Delhi : The Congress played into the BJP’s hands with one of its senior leaders, Mani Shankar Aiyar, calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “neech” aadmi (low-class person) in a remark reminiscent of his “chai wallah” jibe, also aimed at Modi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) comment dating back to 2007, also targeting Modi.
Modi, campaigning in Gujarat ahead of the first phase of polling to the state assembly on Saturday, lost no time in terming Aiyar’s remark an “insult to Gujarat’s pride”. The Congress rushed into damage control mode and Aiyar apologised after being chastised by party vice president Rahul Gandhi. He was later suspended from the primary membership of the party but the damage may have already been done. The BJP and Congress are locked in an intense battle for Gujarat, Modi’s home state, where the BJP has been in power for 22 years.
“Isn’t it an insult to Gujarati asmita (pride)? Isn’t it an insult of Indian ethos? They can call me ‘neech jaati’. Yes, I am from the poor section of the society and will spend every moment of my life to work for the poor, Dalits, tribals and backward classes,” Modi said at an election rally in Surat. As the crowd chanted “Modi, Modi”, he said: “They can keep their language and we will do our work.”
“Ye aadmi bahut neech kisam ka aadmi hai, ismein koi sabhyata nahi hai, aur aise mauke par is kisam ki gandi rajneeti karne ki kya avashyakta hai? (This man is a low-life person, he isn’t cultured... on this occasion, why does he need to do dirty politics?),” Aiyar told a news agency earlier in the day, reacting to Modi’s allegation that the Congress had tried to “erase” Dr BR Ambedkar’s contributions to nation-building during a function to open the Ambedkar International Centre in the Capital. Gandhi was quick to try and contain the damage. “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 Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said,” he tweeted.
Congress party’s chief spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted that the party had issued a showcause notice to Aiyar and suspended him from the primary membership. “This is Congress party’s Gandhiwaad and sense of respect towards its rivals. Can Modiji (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) ever show such conviction?” he posted on the micro-blogging site. Sensing the mood in the party, Aiyar relented, telling reporters, “I never meant low-born. There is a difference in English language between words ‘low’ and ‘low-born’. But in Hindi if low means low-born, I tender apology.”
Senior BJP leaders, however, latched on to Aiyar’s remarks to attack the opposition party. “Yamraj, Maut Ka Saudagar, Ravan, Gandi Nali Ka Keeda, Monkey, Rabies Victim, Virus, Bhasmasur, Gangu Teli, Goon… These are some words or phrases Congress has used for PM @narendramodi in the past. Not much has changed. We wish them well. We will continue to serve 125 crore Indians,” tweeted BJP president Amit Shah. Addressing the rally in Surat, Modi said the people of Gujarat would answer the Congress suitably on December 18 (the day results will be declared). “They called us donkeys, neech, gandi naali ke keede... the people of Gujarat will give a befitting reply to such derogatory language,” he said.
The Aiyar-triggered controversy came to haunt the Congress just when it was seeking to wriggle out of a political row over Kapil Sibal’s plea in the Supreme Court — made in his capacity as a lawyer — that the final hearings of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid should be deferred till after the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The UP Sunni Wakf Board, one of the plaintiffs, clarified that Sibal was not its counsel, a claim validated by MR Shamshad, advocate on record, who said that the Congress leader represented Iqbal Ansari in the Ayodhya case in the apex court. In another twist to the controversy, two sets of purported appearance slips went viral on social media on Thursday -- one showing Sibal appearing for Ansari and another suggesting that he appeared for the Wakf Board. Hindustan Times could not independently ascertain the authenticity of either. Meanwhile, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said on Thursday that Sibal had gone by the board’s instructions and advice when he sought deferment of hearing in the Ayodhya case in the Supreme Court on December 5.
“The confusion over who Sibal represented arose because of a clerical error. It is true that he was counsel for Iqbal Ansari, one of the litigants, and not the board. But whatever Kapil Sibal said in the court was on the basis of the stand taken by the AIMPLB,” Babri Masjid Action Committee convenor and counsel Zafarayab Jilani told HT. He said the AIMPLB was not a party in the Ayodhya case but it was bearing all the legal expenses of the case and its decision was binding on the Wakf Board too.