The Congress may have put up a sanctimonious act by suspending the intemperate and indiscreet party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar from the primary membership of the party for calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a ‘neech kism ka aadmi’ (a vile man) but clearly the reason was not any sense of outrage but the urgency to save the fortunes of the party in poll-bound Gujarat. To now take the high moral ground and tom-tom about how the party is different from the BJP is hypocrisy at its worst. Few politicians have as strong an antenna as Modi in understanding and responding to political situations.
Besieged by a huge challenge to his party’s sway over the electorate in his home state, Modi was acutely aware that only an emotive issue appealing to Gujarati ‘asmita’ (pride) could turn the tide in his favour at a juncture when his fortune was dwindling. Aiyar, by his crass and shockingly offensive statement, served an opportunity to him on a platter and Modi knew well how to use it to good effect. The BJP is quick to point out that the suspension is a mere eyewash. Aiyar is a diehard protégé of the Nehru-Gandhi family and predictably would be rehabilitated once the Gujarat elections are over, say BJP leaders.
That Rahul Gandhi himself admonished Aiyar and sought an apology from him was for once a clever ploy to dissipate the anger among the Gujaratis who were upset that their chosen one had been humiliated and their pride had been hurt. But thanks to Aiyar’s statement, the misdemeanours of other senior Congressmen and of Aiyar himself are coming home to roost. In a response that was characteristically strong and impactful Modi retorted: “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’ (low) at various points in time. But we will live according to our ‘sanskars’ (values).” 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.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley added his bit to Modi’s comment when he said “The Congress party has challenged the weaker and backward sections of India by calling the Prime Minister as ‘neech’. The strength of India’s democracy will be displayed when a person of humble background politically defeats the dynasty and its representatives. Aiyar or the Congress can hardly forget that his ‘chaiwala’ barb against Modi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls had given Modi, the then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, a stick to beat the Congress with, as election results showed.
In 1998, Aiyar had called the then prime minister and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee ‘nalayak’ (a pejorative Hindi word loosely translated as incompetent). The backlash that followed Aiyar’s comment forced him to apologise. What effect Mani Shankar Aiyar’s caustic comment on Modi would have on the outcome in Gujarat will be known in a few days. But there can be little doubt that Mani has goofed up in a big way. However, for the Congress to allege that he is in cahoots with the BJP, which is why he had made the crude comment to undermine his party, is as outrageous as it can get.
There can be little doubt that the Congress, which has no leader worth the name in Gujarat has gained considerable ground in the State elections for which little credit could be given to that party. It has been a combination of circumstances in its favour. While Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘neech’ remark is a last-minute godsend for the BJP, there have been other misdemeanours of the Congress too. On Wednesday, Modi had castigated senior Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal for seeking deferment of hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute till after the 2019 general polls, and wondered if such an issue should be kept unresolved for political gains and losses.
In fact, even a senior Muslim Congress leader on Thursday wrote to Sonia Gandhi, demanding that Kapil Sibal be sacked from the party for moving the Supreme Court seeking to defer the Ayodhya hearing. On the other hand, Sibal said and still argues that he did not appear for the Sunni Waqf Board. Congress leader from Maharashtra Shehzad Poonawalla on Monday had dubbed the imminent election of Rahul Gandhi as party chief as “Mughal style coronation” and had said it is a “black day” in the history of the party. Poonawalla, who was in the limelight after he alleged that the organisational election in the Congress was “rigged” and gave Modi a stick to beat the Opposition party with, had called the polls “unconstitutional and illegal” that will be challenged “from Delhi to Amethi”. Whether the Congress self-goals will influence the voter to reverse the anti-BJP tide now remains to be seen.