The recent comment of Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a ‘neech kisam ka admi’, has once again brought to the fore the low-levels politics can sink to in the quest for power. With just two days left for the first phase of polling, the lead up to it has seen it all – from crass jibes to videos targetting rival parties to questioning one’s religion.
Perhaps it attunes to the significance Gujarat holds for both the Congress and BJP or maybe it is just the “new normal” in politics where finding the right catch phrase has become so important that it ends up in abuse and name-calling. For BJP, the Gujarat elections is a mid-term test ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, while for Congress it is a matter of revival or being sunk into oblivion as it comes with Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins of the Grand Old Party.
Following Aiyar’s ‘neech aadmi’ jibe at the prime minister, Modi, addressing a rally about 1,000 km away in Surat, was quick to pounce upon the comment to play the victim card. He portrayed himself as someone from the poor section of the society and attacked the Congress for its “Mughlai mindset”. “A Congress leader, who has studied in best institutions, served as a diplomat, was a minister in Cabinet, said Modi is ‘neech’. This is nothing but a Mughlai mindset. What all have they called us – donkeys, neech, gandi naali ke keede…the people of Gujarat will give a fitting answer to such deplorable language,” Modi said.
However, it was Modi himself who a couple of days ago termed Rahul Gandhi’s apparent elevation to Congress chief as “Aurangzeb raaj”. Addressing a rally in Valsad district, Modi took off on part of a remark made by Aiyar on criticism directed at the Congress presidential election. “Yeh Aurangzeb raaj unko mubarak (Let them have this Aurangzeb reign). For us, the 125 crore people of the country are the high command,” the PM had said. But this came after Mani Shankar Aiyar gave reference to succession to Mughal kings by their sons to justify Rahul Gandhi’s impending elevation as Congress president. “When Shahjahan came in place of Jehangir, was there an election? When Aurangzeb replaced Shahjahan, was there an election? The emperor’s son will automatically get the throne.” However, later Aiyar clarified he was only speaking of Mughal succession of power and in Congress people were elected in a democratic manner.
Abuse by using the name of Mughals seems to be the flavour of the season. On Wednesday, BJP leader Narsimha Rao called Rahul Gandhi a “Babar bhakt” and a “Kin of Khilji” for refusing to clear the party’s stand on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. “Rahul Gandhi has teamed up with Owaisis, Jilanis to oppose Ram temple in Ayodhya. Rahul Gandhi is certainly a Babar Bhakt and a Kin of Khilji,” Rao said. The comments came on the backdrop of a raging debate over Gandhi’s religion after his name was found written on the entry register meant for non-Hindus after a visit to Somnath temple. However, Gandhi claimed he and his family members were ‘Shiv Bhakts’ (devotees of Lord Shiva) but asserted that he did not want to use his religion for political gains.
Moreover, the foul language was not just limited to verbal volleys. On November 22, a meme, posted on the official Twitter handle of the Youth Congress online magazine Yuva Desh, went viral, mocking the PM on his “chaiwala” past. It was a photograph of Modi, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May in conversation. It showed Modi telling the two leaders about the Opposition’s memes targeting him — “Aap logon ne dekha vipaksh mere kaise kaise maimai banvata hai?” Trump corrects him, saying the word is pronounced as ‘meme’ — “usse maimai nahin, meem kehte hain”. May tells Modi to sell tea — “Tu chai bech”.
The incident kicked off another war of words between the two largest political parties. BJP MP Paresh Rawal tweeted that “chai-wala is any day better than your bar-wala”. BJP’s Bihar unit chief Nityanand Rai said that any finger/hand raised against the prime minister would be “chopped off”. Even though Congress deleted the meme as soon as it was posted, the party didn’t let the matter rest without a punch.
Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Manu Singhvi listed several cases where the PM allegedly made derogatory remarks by calling his predecessor Manmohan Singh a “night-watchman”, Sonia Gandhi a “jersey cow” and Rahul Gandhi a “hybrid calf”. Singhvi also said the PM had termed the Congress a “termite” and called BJP the “mother and producer of derogatory, insulting and foul language”.
The acronyms over GST (Goods and Services Tax) has been another battleground for the two parties. Ever since Rahul Gandhi termed it Gabbar Singh Tax, highlighting how the new tax regime was forced upon small and marginal traders, there have been numerous versions of GST. At a rally in Gujarat, PM Modi said Gandhi’s demand of an uniform 18 per cent GST was nothing but “Grand Stupid Thought”. Such statements from political leaders of such stature has definitely prompted a closer look at the changing political discourse in the country.
However, the latest by Mani Shankar Aiyar brings to mind Sonia Gandhi’s famous “Maut ka Saudagar” remark that she made against Modi before the 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections while trying to stir up anger over the 2001 riots. The remark backfired on the Congress and they were thrashed by the BJP. It remains to be seen if history repeats itself this election.