Debate on Rajiv Gandhi, few jokes mark Aiyar’s book launch

February 18th, 2009 - 12:44 am ICT by IANS  

Mani Shankar AiyarNew Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Has the 21st century overtaken Rajiv Gandhi’s vision? A panel discussion by eminent politicians and diplomats on the subject called for interesting observations, even a few jokes - of course at the author’s expense - at the launch of union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar’s latest book here Tuesday evening.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and one of the panelists, chose to simply say that under the aegis of Aiyar, the 21st century actually saw the realisation of the late former prime minister’s dream - decentralisation of power through Panchayati Raj.

“Mani who is the minister of Panchayati Raj has done some good work and all of this is an ode to Rajiv Gandhi,” he said.

Fellow panelist Shashi Tharoor, former UN under-secretary general, went a step ahead to say that probably the theme of the discussion should have been to analyse all of Gandhi’s dreams that have been fulfilled in the 21st century.

“There are four main sections in Mani’s book - democracy, secularism, socialism, and non-alignment and neighbourhood policy. Whether you talk about the effective implementation of the Panchayati Raj or the opening up of telecommunication to the masses - it’s all realisation of Rajiv Gandhi’s dreams,” Tharoor said.

Aiyar’s book “A Time of Transition” is a collection of articles and columns that he wrote between 1996 and 2004. In his own words, the collection looks back at the changes in the political scenario in the last two decades after Rajiv Gandhi.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley, another panelist, said that although Gandhi’s initial tenure showed hope, “but sometime after two years, his governance got derailed.

“And because his governance had started getting derailed, perhaps history about him would have been recorded differently if his life would not have been cut short so drastically,” Jaitley added.

On a lighter vein though, he said that Aiyar was much better performing in the opposition than he is now.

“He was one of the best we had in the opposition, but now we are seeing the less of the best in him. I don’t know probably he will go back to writing his columns in three months (with elections around the corner),” Jaitley said amid peals of laughter.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury added: “I wish that both (Jaitley and Aiyar) return to writing columns in the next three months!”

Vice President Hamid Ansari was also present on the occasion, as was Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, former foreign minister of Pakistan, and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, former president of Sri Lanka.

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