NEW DELHI/SURAT: Congress suspended Mani Shankar Aiyar on Thursday after the former Union minister stoked yet another acrimonious row by describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “neech aadmi”.
Aiyar’s choice of words not only drew a ferocious attack from Modi in Surat but riled his own party functionaries who feared potential damage to its electoral prospects due to the diplomat-turned-politician’s foot-in-the-mouth penchant. “He (Modi) is neech kism ka aadmi who has no sabhyata (civility),” Aiyar had said earlier in the day after Modi accused Congress of using Dalit icon B R Ambedkar merely to get votes and trying to erase his contribution in building India.
Addressing an election rally in Surat, Modi hit back at Aiyar and said dejected Congress functionaries had lost their mental balance and crossed all limits of decency. “Mani Shankar Aiyar has called me neech and from nichli jaati (lower caste). Is this not an insult to Gujarat? Is it not an insult to India’s great values? But people of Gujarat will take revenge on December 18 and teach you the precise meaning of neech,” Modi said.
The PM said Aiyar’s remarks smacked of Congress’s “Mughal mindset” that discriminated between the lower and upper castes. “I, as chief minister of Gujarat for 14 years and now as PM, have done nothing that has forced citizens to hang their heads in shame. If Congress feels that working for the poor and distressed is something too low, I can only wish them good luck,” he said amid chants of “Modi Modi”.
The PM even recalled Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s 10-year-old “maut ka saudagar” remark against him as he accused the rival of constantly insulting and conspiring against him. “Despite so many insults, I have not been vindictive as PM and BJP will always work to uphold the values of public life,” he said.
With a procession of BJP functionaries alleging that Aiyar’s controversial remark was a reflection of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s arrogance and their sense of entitlement, and fear growing that the indiscretion might hurt the party in Gujarat, Congress led by Rahul Gandhi went into damage control. The party vice-president took to Twitter to disapprove of Aiyar’s remark and asked him to apologise. “BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said,” Rahul said.
Though Aiyar can stubbornly hold his ground, he promptly obliged and blamed the derogatory remark on his poor Hindi. “My Hindi is not very good. Yes, I called Modi ‘neech’ but did not mean it as a low-born; I meant it as low,” he said, recalling that his poor grasp of Hindi had failed him earlier too when he called former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee a “nalayak” PM.
However, this did not fully assuage the worry of the potential fallout of Aiyar’s slur against the PM in a state where in 2007, Sonia calling Modi “maut ka saudagar” had badly boomeranged on her party. Coming just after the controversy over Kapil Sibal for allegedly seeking to delay resolution of the Ayodhya dispute by seeking postponement of hearing in the SC until after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, many in the party expressed concern over “self-goals” during the last lap of the Gujarat polls. Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, in fact, suspected an effort to sabotage Rahul when he is about to take over as party president.