NEW DELHI: The Congress has suspended senior leader Mani Shankar Aiyar from the primary membership of the party and issued him a show-cause notice over his purported casteist slur against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The action against the long-time Gandhi-family loyalist comes as the grand old party heads into an electoral battle in Gujarat.
The announcement came after Congress president-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi asked Aiyar to apologise.
Aiyar, a former Union Minister, sought to clarify his remarks. Pointing to the fact that Hindi is not his mother tongue, Aiyar said, "I meant 'low level' when I said 'neech'. I think in English when I speak in Hindi, as Hindi is not my mother tongue. So if it has some other meaning, then I apologise."
Aiyar hails from Mayiladuthurai in the Cauvery Delta region of Tamil Nadu.
He had been attempting to make a point against dirty politics when he uttered the remarks that have now got him expelled from the Congress. "Mujhko lagta hai ki ye aadmi bahut neech kisam ka aadmi hai, isme koi sabhyata nahi hai, or aise mauke par is kisam ki gandi rajniti karne ki kya avashyakta hai?" Mani Shankar Aiyar was quoted as saying, by news agency ANI.
The remarks had come in for wide criticism through the day on Thursday. PM Modi himself referred to it at an election rally in poll-bound Gujarat's Surat. "Congress leaders are speaking in a language that is not acceptable in a democracy. One Congress leader, who has studied in best institutions, served as a diplomat, was a Minister in Cabinet, he said Modi is 'neech.' This is insulting. This is nothing but a mindset that of the Mughals," PM Modi said.
Rahul Gandhi took the opportunity to take a shot at the BJP even as he snapped down on Aiyar's comment. "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," Rahul had said in a tweet.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad condemned the remarks and called Aiyar mentally 'unfit'.
This is not the first time Aiyar's remarks on Narendra Modi have landed him in soup and been used in counterattacks from Modi and the BJP. In the run up to the 2014, it was Aiyar whose remarks about Modi's claims of having sold tea at railway station that became the 'chaiwalla' controversy. The BJP leveraged that into the 'chai pe charcha' campaign.