Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Mani Shankar Aiyar and his courtship with Pakistan

Before I talk about Mani Shankar Aiyar, let me share with you a story.

One late evening, two lovers,  a young boy and a young girl (gender mentioned lest a fertile brain imagines something bizarre) who were also neighbours, entered their hideout from where they came out after nearly four  hours. They did not know that a couple of their neighbours had quietly followed them and waited for their return from the hideout. Next morning the neighbours informed the lovers’ parents.

When the girl’s father asked what they were doing for such a long time in the night at that place, the first innocent reply was that they there were very much in their respective houses throughout the period of so-called absence. When confronted with proof of their going out for long hours, the boy replied, “Yes, we had gone to discuss weather of the city. You know it is so polluted and dangerous to our existence.” The girl’s angry father asked, “Discussing weather for four hours?” The girl meekly explained, “We had also dinner.” “Nonsense. Do you people take four hours for dinner?” The girl’s father retorted. She explained, “It was a candlelight dinner, dad.” Coming to her help, the boy further explained, “You know, big candles last for hours. We were waiting for candles to extinguish.”

Meanwhile, the neighbours who had observed their movement, had joined the question- answer session. “Did you discuss only weather or something else also?” Asked one of the neighbours. The boy boldly answered him, “Actually, we went there to future relationship over dinner. You can say it was a pre-marriage party.”

“What! How can you discuss your marriage without our consent?” Parents of the boy and the girl shouted almost simultaneously. The lovers were ready for such a question. “We are adults, free to take any decision. We know what is good for us. Our marriage would ensure harmonious relationship between two neighbouring families also.”

The parents could not dismiss their claim that they were adults but refused to approve of their spending four hours in a hideout in a night without their knowledge, what to talk of consent. They declared that they did not approve of such secret meetings without formal marriage. “You people don’t deserve our blessings.” Parents of both gave their verdict. “Never mind.” The lovebirds gave the counter they thought was most befitting.

Soon, the secret meeting in the light was talk of the locality. The lovers collected their friends and made a public announcement, meant for their parents. “They are narrow minded fellows. They are villains of the peace. Let them bark. We don't care for such people. You too ignore their foolishness. We are going to be life partners.”

The parents cursed their bad luck. For the people of the locality, it became a subject of discussion on the propriety of such secret meetings of lovers in night. If one said, “Can you imagine a young boy and a young girl spending four hours all alone and only eating and discussing without any rehearsal of what would be performing after the marriage”, Another would add, “They had been doing it for a long time.”  Anyway, disregarding all the criticisms, the lovers continued to defend their action.

It is not known whether they really got married or continued with their courtship, candlelight dinners and rehearsals.

 This is a real life story. May not be very common but is not so uncommon as to deserve categorisation as “Believe It or Not”.

Having heard that love story I was not surprised when I learned about complete denial of any meeting of VVIPs from both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border organised by diplomat turned politician Mani Shankar Aiyar at his residence in the evening of December 6, this year. When those who denied realised that a meeting attended by about 20  dignitaries including a former Vice President of India, a former Prime Minister of India, a former General of Indian Army, High Commissioner of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in India, a former Minister of Pakistan and few others, could not go unnoticed, they announced, “Yes, there was a meeting but it was for a very good cause, namely the relationship between India and Pakistan.” It was followed by another reason. We were told that “it was actually a dinner party” in the honour of visiting former Minister of Pakistan.    

The diplomat Aiyar thought that the old saying that "offence is the best defence" could silence his critics. So on the morrow of the dinner party, he made public announcement of what he thought of India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. I will prefer not to repeat the exact “adjectives” he used but he said something to give his idea of Modi’s character and status. Used to heaps of abuses ever since he became Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi has learnt to take advantage of such abuses to establish rapport with the poor people of the country who too are abused by the elites. After all, Mani Shankar Aiyar who has studied at premier colleges of India and England, was in the Indian Foreign Service and also a Minister in the Sonia Gandhi-controlled Union Cabinet, belongs to the elite class. That is why he was not ready to digest that a poor man who once used to sell tea at a railway station  could   become Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, especially when the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, trained by none other than his illustrious mother, was waiting to take over. Unfortunately, the people of India ignored Aiyar’s advice that once a ‘chaiwala’ (tea-seller) is always a ‘chaiwala’ and chose ‘chaiwala’ who was already Chief Minister of Gujarat, to be their leader.

After being betrayed by the people of India in 2014 and more worried about India-Pakistan relationship than about India, a little more than two years ago, Aiyar crossed the border, literally, and declared on a TV channel of Pakistan that the relations between the two countries would not improve as long as Modi was Prime Minister. He said, “The first and the foremost thing is to remove Modi. Only then can the talks move forward…..Bring us (the Congress) back to power and remove them. There is no other way.”

The anchor of the channel and many others in Pakistan were as shocked as the people in India but no one asked Aiyar who in Pakistan would remove Modi and bring the Congress back to power.

Aiyar, the diplomat, must be knowing that only the Pakistani army and ISI, the real rulers of that country, have authority to grant such a request. Was his request to them? Are Pakistani army and ISI now testing water in Gujarat and the dinner meeting on December 6 was called to discuss the progress on the eve of the first phase of elections in the state (though the allegation has been denied)?

The last question: how long will the courtship initiated by Aiyar continue?

Devendra Narain