Gandhinagar: Desperate to salvage Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday hurled his own persona into the poll battle, latching onto stray remarks and invoking them as a personal slight in a bid to invoke Gujarati pride for electoral gains. This happened on a day the din of electioneering closed in 89 of the total 182 state Assembly constituencies which go to polls on December 9.
Harping on pride is nothing new, but the Prime Minister did so with a vehemence on Thursday. He need not have tried too hard to scour for uncharitable remarks as Congress leader Mani Shankar Iyer’s description of him as a ‘vile man’ was god-send.
Invoking Gujarati pride, Modi gave a swift riposte to Airar at an election rally, “They can call me neech (low), but I will keep doing oonche (high) work.” ‘‘Gujarat will reply,” he said, also stating, “Yes, I am from the poor section of society and will spend every moment of my life working for the poor, the Dalits, the Tribals and the OBC communities. They can keep their language, we will do our work.” The Prime Minister further described Aiyar’s comment as an example of the Congress’ “Mughal values that teaches them to devalue castes.”
Modi claimed it was not the first time that the Congress leaders had used abusive terms against him and Gujarat. “You have called me an ass, a ‘gandi naali ka kida’, and now ‘neech,” he told the audience. “Have I done anything wrong, anything ‘neech’ to deserve this certificate from one of the senior leaders of the Congress? Is it not an insult to Gujarat to call one of its sons of the soil a “neech man? Is it not an insult to the high traditions of India,” a charged Modi repeatedly asked the gathering trying to extract maximum electoral mileage.
The prime minister said the Congress, facing “stark defeat” in the Gujarat elections, had lost its mental balance and had started using derogatory language.
“But I do not feel let down, the Congress may call me by any name, may insult me to any extent, I will not change my way of life which I have learnt in the dust of the soil of Gujarat. I will continue to live among the poor and downtrodden and work for the welfare of the country. I am not one of those to get scared and give up any opportunity to serve the country,” he said.
The campaign by the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had ended abruptly on Tuesday when he was forced to cancel his three-day trip to the Kutch-Saurashtra region due to inclement weather. He returns on Friday to campaign in the north and central Gujarat regions, which are going to the polls in the second phase.
Aiyar blames it on ‘poor’ Hindi
Pushed to the wall, Mani Shankar Aiyar insisted it was because of his poor understanding of Hindi language that he used the word. “I am told that ‘neech’ has many meanings, many connotations in Hindi, and if 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.”
When repeatedly asked if he was tendering an 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.”
Aiyar said he was asked about Modi’s criticism of the Congress at an event and “the bulk of my answer dealt with Modi’s very, very nasty remarks about the Congress party and Dr Ambedkar and I used the word ‘neech’.” He said his “intention was not to talk of his (Modi’s) family”.