IANS Surat/New Delhi
Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar yesterday triggered a major storm calling Narendra Modi a “neech aadmi” (vile man), which the prime minister gave a caste angle, telling an election rally in Gujarat that describing him as “neech jaati” (low born) was an insult to Gujaratis who will vote out the Congress in the assembly elections.
In a damage-control move, the Congress last night suspended Aiyar from its primary membership and slapped a show cause notice on him for the remark that snowballed into a massive controversy – two days ahead of the Gujarat first-phase polls.
Earlier, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi criticised Aiyar’s language against the prime minister and asked him to apologise, which the former union minister did, claiming his knowledge of Hindi was not good. Aiyar clarified that he never called Modi a “low born”.
As controversy over Aiyar’s remarks snowballed, the prime minister referred to it in an election meeting in Surat and attacked the Congress leader, saying he had called him a “neech jaati” (low caste).
“They can call me ‘neech jaati’. Yes, I am from the poor section of society and will spend every moment of my life to work for the poor, Dalits, tribals and backward classes. That is my culture. They can keep their language, we will do our work,” Modi told an election rally.
Modi said that though Aiyar hailed from a good family, has a number of degrees, was a diplomat for a number of years and remained a minister in the Manmohan Singh government, he had resorted to such insults. “This is an insult to Gujarat. Not just to Gujarat but to the entire nation.”
He said Aiyar was speaking out of a mindset that “sees everyone as ‘neech’”.
“They called vile...the people of Gujarat will give a befitting reply to such derogatory language.
“I appeal to all BJP activists not to retort. But answer them on December 9 and 14 (voting days)... Voting results would mean what low caste means when everyone votes for the BJP.”
As the row turned into an embarrassment for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to disapprove of Aiyar’s language.
“The BJP and the prime minister 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 Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the prime minister. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said,” Gandhi said.
Reporters got around to Aiyar at a function in Delhi’s WWF Auditorium Hall and asked him about Modi’s attack and Gandhi’s suggestion to him to apologise.
“Yes, I used the word ‘neech’. Now, I am not a Hindi speaker and I translate from English to Hindi. So I used ‘low person’, I translated ‘low’ in my mind. If it happened to mean something else. I apologise. ‘Neech’ as I understand is a direct translation of ‘low’.
“I never meant ‘low born’. In English there’s a clear distinction between ‘low’ and ‘low born’. It is very possible that in Hindi – which is not my natural language and which I learned after much effort – I translated ‘low’ as ‘neech’. But if neech also means ‘low born’ then I apologise that I used a word which can be interpreted in many ways, and in the way Modi is interpreting it, I have nothing to do with that.”
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