New Delhi: Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “neech aadmi"(vile man) jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday is only the latest in a series of ill-timed personal attacks he has made on top BJP leaders, often at the cost of political embarrassment to his party.
Aiyar’s barb came on the last day of campaigning for the first phase of Gujarat elections, where theruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces a spirited challenge from the opposition Congress. The first phase is to be held on Saturday and the second on 14 November.
Modi latched on to Aiyar’s remarks to slam the Congress and present himself as a “victim" of its “anti-poor mindset" as he addressed rallies in Gujarat. Many believe that Aiyar’s “chai-wala" barb at Modi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections helped Modi a great deal as he often referred to it in his campaign to highlight his humble background and attack the Congress. He had then claimed that Modi can never become prime minister but could sell tea at a Congress conclave, which was then underway.
In 1998, Aiyar, an articulate English speaker and writer and who described himself on Thursday as a “freelance Congressman" had called then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee “nalaayak" (loosely translated as incompetent). The backlash followed by his comment forced him to apologize. Even then Aiyar had made a similar defence that he did on Thursday—that he did not understand the import of the Hindi word used by him.
Aiyar’s unsavoury remarks gave fresh ammunition to Modi to target Congress. Modi had only recently used Aiyar’s reference to succession to Mughal kings by their sons to justify Rahul Gandhi’s impending elevation as Congress president. Aiyar, though, had also said that anybody was free to contest election against Gandhi but Modi seized on his Mughal reference to liken Gandhi’s elevation to “Aurangzeb raj".
Aiyar once called terror outfit LeT founder Hafiz Saeed as “Hafiz saab". He suggested in an interview on a Pakistani TV channel that peace between India and Pakistan can happen only when the Modi government falls and asked the neighbouring country to help topple the BJP dispensation.
Even his own party colleague Ajay Maken, then a minister in the UPA government, was not spared of his scorn in 2011 as Aiyar poked fun at him over his letter, saying a “BA pass" from Hansraj College in Delhi cannot use a word like “dichotomous".
Aiyar hit back at Maken, the then sports minister, for accusing him of playing a part in the cost escalation of Commonwealth Games projects and also questioned the authenticity of the letter he had written to the prime minister in which he made the allegations. Aiyar, a former sports minister himself, said Maken was not qualified enough to write such a letter to the prime minister. “...It contains words like ‘dichotomous’ which I cannot believe that a BA pass from Hansraj College would know," he said.