Biography of Mani Shankar Aiyar

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Indian Union Cabinet Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar Biography
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Mani Shankar Aiyar (born April 10, 1941, Lahore, British India) is a former Indian diplomat who resigned from foreign service and became a politician working for Rajiv Gandhi in 1989-1991.

Mani Shankar Aiyar is a member of the Indian National Congress party and was the 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.

Mani Shankar Aiyar represented the Mayiladuthurai constituency of Tamil Nadu in the 14th Lok Sabha.

Mani Shankar Aiyar Early Life

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 V. Sankar Aiyar, a chartered accountant, and Bhagyalakshmi Sankar Aiyar.

Mani Shankar Aiyar younger brother is the journalist, Swaminathan Aiyar. He lost his father at age 12 in an air crash.

Mani Shankar Aiyar attended Welham Boys’ School, The Doon School and St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. 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.

Mani Shankar Aiyar graduated in economics from Delhi University, and then did a two-year Tripos in Economics at Cambridge University 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.
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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).

Mani Shankar Aiyar Career

Mani Shankar Aiyar flanked by party workers

He served 26 years in the IFS, the last five of which were on deputation to the Prime Minister’s Office under Rajiv Gandhi (1985-1989). He 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 badly mauled in 1996, 1998 and 2009.

Mani Shankar Aiyar 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 and has written several books, including Pakistan Papers and Remembering Rajiv, and has edited a four-volume publication, Rajiv Gandhi’s India.

Mani Shankar Aiyar special interests include, grassroots democracy, Indian foreign policy particularly with India’s neighboring countries and West Asia and nuclear disarmament.

Mani Shankar Aiyar Personal Life

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 is doing her Ph.D at Harvard University in History.

Mani Shankar Aiyar Notable Quotes

  • “Sir, my secular answer to the honorable member is that where it is in the hands of Allah, we turn to Allah, where it is in the hands of man, we turn to man.”
  • “Every five years, it is the masses who determine who will form the government. And in between those five years the classes determine what that government will do.”

Controversies

While on a tour of the Andamans as the Cabinet Minister, 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.

Mani Shankar Aiyar 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. Aiyar was also involved in a public brawl with politician Amar Singh.

Mani Shankar Aiyar Publications

Aiyar has written four books –

  • “Remembering Rajiv”, Rupa, 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.