Mani Shankar Aiyar and Narendra Modi aren’t the best of friends. But it is lamentable that Aiyar, a Rajya Sabha member who has also been minister in the previous UPA dispensation, has chosen to parade his antipathy to Modi in the most undiplomatic manner, on a public platform. His classist remark during the 2014 general election deriding Modi for being a chaiwala in the past was criticised by almost everyone, including his own party, the Congress. Yet, Aiyar prefers to be carefully careless about civilities when he has to speak on PM Modi’s policies.
Aiyar plumbed a new low when he told the anchor of a Pakistani television show on Tuesday that Modi has to be removed from office for India-Pakistan relations to improve. “Pehle toh Modi ko nikal do,” he said, when asked for suggestions to take the peace process forward. Aiyar should know that Modi is a democratically elected leader. The people of India have given him the mandate to form a government and make public policy. Aiyar or anyone can criticise the government, but to insist on a public forum that peace between India and Pakistan is contingent on the ouster of the country’s prime minister is not just distasteful, but also disrespectful to India’s democratic tradition. His cynical view that peace has no chance for the next four years, since Modi will be in office, is no different from the belief shared by Hindutva hardliners that talks with Pakistan are not just undesirable but also impossible. Aiyar has the reputation of being a Pakistan expert and his views are taken seriously in that country. As a self-confessed campaigner for peace on the subcontinent, Aiyar must ask himself if his loose comments on Modi will help further the dialogue process between the two neighbours.
Aiyar, an erudite speaker and writer when he wants to be, would surely know that timing and context are important factors in public debate. Moreover, erudition cannot be a substitute for insight or hide the elitism evident in his polemics. Personalised attacks on opponents — like the chaiwala remark — did not help his own party in the 2014 general election. In fact, Aiyar’s sharp comments, often delightful, have
frequently forced the Congress to disassociate with his views. As the Congress spokesperson advised him the other day, Aiyar ought to “make statements after careful consideration” and stop embarrassing his country, the party and himself.