Narasimha Rao First ‘BJP PM’, Says Congress Leader Mani Shankar Aiyar

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Congress parliamentary party chief Sonia Gandhi was present at the function where the former diplomat said Shilanyas at Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was wrong. He also said Narasimha Rao was Hindu-oriented.

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — Former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was “communal” and “the first BJP PM” of the country, Congress leader and former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said here on Wednesday.

The former diplomat, whose autobiography “Memoirs of a Maverick — The First Fifty Years (1941-1991)” hit the stands on Monday, also batted for the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan. “We have the courage to carry out surgical strikes against them, but we don’t have the guts to sit across the table and talk to a Pakistani,” he said.

The book traces Aiyar’s journey from Welham preparatory school to Doon School and then on to St Stephen’s College and Cambridge University, and from being a top diplomat handling sensitive assignments to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s key aide who was dubbed the slain leader’s ‘Mani Friday’. Aiyar was part of Rajiv Gandhi’s PMO from 1985-1989.

In a free-wheeling conversation with senior journalist Vir Sanghvi at the formal launch of his book here, Aiyar, 82, talked about a host of issues — from his relationship with Rajiv Gandhi to his stint as consul general in Karachi from December 1978 to January 1982. 

Congress parliamentary party chief and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi was present in the audience, media reports said on Thursday.

During the question and answer session, Aiyer was questioned on his criticism of Rajiv Gandhi in handling the Babri Masjid issue. He replied: “It shows that I am even-handed. I think the Shilanyas was wrong.

“I think the biggest mistake that Rajiv Gandhi made was to bring in awful R.K. Dhawan into the PMO which immediately politicised an office that was otherwise, for the previous four years, a purely technical office and was giving the right advice without getting into politics.” 

In his remarks at the book launch, Aiyar said he discovered “how communal and how Hindu-oriented” Narasimha Rao was.

Aiyar went on to narrate a conversation he had with Rao at a time when he was carrying out ‘Ram-Rahim’ yatra.

“Narasimha Rao told me that he had no objection to my yatra, but he disagreed with my definition of secularism. I asked what was wrong with my definition of secularism. He said Mani you don’t seem to understand that this is a Hindu country. I sat up in my chair and said that is exactly what the BJP says,” Aiyar recounted.

The first BJP prime minister was not Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the “first BJP PM” was Rao, he said.

Rao led a Congress government and served as the ninth prime minister of India from 1991 to 1996.

The diplomat-turned-politician also recounted that when it was suddenly announced that Rajiv Gandhi was going to be prime minister he wondered how a man who was an Indian Airlines pilot was going to run the country.

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