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Glad to be ‘Macaulay ki aulad’ but also a very proud Indian: Mani Shankar Aiyar

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NEW DELHI, Aug 21: Often termed elitist and anglicised by his critics, bureaucrat-turned-politician
Mani Shankar Aiyar says he is glad to be a “Macaulay ki aulad” but is also a very proud Indian and
recounts in his memoir his student days in Cambridge where he gave himself a sobriquet – “a
coconut Indian”.
The irrepressible Congress leader, whose autobiography “Memoirs of a Maverick — The First Fifty
Years (1941-1991)” hit the stands on Monday, said he was very glad to state that over the next 50-60
years he “broke that coconut”.
He also used a cricketing analogy to describe his current state in politics. “I did have a good innings
but now I have been sent back to the pavilion. I am all padded up though and ready to bat if I am
called in to bat,” Aiyar told PTI in an exclusive interview.
The book, published by Juggernaut Books, traces Aiyar’s journey from Welham preparatory school to
Doon school and then on to St Stephen’s College and Cambridge University, and from being a top
diplomat handling sensitive assignments to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s key aide who was
dubbed his ‘Mani Friday’. Aiyar was part of Rajiv Gandhi’s PMO from 1985-1989.
“I have said in the book that as a result of the kind of schooling I had, I found that when I was at
Cambridge, I suddenly felt more at home in Cambridge than I was in India. Instead of being thrilled
at that, I was shocked and I said that this makes me a ‘coconut Indian — brown on the outside but
white on the inside’,” the former Union minister in the UPA-1 government said.
“Whatever I absorbed at school, I retain… India’s civilisational history is one of absorption,
assimilation and finally synthesis. So, I am very glad that I am a ‘Macaulay ki aulad’ but at the same
time I am not only a ‘Macaulay ki aulad’, I have lived in India, I am a very proud Indian and I am very
sorry to see what is being done now to my India,” Aiyar said in an apparent swipe at the Modi
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay is credited with playing a vital role in the introduction of English
education in India.
In the book, the 82-year-old dispels several misgivings about himself and his relationship with Rajiv
Gandhi. He stressed, however, that a more detailed and in-depth insight into his relationship with
the former prime minister would be in subsequent volumes that would be published later.
Aiyar, who quit the Indian Foreign Service and ventured into the unchartered territory of politics in
1989, said he had “no regrets at all” about the decision.
He said he was delighted that Rajiv Gandhi agreed to take him in politics albeit with “great
Was going back to the IFS ever an option?
“I realised that having politicised myself as much as I did in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), I
would not be regarded with equanimity by the foreign service were I to go back.
“I had also discovered that since I had a maverick mind, I was not in agreement with many key points
of the Indian foreign policy…and that if they make the mistake of promoting me on the ladder to
secretary or foreign secretary, then they might regret the decision because I may not fall in line,”
Aiyar responded.
One takes risks in life and sometimes they work out while at other times they don’t, he added.
“This is 2023. I have been out of the Rajya Sabha for the last seven years, and I have been without a
position in the Congress for the last 10 years. I had not anticipated this. I had thought that I would be
without a position for 10 years to start with and maybe after that I would be recognised but in my
case it turned out to be the opposite.”
Asked how he would like to sum up the first 50 years of his life which the book traces and ends just a
tad after he joined politics and lost his mentor-cum-friend Rajiv Gandhi, Aiyar said it had been a fun
and exciting time.
“I have not been able to carve a niche into the history books of India but I have enjoyed myself. I
have participated in several different ways in India’s public life. I am glad I did not go off to become a
migrant to the UK or US or Singapore. I am glad I spent all my life either in India or in the service of
India and therefore I am a proud Indian,” he asserted.

Another charge often thrown at Aiyar was that he was part of an “elite coterie” — of English-
speaking bureaucrats often having an educational background at institutions such as Doon school
and St Stephen’s College — Rajiv Gandhi assembled in his office.
Aiyar, who dispels this notion in the book as well, said he would like to first debunk the Doon school
charge because that is what is thrown at him the most.
“The fact is that there was only one Doon school boy (me) among the officers of the ministry. There
was another, Wajahat Habibullah, but he had been brought in by Indira Gandhi and therefore he had
only a year-and-a half in Rajiv’s period.
“In politics there was Arun Singh who was a school friend of Rajiv’s but he was dropped from the
PMO in under a year of his induction. So the idea that there was a ‘Dosco mafia’ is a completely
misplaced one,” he said. Dosco is what Doon School is sometimes referred to as.
Talking about his flirtations with communism, Aiyar also said he was “probably the poorest boy in
the richest school”. This led him to question inequalities in the society.
“I began to perceive that there are some answers to these questions being given by the communists,
so I became what I have described in my book as a Utopian socialist, which is the most pejorative
term in Marxism. I carried that view with me until I got to Cambridge. In St Stephen’s, there were a
number of my mentors who were dyed in the wool reds and they had a big influence on me,” Aiyar
In Cambridge, he said, he took tutorials under Maurice Dobb who was highly regarded as Britain’s
leading Marxist analyst but found he could not answer most of his questions and he was
disillusioned with Marxism.
Aiyar said he was also heavily influenced by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his
secularism from the beginning. This is what made his ideology aligned to that of the Congress.
Aiyar ends the book with a sneak peek into the next volume which would be about his political life
which he calls “a half-life” in politics.
“Much like the radioactive half-life discovered by Ernest Rutherford, the father of atomic physics —
that is, the phenomenon of radioactivity growing for a while and then slowly petering out. In a
similar way, my life in politics rose in spurts to highs and spluttered to the point where I find myself
sidelined by Rajiv Gandhi’s heirs and marginalised even in the party.” (PTI)

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