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Of grey cells and grey hair

By Sushil Kutty

Is Mani Shankar Aiyer stupid? Or is he playing idiot just so that Rahul Gandhi & Family doesn’t get the idea that Aiyer is of a higher intellect than the soon-to-be-surely-elected president of the Congress Party? Definitely, Aiyer has more grey cells (and grey hair) than Rahul?

That is a no-brainer.

And if senior Congress leaders lack the guts to tell Sonia or Rahul that Aiyer’s buffoonery was hurting the Family, then they too must believe that the Family suffers from an intellectual deficit.

Could it be that these senior Congress leaders don’t want it to dawn on the Family that it comprises a bunch of intellectual pigmies? Without the Family at the helm, it would be every Congress leader against each other. The Family glue that holds the parts together would come unstuck. The party will go to pieces.

So, instead of giving Aiyer a kick under the high table, or one on the butt in public, ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Rahul the “darling” of the Congress and Navjot Singh Sidhu – not to be left behind as the odd ‘Sardar’ – declared Rahul “is a special leader with character.”

The last time Rahul displayed character was when he tore up an ordinance. Manmohan Singh must not have forgotten that humiliation. Or, has he?

Aiyer’s utterances make headlines because of his penchant to paint himself an idiot. His filmy dialogues make you stop and think: Is he for real? For, every time Aiyer opens his mouth, his foot unerringly ends up in it. Is Aiyer working for or against the family?

Aiyer-gems give the BJP an opening to rip the Congress Party’s heir apparent apart. His 2014 ‘Chaiwala’ comment helped brew the ‘Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkar’ tea. Aiyer’s Mughal-heir-gets-the-throne comment gave Modi the opening to slam-dunk Rahul.

Why have not senior Congress leaders asked Sonia and Rahul order Aiyer to button up? The answer to that could be that tolerance for Aiyer’s well-disguised blasphemies against the Family speaks about the state of mind of the Congress leaders. The doddering set of Congress’s “second rung leadership” do not want to upset their apple cart.

Leaders such as Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram do not know what’s in store for them when Rahul occupies the throne, with a party fait to boot. It is kind of playing blind man’s bluff with him. Despite 13-years anointed heir, Rahul has not revealed his cards. So far not a single weighty Congress leader has had the gumption to trip him.

What eats them is what will happen to them when Rahul ascends the throne? What will he do? Will he keep the senior leaders in their comfort zones? Or will he leave them stranded in each their own island of misery? These are questions that trouble their minds.

‘Rahul Gandhi will carry on the great traditions of the Congress Party,” said Manmohan Singh to reporters on Sunday, the day Rahul filed his nomination.

The question is, ‘Will he?’ Follow traditions that keep the likes of Manmohan Singh relevant in the Congress. Rahul must have his own coterie – a younger lot of Congress leaders raring to upset the apple cart – to rely on. There are specimens in the Lok Sabha, flanking the ‘Yuvraj’, hanging on to his every word.

Apples such as Singh and Aiyer and Chidambaram and Sibal and Anand Sharma could be put out to dry by the Yuvraj when he becomes King. So no one in the higher echelons asks Aiyer to stop playing the buffoon. The Family might misconstrue it.

What must have made Aiyer come up with his heir-following-king-to-the-throne analogy with a Mughal example? Doesn’t that play into the BJP’s contention that the Family is not Hindu? That Rahul was an interloper in Hindu temples. There were umpteen Hindu kings and princes he could have picked.

“When Shahjahan came in place of Jahangir did any election happen? And when Aurangzeb came in place of Shahjahan did any election happen? It is known to everyone that the throne of the king will automatically go to the heir,” Aiyer said.

Shahjahan and Aurangzeb – like father like son! Shahjahan was no less cruel than his autocratic ascetic offspring. The son imprisoned the father and murdered his elder brother and heir apparent to grab the throne. It was not “automatically” by any stretch of the imagination. There was blood on the Peacock Throne.

The Congress Party named a road in Lutyen’s Delhi Aurangzeb Road and it has its headquarters on Akbar Road with 10 Janpath a leap over a fence. Why did not Aiyer pick a Rajput Raja and heir? With Padmavati on the boil long after she chose to be burned, that would have been a beauty to match her legendary beauty!

Some must have taken it as bait to the Muslim voter (in Gujarat and elsewhere). Others might not have. The fact remained that Aiyer always shied towards Muslims to get the Congress on the treasury benches. He went to Pakistan and urged Pakistanis to “do something” to get Modi out of the equation.

Aiyer was ever the twice-born more Muslim-than-the-Muslim Tamil Brahmin. He spoke of how he – a diplomat posted in Pakistan those days – helped Indira Gandhi climb up a hill to take a look at Babar’s final resting place in Pakistan.

His afterthought, the open invitation to Shehzad Poonawala to throw his hat in the ring for the Congress presidency and inject “democracy” into the election, reminds of the bitter rivalry between Aurangzeb and Shivaji. Wasn’t Shivaji as much a Poonawala as Shehzad? By pitting the “darling” of the Congress against Poonawala, was the party jester reducing Rahul to the level of the quisling?

Ambika Soni, Manmohan Singh, Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel and other like A K Antony are all tested Family retainers. These worthies will continue to tolerate Aiyer’s buffoonery because it prevents the Family from realizing that it has an intellectual deficit.

It suits these leaders, essentially people who do not command a popular following, to wait and watch. Despite the gushing tweets they are an apprehensive lot suffering sleepless nights.

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