New Delhi/ Surat: The Congress on Thursday night suspended the primary membership of Mani Shankar Aiyar after the Gandhi family loyalist set off a firestorm by calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi "neech aadmi" (a vile person), remarks fraught with adverse consequences for the party in poll-bound Gujarat.
In an apparent move to contain the possible damage barely two days ahead of the keenly contested Assembly elections in the prime minister's home state, the Congress announced disciplinary action against Aiyar, insisting it showed the party's "Gandhian leadership".
"The Congress party has served a show cause notice to Mani Shankar Aiyar and suspended him from the primary membership of the party," Congress's communications department incharge Randeep Surjewala said. "This is Congress' Gandhian leadership and respect for its political rivals.... Will Modiji display such courage," he asked.
"He (Modi) is 'neech kism ka aadmi' (a vile man) who has no 'sabhyata' (civility)," Aiyar said earlier on Thursday in an ill-timed comment, attacking Modi after the latter accused the Congress of seeking votes in B R Ambedkar's name but trying to erase his contribution to nation building.
An apparently rattled Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is set to assume the reins of the party from his mother Sonia Gandhi midway through the Gujarat elections, admonished Aiyar through Twitter and virtually instructed him to tender apology. "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 Aiyer to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said," Gandhi said on Twitter. A chastised Aiyar did proffer a conditional apology, but that did not apparently smooth the ruffled feathers of the troubled Congress leadership which suspended his primary membership to contain the possible damage his comment might cause in Gujarat elections.
Modi, the seasoned campaigner, quickly lapped up Aiyar's comment to launch a scalding attack on the Congress leader and his party, claiming the remark was a casteist slur against him. "Shriman (Mr) Mani Shankar Aiyar today said that Modi is of 'neech' (lower) caste and is 'neech' (vile). Is this not an insult to Gujarat?
"You called us donkey, you called us 'gandi nali ka keeda' (worm of a dirty drain), you called us 'maut ka saudagar' (merchant of death), you said I am of 'neech jaati' (lower caste man) and 'neech'. But we will live according to our 'sanskars' (values)," Modi said, launching an onslaught against Congress leaders who called him names in the past. "This is a Mughal mentality where if such a person (who comes from a humble background) wears good clothes in a village, they have a problem," he said.
After the rebuke by the Congress leadership, Aiyar, known for making off-the-cuff remarks against political rivals that often embarrassed his party, was soon on national television proffering clarification, insisting it was because of his poor understanding of Hindi language that he used the word, and tendering apology. "I am told that 'neech' has many meanings, many connotations in Hindi, and if Mr Modi chooses to distort it to claim that it means low born, then all I can do is to apologise for having used a word that could be interpreted as low born.
But that was not my intention at all and certainly not a part of my culture. "Therefore, for the misinterpretation that can be given to the word, I extend my apologies, particularly since it is going to harm the Congress party's interests in Gujarat," he said, in an open admission that his comment would have adverse consequences for the party.
When repeatedly asked if he was tendering apology for calling Modi 'neech', Aiyar said,"Do I apologise about the word 'low'? No. Do I apologise about the word that is translated which says 'low born'? Absolutely yes." The Congress leader said he does not think Modi was low born "but the language...I would say is very low".
Reacting to Aiyar's suspension, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Twitter: "Mani Shankar Aiyer’s ‘Neech’ - attack on Prime Minister- a deliberate casteist statement, a convenient apology, a strategic suspension. People should see through this game.