Congress suspends Mani Shankar Aiyar from primary membership over ‘neech’ remark about PM Modi

AHMEDABAD/ NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s propensity for intemperate comments raised the election heat a notch on Thursday and also invited trouble for himself when he called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “neech kisam ka aadmi”.

The Prime Minister was quick to latch on to Aiyar’s unsavoury barb on the last day of campaigning before Gujarat polls for the first phase, playing on Gujarati pride, exhorting people not to swallow the insult and declaring that “Gujarat will reply”.

Late at night, the Congress suspended Aiyar from primary membership of the party and issued a show-cause notice. Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala said the move reflected the Congress’s belief in treating opponents with respect.

Earlier, Modi stepped up the one-upmanship game against the Congress, telling a rally in Surat: “They can call me neech (low), but I will keep doing oonche (high) work. “Yes, I am from the poor section of society and will spend every moment of my life working for the poor, Dalits, tribals and OBC communities. They can keep their language, we will do our work.”

Modi was hitting back at a remark Aiyar made in the morning, ostensibly after Modi took a dig at the Congress for allegedly trying to appropriate BR Ambedkar’s legacy while inaugurating a convention centre named after the Dalit icon.

Aiyar had then shot off: “Yeh aadmi bahut neech kisam ka aadmi hai, is mein koi sabhyata nahi hai, aur aise mauke par is kisam ki gandi rajniti karne ki kya avashyakta hai? (He is a low-level man, has no culture; is there need to do dirty politics on such an occasion?)”

Modi termed Aiyar’s remark an example of the Congress’s “Mughal values that teach (one) to demean castes and talk about upper and lower castes”.

BJP chief Amit Shah said “yamraj, maut ka saudagar, Ravan, gandi nali ka keeda” were words or phrases the Congress had used for the PM in the past. “Not much has changed. We wish them well. We will continue to serve 125 crore Indians,” Shah said at a rally in Gujarat.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, however, wasted no time condemning Aiyar’s remarks: “BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.”

Aiyar did as directed, pointing out his poor command of Hindi. “I apologise if my remark was interpreted in the sense of a low born person. I never intended to comment on the birth of the PM. I used the word “neech” to mean the low level of language that the PM has been using to attack the Congress,” he said.

He had similarly stirred a hornet’s nest ahead of Modi’s victory in the 2014 elections, deriding him as a tea seller who could never be Prime Minister. “Narendra Modi will never become the Prime Minister of the country… But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him,” Aiyar had infamously said.