Mani Shankar Aiyar

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Mani Shankar Aiyar
Mani Shankar Aiyar on a visit to Itanagar
Nominated MP
In office
22/03/2010 to 21/03/2014
Personal details
Born (1941-04-10) 10 April 1941 (age 73)
Lahore, British India
Nationality Indian
Political party Indian National Congress
Spouse(s) Suneet Mani Aiyar
Relations Swaminathan Aiyar (brother)
Children 3 daughters
Residence Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu
Alma mater The Doon School
St. Stephen's College, Delhi
Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Occupation Diplomat, Journalist/Writer, Political and Social Worker
Religion Hinduism

Mani Shankar Aiyar (born 10 April 1941) is a former Indian diplomat turned politician. He is a member of the Indian National Congress party and was a part of first (2004–2009) Cabinet of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh He has served as the Union Minister of Panchayati Raj until he lost his seat in the 2009 Election. He served as the Union Cabinet Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas from May 2004 through January 2006 and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports till 2009. He was also the first Minister for the Development of the North East Region. (DONER)

He represented the Mayiladuthurai constituency of Tamil Nadu in the 14th Lok Sabha. He is currently a nominated member of parliament from rajya sabha. He was defeated from Mayiladuthurai in 2014 lok sabha election where he finished fourth and lost his deposit.

Early life[edit]

Mani Shankar Aiyar, Second from left, Dorjee Khandu, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, and Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India

Mani Shankar Aiyer is the son of Vaidyanatha Shankar Aiyar, a chartered accountant, and Bhagyalakshmi Shankar Aiyar. He was born in Laxmi Mansions, Lahore in British India which, as post-Partition refugee property, came to house the family of Saadat Hassan Manto.[1] His younger brother is the well known journalist, Swaminathan Aiyar. He lost his father at age 12 in an air crash.

He attended Welham Boys' School, The Doon School and obtained B.A. in Economics from St. Stephen's College, Delhi, University of Delhi. While at Doon, he was an editor of The Doon School Weekly.[2] After the loss of his father, Aiyar's mother had to negotiate with Doon to allow him to continue his studies with reduced fees and in return she taught at the school.[3]

He graduated in economics from Delhi University, and then did a two-year B.A. in Tripos in Economics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge at the University of Cambridge which, in the Oxbridge tradition, became an M.A with the passage of time. He was a member of Trinity Hall. He was also an active member of the Marxist Society in Cambridge. At Cambridge, Aiyar joined student politics and once even tried to win a presidential contest. He was supported by Rajiv Gandhi in his campaign who was his junior both at Doon and Cambridge.

Until very recently, he was living in Sainik Farm, a construction declared illegal by the Delhi High Court (as the last Lok Sabha Members' Yearbook 2006 shows).

Career[edit]

Mani Shankar Aiyar flanked by party workers

He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1963 and served as Joint Secretary to Government of India. He later resigned from service in 1989 to take up a career in politics and media, entering the Parliament as a Congress M.P from Mayiladuthurai in 1991, 1999 and 2004 but was defeated in 1996, 1998, 2009 and 2014.

He is a special invitee to the Congress Working Committee and a chairman of both the party's political training department and the department of policy planning and coordination. He is also a well-known political columnist[citation needed] and has written several books, including Pakistan Papers and Remembering Rajiv, and has edited a four-volume publication, Rajiv Gandhi's India.

His special interests include, grassroots democracy, Indian foreign policy particularly with India's neighboring countries and West Asia and nuclear disarmament.

Personal life[edit]

He was married on January 4, 1973 to Suneet Mani Aiyar. They have 3 daughters – the eldest, a lawyer, the second, a development consultant, and the youngest, an assistant professor at MIT in Department of History.[4]

Controversies[edit]

While on a tour of the Andamans as the Cabinet Minister in the latter part of 2004, Aiyar was quoted as saying at the Cellular Jail there that there was no difference between the radical right-wing revolutionary Veer Savarkar, a famous inmate of the prison, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, as they shared a 'divisive' philosophy. He also ordered that a plaque with a poem commemorating Savarkar be replaced with a plaque with quotes from Mahatma Gandhi. Savarkar had been tried and acquitted for conspiring in Gandhi's assassination. Reports of the incident paralysed Parliament and led to agitations by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Aiyar's remarks created confusion as well in the ruling party; the official spokesman, Anand Sharma, noted that the Congress Party did not consider Savarkar either a freedom fighter or a patriot. A few days later, the Prime Minister dissociated himself and the cabinet from that view.[5]

Aiyar was also involved in a public brawl with politician Amar Singh.[6] According to Singh, Aiyar insulted Singh's then party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and remarked: "Oh that bloody Mulayam -- he looks just like me. It could be because my father visited Uttar_Pradesh at some point. Why don't you check with Mulayam's mother." [7]

In September 2011, Aiyar visited his alma mater—St. Stephen's College—to speak about 'Governance and Corruption: Is Panchayati Raj A Solution?'. However, he began to mock the Hansraj College and its former student Ajay Maken. He also billeted the Kirori Mal College and the BA (Programme) Degree, a course in the University of Delhi. This led to an agitation by the students of Hansraj College. When the agitated students approached him, he mocked them even further. When later questioned by the media, Aiyar refused to apologise and rather ridiculed the institutions even further. Baffled by his remarks, Stephen's College and its students went on to apologise to Hansraj College and extended a hand of friendship.[8]

Bal Thackeray, quoting from journalist Dhiren Bhagat's book the Contemporary Conservative, accuses that "when Indians were donating money and jewellery - even sweaters - to sustain India's fight against the Chinese in 1962, Mani Shankar Aiyar, as secretary of the Cambridge unit of Communist party, was busy collecting funds for Chinese soldiers". He further alleges that the Aiyar family's powerful political connections expunged his records as a threat to national security and cleared his way into the Indian Foreign Service.[9] In the Rajya Sabha in August 2013, Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal accused Aiyar of being a Pakistani spy, when he refused to discuss the recent murder of 5 Indian soldiers by the Pakistani Army and instead suggested discussing rising gas prices. Aiyar reacted sharply and tried to assault Agarwal.[10]

Another example for his arrogance is when he mocked Narendra Modi's Prime Ministerial ambitions and said a place will be identified for the Gujarat Chief Minister to distribute tea here. [11] He said that "I promise you in 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," Aiyar said at the venue of the AICC meeting in New Delhi. This statement is said to have created anger against the Congress and sympathy towards Narendra Modi, which further helped BJP's election campaign.


As sports minister, he effectively scuttled India's bid for Asian Games in 2007.It was widely felt that Delhi's lack of enthusiasm to host the event was the primary reason for its loss. Then Union Sports Minister of India, Mani Shankar Aiyar, spoke strongly against Delhi hosting the games and argued that it was better if the money allocated by India's government for organizing the sporting event was spent on building facilities for the poor. [12]The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president revealed that India's Sports Minister remarks against hosting the Games was the main reason for New Delhi's loss.[13]

Publications[edit]

Aiyar has written seven books –

  • Remembering Rajiv, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 1992
  • One Year in Parliament, Konark, New Delhi, 1993
  • Pakistan Papers, UBSPD, New Delhi, 1994
  • Knickerwallahs, Silly-Billies and Other Curious Creatures, UBS Publishers, 1995
  • Rajiv Gandhi's India, 4 vols. (General Editor), UBSPD New Delhi, 1997
  • Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist, Penguin, 2004.
  • A Time of Transition: Rajiv Gandhi to the 21st Century, Penguin, 2009.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Read Manto’s fiction to grasp Indianness". HT Mint. 9 March 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  2. ^ 'History of the Weekly' published by The Doon School (2009) p.33
  3. ^ "‘The IB ultimately came to the conclusion that I was indeed a Marxist, but of the Groucho variety’". Tete-a-tete (Calcutta, India: The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata)). May 18, 2008. 
  4. ^ Aiyar, Sana. "Assistant Professor". Assistant Professor. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ "'Don't invite the likes of Mani. If you must, limit them to two pegs' - The Times of India". The Times Of India. 
  8. ^ "Aiyar mocks Hans Raj again, belittles Kirori Mal too - The Times of India". The Times Of India. 
  9. ^ "Sena turns the heat on Aiyar". Times of India. Aug 22, 2004. 
  10. ^ "Why Mani Shankar Aiyar tried to attack SP leader Naresh Agarwal in Rajya Sabha". First Post. Aug 6, 2013. 
  11. ^ http://www.firstpost.com/politics/modi-wont-be-pm-but-he-can-distribute-tea-mani-shankar-aiyar-1345419.html
  12. ^ "India vs. China as a Global Sporting Events Host". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. 2008-09-19. Retrieved 2010-07-04
  13. ^ "Delhi loses bid to host 2014 Asian Games". Outlook India. 2007-04-17. Retrieved 2010-07-04.

External links[edit]

Political offices
New title Minister of Panchayati Raj
2004–2009
Succeeded by
C. P. Joshi
Preceded by
Ram Naik
Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas
2004–2009
Succeeded by
Murli Deora