Picking up Congress veteran Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks calling him a “neech kisam ka aadmi” and linking it to his caste, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used it extensively to target the Congress on Thursday, the last day of campaigning for the first phase of the assembly elections in Gujarat. He told crowds that the remark was “an insult of Gujarat” and reflected the “Mughal mindset” of the Congress
In a 50-minute speech at a public meeting in Limbayat in Surat, Modi referred to Aiyar’s neech word 20 times and repeatedly urged people to respond and “teach them a good lesson” via the ballot for using such a word against the “son of Gujarat”. “Their senior, learned and highly qualified leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who also held an important post in the then Dr Manmohan Singh government, said ‘Aa Modi to neech jaati no che, Aa Modi to neech che. Mara bhaio, aa apmaan Gujarat nu chhe ke nahi, aa apmaan Bharat ni mahan parampara nu chhe ke nahi? Aa to Mughali mansikta che ke unchh ane neech na sanskar samaj ma nakhya chhe (This Modi belongs to a neech (low) caste, this Modi is a neech. My brothers, is this or is this not an insult of Gujarat? Is this not an insult of the great Indian tradition? It is their Mughal mindset that has made them introduce the the upper-lower class culture),” Modi said of the Congress.
“Nobody should respond with words or a tweets to those who have used such a word for me. What they have said is up to them. Those pained by such a mindset and want to take revenge, show it on voting day, on December 9 and December 14 which will be a befitting reply to the neech insult. Even if you call me neech, and even if they call me of a neech caste, I want to request you, nobody should lose temper, cross limits or use bad words.”
“Maintain dignity in public life which is the BJP culture. And we have to show them that. We have to give them a reply via the medium of election. In a democracy, the ballot box is the best way to teach them a good lesson and the best way to give them an answer. You (Congress) have called us donkey and gandi naali na keeda. We will stick to our culture, we will live like this. The people of Gujarat will take revenge. On December 18, on counting day, the answer will be given for using such a word against the son of Gujarat,” he said.
“This is not the first time they have insulted me. I have been through this earlier as Chief Minister when they called me Maut ka Saudagar. They conspired to send us to jail, and tried to send half our government members to jail. In the last three years that I have been in Delhi, I have not taken revenge. I have not lost my way, and we will never adopt that way. We will work on public values, and that is our duty,” he said.
“In our country, the Mughlai culture was such that in a village, if a person were to wear good, ironed clothes or a groom sat on horseback, the Mughals would not be able to bear the sight. This was due to the mindset of the Mughal Sultanate which saw others as inferior… I was Chief Minister of Gujarat for 14 years. I never did anything bad that made people of Gujarat hang their heads in shame. Did I do anything neech during my tenure as Chief Minister? The Congress party has realised that defeat is inevitable and they have lost mental balance… If I am from a neech caste, I feel proud because I can do good work for society.”
Aiyar’s remark and Modi’s response triggered a series of sharp reactions from BJP leaders. While party chief Amit Shah said it reflected the “culture” of the Congress, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said it was a “deliberate casteist statement”. In a tweet, Shah listed “phrases” used by the Congress against Modi in the past. “Yamraj, Maut ka Saudagar, Ravan, Gandi Nali Ka Keeda, Monkey, Rabies Victim, Virus, Bhasmasur, Gangu Teli, Goon. Nobody knows how many times have Congress leaders used this sort of language against Modi in the past. Years have passed, but there has been no change in its culture,” he tweeted.
Maintaining that he was neither “shocked nor surprised” by Aiyar’s remark, Shah said: “This is the culture of the Congress Party. People of Gujarat will punish anti-poor, anti-Dalit, anti-Tribal and anti-OBC Congress.” Slamming Aiyar, Jaitley said his neech remark against the Prime Minister “displays a mindset that only one elite family can be a ruler and the rest are only the neech.” In another tweet, Jaitley 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.”
Neither shocked nor surprised by Mani Shankar Aiyar’s referring to PM as ‘Neech.’ This is the culture of the Congress Party. People of Gujarat will punish anti-poor, anti-Dalit, anti-Tribal and anti-OBC Congress.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 7, 2017
The BJP dismissed the Congress move to suspend Aiyar. “Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘Neech’-attack on Prime Minister- a deliberate casteist statement, a convenient apology, a strategic suspension. People should see through this game,” Jaitley tweeted. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was in Ahmedabad, alleged that Aiyar had Rahul Gandhi’s “approval” to use such derogatory language. According to him, Aiyar targeted Modi because the latter had questioned the delayed conferring of Bharat Ratna on Babasaheb Ambedkar and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
“Modi was targeted by Aiyar because he had questioned why Dr B R Ambedkar was given Bharat Ratna in 1990 when he had died in 1956,” Prasad said. “This is the feudal arrogance of the Congress, as they could not digest the fact that the son of a poor tea-seller has become the Prime Minister. What Aiyar said is an insult to all the poor and downtrodden citizens of Gujarat and of this country.”