why should just powerful countries act this way? Why should those who are less powerful not respond? Powerless people will find powerless means of responding when there are drone attacks.”

Coming just after the attacks, this statement was seen as a justification of the terror strikes.

Animal Remark

Last but not the least is Aiyar’s “animal remark” which he had used to describe the deadlock over FDI.

In a television debate, the senior leader had said, "There is a decent and respectable way to express one's point of view. This behaviour of the MPs reminds me of animals screaming in a well."

Questions that arises now is this — why does Aiyar continue to make such statements which harm his party and the family he owes his political existence to.

As late as October, Aiyar had said that only two people — ‘mother or son’ — can become the party president, referring to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

He was part of the group nurtured by the late Rajiv Gandhi. This group was often described as ‘Doon babalog’, a reference to their schooling in Dehradoon schools.

The problem lies in the fact that the old guard of the Congress cannot see beyond a Gandhi scion taking over as the party president. In view of this, such statements not only give political opponents an opportunity to mock the party and its leaders but also shows their disconnect with the times.

They still think in terms of ‘political heir’ and compare it with the days of monarchy, forgetting that the young Gandhi set to become party president was the one advocating for internal elections in the party.

Aiyar did clarify later that anybody is welcome to contest the party president elections, but the damage was done. PM Modi is not someone who lets these opportunities go. Aiyar could have done better by asking BJP leaders when was the last time there was a contest for the top post within their own party.

(The author is a journalist. Views are personal)

first published:December 05, 2017, 11:44 IST
last updated:December 27, 2017, 11:33 IST