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Should Mani Shankar Aiyar be charged with Sedition?

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By Nithin Sridhar

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Former Union minister and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has again made a controversial statement during a panel discussion on Duniya TV, a Pakistani TV news channel.

When the channel anchor asked Aiyar about how to end the current stalemate in India-Pakistan relationship, Aiyar replied: “Hume le aiye, inko hatayiye (Bring us, remove them) i.e. bring congress and remove the Modi government.

Only when the anchor of Duniya TV reminded Aiyar that it was up to the Congress party to remove the current Indian government that Aiyar corrected himself and stated: “Yes we will remove them, but till then you (Pakistan) must wait.”

Politicians, irrespective of the parties they belong to, always make controversial and sometimes abhorrent statements especially during elections- be it Sonia Gandhi calling Narendra Modi as ‘a merchant of death’ few years ago, or a recent statement by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in which he asked all beef eaters to go to Pakistan. There are also a large number of incidents wherein the media has misreported or twisted the words of politicians to suit their own agenda (for example, a recent controversy over General VK Singh’s puppy comment).

But, even a cursory look at the panel discussion wherein Aiyar had spoken, it is quite clear that this is not a case of misreporting, misinterpretation, or misunderstanding. Aiyar can be seen quite clearly and spontaneously as asking Pakistan to remove the Modi government.

It should be further remembered that Aiyar did not make this statement in India or while speaking to Indian media. Aiyar’s words were clearly aimed at Pakistani establishment and Pakistani audience. The fact that the channel anchor had to remind Aiyar that it is up to congress party (and not a work of Pakistan) to bring regime change further reinforces the fact that Aiyar’s statement was clearly directed at Pakistan.

This is a clear case of propagating anti-national sentiments that amount to sedition. Further, his statement can be construed as an attempt to influence the rival nation to interfere in the domestic politics of India and bring about a regime change here. For otherwise why would he say “bring us, remove them”?

This is not a minor issue to be ignored or sidelined. Aiyar’s statement reinforces the growing perception that there are breaking India forces who are working hard to bring down Modi government and stall India’s development.

The question to be asked to Aiyar is, what help did he expect from Pakistan for bringing Modi down? Did he want Pakistan to wage war against India, which is highly unlikely to bear any result? Or did he want Pakistan to simply remove Modi from the picture using Jihadi assassins or to instigate and abet riots across India? There is no other way in which Pakistan can influence Indian domestic politics.

Expressing similar concerns, Madhu Kishwar, a well-known author and activist, tweeted:

Though, the Congress has distanced itself from Aiyar’s comments, it is not enough. If Congress is really dedicated to democracy, then it should remove Aiyar from the party. Further, the Modi government should not ignore the issue and should start legal proceedings against Aiyar so that a strong message is conveyed to all the breaking India forces.

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Why Mani Shankar Aiyar is misunderstood

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The issue with my friends on the right side of India’s political spectrum is that they view Pakistan in a different light as compared to Mani Shankar Aiyar or people like me. To understand Aiyar, one ought to understand the Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and so as to apprehend that Congress one must know the role India’s Grand Old Party played in the freedom struggle that culminated into the country’s independence and also partition along the lines of religion in 1947.

68 years ago, a people – who had so much in common in terms of language, culture and food habits and who had been living together for centuries as brothers – were divided in the name of religion, leading to the formation of Pakistan, a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent.

The cataclysmic partition took place despite the Congress party’s incessant efforts to somehow keep India united. But we must remember there were ‘breaking India’ forces at work in the form of Muslim League led by Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Hindu Mahasabha led by the likes of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The latter was one of the prominent leaders who influenced and shaped the ideology of the RSS.

It is these ‘breaking India’ forces the ‘secular Indians’, whom the Congress is supposed to represent but has apparently failed to do so, have been battling since so many decades and that fight continues till date, be it in Dadri, Gujarat or Muzaffarnagar. It’s a fight between love and hate, good and evil within us.

While Jinnah wanted a Muslim Pakistan, Savarkar longed for a Hindu India. The RSS and the Muslim League were two sides of the same coin, seeking Hindu and Muslim supremacy. In fact, the cadres of both the outfits were allegedly involved in the mass murders and rapes during and after the tragic partition. When the Congress was fighting for India’s independence, these two outfits were allegedly collaborating with the British. When Gandhiji pleaded for unity, no one listened to him.

This could be understood from the fact that almost no one from these outfits went to jail during the independence movement. The gaols of India were filled by the Congress workers and other nationalist forces.

Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi in his book ‘Let’s Kill Gandhi’, writes that Savarkar was the first Indian leader to publicly say that India could never be a united country; at the Ahmedabad convention of the Hindu Mahasabha, he stated that there are two Indias – a Hindu Rashtra and a Muslim nation. This was much before Jinnah’s Muslim League voiced the demand for Pakistan.

It is these ‘breaking India’ forces the ‘secular Indians’, whom the Congress is supposed to represent but has apparently failed to do so, have been battling since so many decades and that fight continues till date, be it in Dadri, Gujarat or Muzaffarnagar. It’s a fight between love and hate, good and evil within us.

To my friends on the right, both Hindus and Muslims, the partition of India is a fait accompli. For them, Pakistan is a done deal and it cannot be reversed. This is where the differences in perception arise. For the true followers of the ideology of the Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress or the secular Indians the party is supposed to represent, ‘partition’ was a blunder of Himalayan magnitude committed by the then leadership -Nehru, Patel and Jinnah – under those taxing circumstances when India was under the yoke of a foreign third party, namely Britain, which should be corrected.

Much has been written about Britain’s divide and rule policy, how they fought ‘uniting India’ forces like the Congress by propping up and using ‘breaking India’ forces like Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindus and Muslims of India were more than capable of resolving their issues between them, but such ‘uniting India’ efforts were deliberately allowed to be failed by the British so as to achieve their imperial motives.

So after dividing Punjabis, Bengalis and north India in the name of religion and much bloodshed, a theocratic Pakistan came into being, a country which according to The New York Times ‘presents danger’ to entire world today. This and India’s boiling communal pot further show how the powers-that-be committed a mistake by dividing our country.

People like Mani Shankar Aiyar, I believe, have been trying to undo the damage done to India’s unity and integrity by uniting the hearts that have been torn apart. This is how at least I view Pakistan. I look at Pakistanis as our lost brothers who should be reunited with us through the message of love and sincere efforts. For me there is no difference between an Indian and Pakistani; after all we were one once upon a time.

Punjabis live here, there also; Sindhis live here, there also; Biharis live here, there also; Urdu speaking people live here, there also; Kashmiris live here, there also; Pashtuns live here, there also; Bengalis live in Bangladesh, here also. Where is the difference? We are the same people. The only thing that differentiates us is religion and that too is a matter of personal choice. The State should ideally have nothing to do with religion (duh).

I remember the days when I was young and immature when I loathed Aiyar for his ‘love for Pakistan’. I did not then understand the idea of India, the idea of Pakistan, the Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the reasons behind India’s partition and the role played by the British Raj therein. Now when after understanding all of them, the light has finally dawned on me, I look at Aiyar as nothing but a man on a mission.

The man, for heaven’s sake, has been ploughing a lone furrow for the past 24 years to improve relations between the two south Asian cousins, not because he wants to ‘break India’, but because he sincerely wishes to better the relations between the people of two countries. My friends on the right should know such ‘secular’ forces are extant in Pakistan as well.

Now let’s come to Aiyar’s remarks in Pakistan on PM Modi. While speaking to Barkha Dutt, Aiyar clarified that he gave a straight answer to a straight question asked to him by the anchor on Duniya TV. When he was asked how the current stalemate in India-Pakistan relationship could be ended, the latter replied: “Hume le aaiye, inko hatayiye (Bring us, remove them) i.e. bring in the Congress and remove the BJP at the Centre.

What Aiyar, as he mentioned later, literally meant was that the Congress party will have to be brought back to power to improve the Indo-Pak relations considering the Modi Sarkar’s performance in the past 18 months in this regard. In a democracy like India, needless to say, regime change is only possible through free and fair elections.

That is why he said that was possible only after four years when the new elections would be held for the Centre. Now that is my point of view as well and we can agree to disagree on this. However, to suggest that Aiyar or others are asking for Pakistan’s help in changing the current regime in India is like misreporting or twisting his words to suit one’s agenda.

India and Pakistan are at crossroads today. We must learn from Pakistan’s creation and its painful experience as a theocratic state that ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is a bad idea. Equality for all irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, creed, sex or color should be the way forward.

The time has come to reunite the ‘divided India’.

In legendary bard Rabindranath Tagore’s words,

Jodi tor dak shune keu na ase tobe ekla cholo re (If they do not listen to your call, walk alone walk alone)