Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on Thursday triggered a major political storm by calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "neech aadmi" (base person), which the Prime Minister gave a caste angle, telling an election rally in Gujarat that describing him as "neech jaati" (low born) was an insult to Gujaratis who will vote out the Congress in the Assembly elections.
The Congress on Thursday suspended Aiyar from the primary membership of the party and issued him a show cause notice for his remarks against PM Modi. The disciplinary action against the Gandhi family loyalist came barely two days before the first phase of Assembly polls in Gujarat.
Here are the top 10 developments in the Mani Shankar Aiyar fiasco:
1) Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi slammed Aiyar's remark against the Prime Minister and asked him to apologise, which the former Union Minister did, claiming his knowledge of Hindi was not good. Aiyar clarified that he never called Modi a "low born".
As the row turned into an embarrassment for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to disapprove of Aiyar's language. "The BJP and the Prime Minister routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the Prime Minister. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said," Gandhi said.
BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) December 7, 2017
2) Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala said the action showed the party's "Gandhian leadership" and respect for political rivals. He asked whether PM Modi would dare to act similarly. "The Congress party has served a show cause notice to Mani Shankar Aiyar and suspended him from the primary membership of the party," Surjewala said.
3) The Prime Minister referred to Aiyar's remarks in an election meeting in Surat and attacked the Congress leader, saying he had called him a "neech jaati" (low caste). "They can call me 'neech jaati'. Yes, I am from the poor section of society and will spend every moment of my life to work for the poor, Dalits, tribals and backward classes. That is my culture. They can keep their language, we will do our work," Modi told an election rally.
4) Modi said Aiyar came from a good family, has a number of university degrees, was a diplomat for a number of years and remained a minister in the Manmohan Singh government, but was resorting to such insults. "This is an insult to Gujarat. Not just to Gujarat but to the entire nation."
He said Aiyar was speaking out of the "Mughlai mindset" that "sees everyone as 'neech'".
"They called us donkeys, neech, gandi naali ke keede... the people of Gujarat will give a befitting reply to such derogatory language. I appeal to all BJP activists not to retort. But answer them on December 9 and 14 (voting days)... Voting results would mean what low caste means when everyone votes for the BJP," the Prime Minister said.
5) Reporters got around to Aiyar at a function in Delhi's WWF Auditorium Hall and asked him about Modi's attack and Gandhi's demand that he issue an apology.
"Yes, I used the word 'neech'. Now, I am not a Hindi speaker and I translate from English to Hindi. So I used 'low person', I translated 'low' in my mind. If it happened to mean something else. I apologise. 'Neech' as I understand is a direct translation of 'low'," Aiyar clarified.
"I never meant 'low born'. In English there's a clear distinction between 'low' and 'low born'. It is very possible that in Hindi -- which is not my natural language and which I learned after much effort -- I translated 'low' as 'neech'. But if neech also means 'low born' then I apologise that I used a word which can be interpreted in many ways, and in the way Modiji is interpreting it, I have nothing to do with that," he said, adding, "I don't think he is low born but his language is very, I'll say in English, is very low language. Why would he use such a low language for the Congress on such an occasion. Whatever I say they want to misinterpret. As far as I am concerned the bulk of my remarks dealt with Modi's very, very nasty remarks about the Congress, particularly with Gandhi's relationship with Ambedkar."
6) Wading into the controversy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Aiyar's "neech" remark displayed a mindset that only one elite family can be a ruler and the rest are only the "neech". Jaitley later told reporters that it was part of a Congress strategy to belittle the Prime Minister every day and then say "I will retract".
"If you are unsure of the language or facts, then you are unfit to be in politics," 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.— Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) December 7, 2017
Mani Shankar Aiyer’s ‘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’.— Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) December 7, 2017
Mani Shankar Aiyer’s ‘Neech’ -attack on Prime Minister- a deliberate casteist statement, a convenient apology, a strategic suspension. People should see through this game— Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) December 7, 2017
7) On the last day of campaigning for the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections, the Congress on Thursday spent its firepower to question the ‘Gujarat model of development’, but Aiyar's derogatory remarks against PM Modi forced it onto the defensive.
8) A couple of days ago, the Prime Minister had brought up another comment by Aiyar to liken Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s imminent elevation to the consecration of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
9) Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath condemned Aiyar's remark against PM Modi, adding that the people of Gujarat would teach the party a lesson in the upcoming election. Talking to the media, Adityanath on Thursday said, "Mani Shankar Aiyar's remark is shameful and unfortunate. We condemn it. Using such words for the Prime Minister is an insult of India and its people. Congress party must apologise or people of Gujarat will teach them a lesson in upcoming election."
10) The BJP refuted Aiyar's claim that he held no post in the Congress as its leaders referred to his appointment in the "communication strategy group" by Congress President Sonia Gandhi in July this year. "All India Congress Committee Communication Strategist Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar's comment reflects what @INCIndia thinks of Honourable Prime Minister. Shameful to say the least," Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani tweeted.