“Ye aadmi bahut neech kisam ka aadmi hai, is mein koi sabhyata nahi hai, aur aise mauke par is kisam ki gandi rajneeti karne ki kya avashyakta hai?” Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Thursday, which translates to –“This man is a low-life person, he is uncultured. At such a moment, what was the need for such dirty politics?”
Aiyar was replying to Modi’s barb at the Congress made during the inauguration of the Dr. Ambedkar International Centre. The PM hinting towards the Nehru-Gandhi family had said that it “tried to erase Ambedkar’s contribution in nation-building”.
However, when Mani Shankar Aiyar took it upon himself to put Modi in his place, little did he know that he himself would get burnt in the process.
If we discount the word ‘neech’ which certainly could have been done away with, Aiyar’s statement only sounds logical. Whether such a barb was warranted by Modi at an occasion, when he was present there in his capacity of the PM of the country, is for the reader to decide.
If the ‘tone and the language’ used by Aiyar are reasons enough to strip him off the primary membership of the Congress – Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka should have been long ousted from the party.
After the much celebrated surgical strike in 2016, Rahul had accused the PM of doing ‘khoon ki dalali’ with the blood of our martyrs. Priyanka Gandhi has also shown her philia for the word ‘neech’. During the campaign of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka Gandhi charged Modi of doing ‘neech rajneeti’ and insulting her martyred father (Rajeev Gandhi) in Amethi. The senior Gandhi too, has not been far behind in mudslinging. Twice, Sonia Gandhi has used phrases like ‘Maut Ka Saudagar’ and ‘Zeher Ki Kheti’ which are uncharacteristic of her generally polite speeches.
Interestingly, it’s not the first time that Aiyar has grabbed the headlines due to his histrionics. From urging the Pakistanis to bring back Congress to power, to calling Modi a ‘chaiwalla’ and recently comparing the election of Rahul Gandhi as Congress President to Aurangzeb, Aiyar has already done it all.
Two things stand out.
First is the time at which the statement came. Aiyar could not have chosen a more inopportune time for his ‘neech kisam ka aadmi’ remark. It was the last day of campaigning for the first phase of the Gujarat assembly polls, when Aiyar decided to have a go at Modi.
The second, of course was the light in which Modi dealt with it. It is not the first time that Modi has twisted a statement of the opposition to take mileage out of it. The way he ricocheted the criticism directed at him towards his caste, not only left Aiyar, but the entire Congress gaping.
This has, in fact, become Modi’s style of functioning over the years. You criticise him, and he will either bring in the issue of Gujarati pride or the trump card of his caste.
As soon as Aiyar’s statement came out, Modi as always, did not fail to cash in. In his Gujarat Vikas rally in Surat, Modi used the word ‘neech’ 20 times in his 50-minute speech as he roared from the rostrum, “Aa Modi to neech jaati no che, Aa Modi to neech che. Mara bhaio, aa apmaan Gujarat nu chhe ke nahi, aa apmaan Bharat ni mahan parampara nu chhe ke nahi? (This Modi belongs to a neech (low) caste, this Modi is a neech. My brothers, is this or is this not an insult of Gujarat? Is this not an insult of the great Indian tradition?)”
The fact of the matter is that the Congress has been treading cautiously in its Gujarat election campaign. It is intentionally shying away from making personal attacks on Modi and focusing on developmental issues. The party has realised, in due course of time, that the projection of the elections as ‘Modi vs Rahul’ only does harm to its chances. Secondly, it has avoided getting in BJP’s trap which can polarise the voters. The BJP, on the other hand, is banking on OBCs (specifically Kohlis and Thakores), along with Dalits and tribals.
The projection of Aiyar’s ‘neech’ remark runs the risk of causing polarisation, which the Congress cannot afford at the moment. Hence Aiyar’s suspension even after his apology, appears more of a strategic move than a disciplinary decision.