India must continue to engage Pakistan and sustain a dialogue process which doesn’t get derailed by acts of terrorists or hijacked by non-state actors operating out of Pakistan with or without establishment’s support, said Mani Shankar Aiyar.
“It’s a travesty that we have left bilateral dialogue’s fate to terrorists. In India, dialogue is misunderstood as submission to terrorists and the media too has contributed to it. Peace talks aren’t akin to snakes-ladder game,” lamented the career diplomat-turned- Congress politico who served as cabinet minister in the first United Progressive Alliance government (2004-2009).
On a day when at least nine people, including a lieutenant colonel of the Indian Army, were killed and four injured in twin terror attacks by a single “fidayeen” squad in Kathua and Samba districts of Jammu region, Aiyar, in his usual manner, vociferously made his case for peace talks with Pakistan. He also lauded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts in this regard including his September 29 scheduled meet with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York.
“The Prime Minister has shown immense courage by agreeing to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,” he said.
While it is easy to point fingers at Pakistan, what is the progress in the Samjhauta Express bomb blast case, questioned Aiyar. He accepted that certain quarters including in Pakistani establishment support and fund terror outfits against India but we should back those who want to give peace a chance with India.
“Let’s try and talk to resolve bilateral issues in a civilised manner. There are people in Pakistan who accept that terrorism is a problem and want to fight it,” Aiyar stressed further.
The maverick Congress leader who more than often lands himself up in controversies did indulge in plain speaking on Nishane Pe. The show is part of Zee Media’s Bharat Bhagya Vidhata initiative.
Aiyar strongly believes that poverty is the biggest problem India faces as a nation and it will take many decades, may be more than a century, to tackle the problem unless we prioritise it. He attacked the Planning Commission for not adopting a better approach to define poverty.
“The problem with poverty is that the Planning Commission is not sure how to define it. If we accept the Arjun Sengupta committee report, 77 percent of India’s population is below the poverty line. There are other committees and their versions of poverty as well. But, the problem is that we haven’t asked the poor to define what it means to him.”
And unless we adopt a method which broadly categories poverty index, the problem will keep coming up, said Aiyar. Besides, poverty is not just about numbers and income figures. There are various aspects to it which includes human development indicators.
Suggesting a greater role for grass-roots institutions in the fight against poverty, the former Panchayati Raj minister pleaded for greater transparency and accountability in transfer of development funds meant for the poor.
“Make bureaucracy more accountable to the people. Administrative expenditure which eats about 85 percent of the budgeted funds must be reduced,” he said.
Aiyar defended MNREGA on the ground that it has helped reduce income disparities. There are 42 works under it which could be used to create productive assets in the economy.
“Those who criticise MNREGA have never been to villages. Arm-chair analysis or criticism of the scheme is not going to take us any far. It is part of the inclusive governance which our government is trying to pursue.”