After Rahul Gandhi Rebuke, Congress Suspends Mani Shankar Aiyar Over “Neech” Remark

NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar was suspended from the primary membership of the party on Thursday for calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “neech aadmi”, a remark that PM Modi said was aimed at his humble origins. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had responded to the volley of attacks from the BJP over the comment by his sharp disapproval of the language used by Mr Aiyar during the day and asking him to apologise.

The Congress’ decision to later suspend Mr Aiyar and seek his explanation is seen as an attempt to insulate the party from the controversy that erupted just two days before the first phase of Assembly elections in Gujarat.

The BJP and PM Modi, who was campaigning in Gujarat, had invoked Mr Aiyar’s remarks to target the Congress through the day.

“Shriman Mani Shankar Aiyar today said that Modi is of ‘neech jaati’ (low caste) and is ‘neech’ (vile). Is this not an insult to Gujarat? This is an insult to the great legacy of India. This is born of Mughal mentality,” he told an election rally in the state’s diamond city, Surat.

PM Modi asked people not to respond to the abusive language on social media or elsewhere. “But if you have any anger over the use of such words against me, press the button alongside the lotus symbol on 9th and 14th (Gujarat polling dates),” PM Modi said.

The BJP has been in power in Gujarat for an uninterrupted 22 years and according to opinion polls, is set to return to power. But most surveys released this week suggested that the Congress, which won 60 of the 182-seat assembly in 2012 elections, could improve its tally.

Rahul Gandhi, who is set to take over as president from his mother Sonia Gandhi later this month, has led the party’s campaign in Gujarat and is seen to be anxious not to let the row over Mr Aiyar’s remarks mar the party’s chances.

But as the party attempted to desperately disassociate itself from Mr Aiyar and his remarks, the Congress also attempted to corner the BJP and PM Modi.

“This is the Congress leadership’s Gandhian philosophy and a sense of respect towards our rivals,” Congress communications incharge Rajdeep Surjewala tweeted, questioning if PM Modi would have “courage to do something similar”.

Rahul Gandhi, who had made his disapproval of Mr Aiyar’s remarks public, had underlined that the Congress leader was not the only one to have crossed the line. The BJP and PM Modi “routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party”, he tweeted.

Mr Aiyar did apologise, as suggested by Rahul Gandhi, for what the Gandhi family loyalist called his poor command of Hindi. “I meant low level when I said ‘neech’, I don’t think he is low born…if it has some other meaning then I apologise,” he said in his conditional apology.

Ahead of the 2014 national election too, Mani Shankar Aiyar had derided Narendra Modi as a tea seller who could never be Prime Minister. He had then refused to apologise.

That comment was seen to have contributed significantly to Mr Modi’s sweep of the general election. In his campaign, he had offered his credentials as a self-made leader, stressing the fact that he sold tea on trains as a young boy to help support his family and contrasting his modest origins with those of the Congress’ Gandhi family, which controls all power in the party.


Rahul Gandhi asks Mani Shankar Aiyar to apologise for ‘neech’ remarks against PM

NEW DELHI: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday asked senior party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar to apologise for his “neech” barb against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Expressing his thoughts on Twitter, Gandhi said that it is not the Congress party’s culture to use such language against political opponents.

“BJP and Prime Minister routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appre ..


Chaiwallah, Mughal Rahul, Babri after 2019: Foot-in-mouth Congress is still very much around

The Congress might have received a major boost this week after CSDS-Lokniti, one of the more reliable pollsters, published findings of a survey that found it neck and neck with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat, where elections are scheduled to be held on December 9 and 14. The survey found a huge surge in support for the party over the last three months and indeed, the Congress throughout the campaign has seemed more charged up than at any other time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. Yet despite the many changes, including the transfer of power from mother to son expected in a week’s time, flashes of the Congress that stumbled its way to a historic low of 44 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 still manage to sneak out.

Take the “chaiwallah” tweet. On November 21, the official twitter account of Yuva Desh, the Youth Congress magazine, posted an image showing US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May mocking Modi for pronouncing “meme” wrong. As if that were not bad enough, the image had May telling Modi, “tu chai bech”, which is to say, “go back to selling tea”.
Bereft of context, this is an offensive tweet but a relatively minor one – and certainly nothing close to the horrible language and humour employed by many others, including the head of the BJP’s Information Technology cell. But it stands out for two reasons. One being that this is a verified account of a Congress mouthpiece, and so the party was rightfully pilloried for the image, which the magazine withdrew. But the second is that it repeats an attempted insult from senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar ahead of elections in 2014, when he said Modi will never become prime minister, but if he wants to distribute tea we will find a place for him.

At the time, the BJP seized upon the remark as being emblematic of everything they wanted to demonstrate about their political battle: Modi as the hard-working, underprivileged son of the soil taking on corrupt, elitist, born-into-privilege Congress leaders who were all in service of one family. The BJP turned the controversy around that comment into an entire pillar of their campaign, inviting voters to listen to Modi’s speeches at tea-stalls around the country as part of its “chai pe charcha” outreach.

Repeating the same sort of derogatory humour only serves to remind people of how elitist the Congress still is, even as it tries to position itself as the voice of the people.

Aiyar himself was back in the news this week with another comment that the BJP quickly seized upon. Responding to questions about Shehzad Poonawalla, a Congress leader who said the party’s internal polls are rigged to favour Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi, Aiyar decided to draw an analogy with Mughal emperors. Asking whether there were elections when Shahjahan took Jahangir’s place, or when Aurangzeb succeeded Shah Jahan, Aiyar said no, it was then known that one of the emperor’s sons would take over. “But,” he added, “in a democracy, elections are held,” and then invited Poonawalla to contest presidential elections against Rahul Gandhi.

Modi immediately picked up the comment, twisting Aiyar’s words to say that the Congress leader was admitting that his party is all in service of a family, where power flows only to the heirs. He then congratulated the Congress on “Aurangzeb Raj”.

Aiyar might be right to protest and insist that this is not what he said, as others have pointed, but the Congress leader’s comment was still incredibly witless. For one, not even ardent Congress supporters will claim that the party has a thriving record of internal democracy. This is an outfit built around the Nehru-Gandhi family and, whatever one thinks of Rahul Gandhi’s abilities, he is in a position to take charge of the Congress mainly because of his lineage.

What’s more, any comparison to the Mughals is bound to remind people of another of Modi’s campaign hooks: “Shehzada”. Meaning prince, Modi repeatedly used the word to refer to Rahul Gandhi in 2014, to imply that his pre-eminence was purely a function of dynasty, with a slight Muslim-Mughal dog-whistle added into the mix since the term conjures more Persianate Islamic rulers than, say, the more sanskritised “Rajkumar”, also meaning prince.

Kapil Sibal was not speaking for the Congress on Tuesday. And yet, everything he told the Supreme Court in the Babri Masjid matter was seen as a political intervention, not least because he explicitly referenced politics. With the apex court expecting to start day-to-day hearings in the controversial property dispute that has sparked off much communal unrest, Sibal marched into court asking for the matter to be delayed. Saying that there were “serious repercussions” outside the court every time the case came up, he asked the bench to delay hearing the matter until after the general elections in 2019 – almost 18 months away.

Although Sibal was representing his client, the Sunni Waqf Board, one of the parties to the case, he cannot have been blind to the way his intervention would be read by the media, particularly television channels that the Congress will be happy to take that angle. And that is exactly what happened.



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