In a provocative statement, veteran Congress leader and former Union minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, has referred to P.V. Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister of India, as the “first BJP prime minister.” Aiyar accuses Rao of steering the nation away from its secular foundations and towards a path of communalism.
Speaking at the launch of his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Maverick: The First Fifty Years (1941-1991),” on Wednesday, August 23, Mani Shankar Aiyar candidly shared his perspective on the political landscape. The event hosted by The Wire witnessed Aiyar’s bold comments, shedding light on Rao’s alleged transformation.
The revelation came during a conversation about secularism, a topic that Aiyar maintains is of utmost importance. Recalling a pivotal moment, Aiyar shared, “When I was on my Ram Rahim Yatra from Rameshwaram to Ayodhya, I was summoned from Odisha to come back to Delhi and Narasimha Rao said to me, ‘I don’t disagree with your yatra but I do have a disagreement with your definition of secularism.'” Aiyar continued by recounting his dialogue with Rao on the subject.
Aiyar’s exchange with Rao revealed the latter’s viewpoint on secularism and the nation’s identity. “So I asked him, ‘Sir, what is wrong with my definition of secularism?’ and his reply which has remained engraved in my heart and on my soul was, ‘Mani you don’t understand that this is a Hindu country’. I sat up in my chair and said, ‘This is what the BJP says. (But) this is not a Hindu country. We are a secular country and in this secular country we have a huge majority of Hindus but we also have nearly 200 million Muslims and several other Christians, Jews, Parsis and Sikhs. So how can we be a Hindu country? We can only be a secular country.'”
Aiyar then laid the blame for India’s perceived shift towards communalism on Rao. “It is because Narasimha’s mind was so partisan, was so sectarian that he led this country from the secular path to the communal path.”
P.V. Narasimha Rao served as India’s Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996. His tenure is notable for initiating economic liberalization reforms in 1991. However, it was also marked by the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. This event triggered communal riots resulting in significant loss of life.
Aiyar’s autobiography delves into his experiences as a diplomat within the Indian Foreign Service, with a significant period spent in Pakistan as consul general in Karachi from December 1978 to January 1982. The book also sheds light on his relationship with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Additionally, it explores his observations during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, questioning governmental responses to the violence.
A companion volume is expected to delve into the Rajiv Gandhi era in greater detail, offering readers a comprehensive insight into that period of India’s political history.