Surat: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday attacked Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar for calling him a "neech jaati" (low caste) man and said by this he has insulted all the Gujaratis who will give a befitting reply to the Congress by voting for the BJP in the upcoming assembly elections.
"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 here.
He was responding to Aiyar who had earlier in the day called Modi "bahut neech kisam ka aadmi hai" in Delhi. "He is a very cheap person. Has no manners. What is the need to do such dirty politics on this occasion (at the inaugural of Bhimrao Ambedkar research centre in Delhi)."
During the 2014 elections, Aiyar's "chaiwalla" jibe against Modi had cost the Congress dearly as Modi and the BJP exploited the remarks on the humble origins of the Prime Minister.
Targeting Aiyar, Modi said he 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."
"You are the people who discriminated on the basis of caste. Not we. They feel troubled. You call us 'gandi naali ka keeda'. You call us low caste people but we won't lose our culture."
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. The Congress leaders are speaking in a language that is not acceptable in democracy.
"We have seen enough insults from them. They insulted me when I was the Chief Minister. They called me 'maut ka saudagar' and wanted to jail me. But our value system is strong. We have nothing to say to such elements. Our answer will come through the ballot box.
"I appeal to all BJP activists not to retort. But answer them on December 9 and 14 (voting days). My people should not lower their standards. We will teach them a lesson. Voting results would mean what low caste means when everyone votes for the BJP. You have lost your mental balance. I am not upset because I work for the people.
"You all have seen me. I have been the Chief Minister and Prime Minister. Has anyone had to hold his or her head in shame because of me? Have I done any shameful thing? Then why are they calling me 'neech'?"
Referring to demonetisation, Modi asked the crowd if anyone among them had lost money due to the note ban.
"Did you lose black money due to demonetisation. We cancelled registrations of 2.5 lakh fake companies. We found that some 5,000 companies had deposited Rs 4,000 crore black money during the note ban period," he said.
Hailing the work of BJP governments in Gujarat in the last two decades, Modi said earlier there used to be frequent powercuts but the problem has been solved now.
"We have stopped that. There were 700 sub-stations before the BJP came to power. Now there are 1,700 power stations.
"We are working to build modern railway station and airport in Surat. Surat is renowned in the world for its shining diamonds."
Aiyar responds: Aiyar apologised for using the word "neech" for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but maintained that he had not referred to him as "low-born".
"I never meant low-born. There is a difference in English language between words 'low' and ''low-born'. But in Hindi if low means low-born, then I tender apology," he told reporters after his remarks in the morning triggered a political storm.
Asked about Rahul Gandhi's tweet that he did not appreciate Aiyar's words to address the Prime Minister, Aiyar said he could talk about it only after meeting Gandhi.
Feudal arrogance, says BJP: The BJP said the Congress leader's remark reeked of feudal arrogance and "darbari soch" (sycophancy) that is inherent in the Congress party.
"Mani Shankar Aiyar called our Prime Minister as 'neech'. What does this signify? This shows the feudal arrogance and 'darbari soch' inherent in the Congress party," Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said here.
"They cannot bring themselves to terms with the fact that a person from a less privileged background became the Prime Minister of India. How could a 'chaiwallah' become the Prime Minister? That is the thinking behind this," he added.
Prasad also alleged that the "first family" never tolerated a Prime Minister from outside their fold and always tried to destabilise them.
Apologise, says Rahul: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi asked senior party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar to apologise for his "neech" barb against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Expressing his thoughts on Twitter, Gandhi said that it is not the Congress party's culture to use such language against political opponents.
"BJP and 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 Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the Prime Minister. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said," Gandhi tweeted.
Sagarika Ghose @sagarikaghose Why does @INCIndia need @BJP4India as rival, when it has #ManiShankarAiyar to finish it off from within?
Rahul Kanwal @rahulkanwal Aiyyar’s latest: I am Macaulay’s son. Can someone in his party ask this freelance Congressi to stop. Every minute he speaks the Congress may be losing hundreds of votes. Harakiri. Maut Ka Saudagar redux.
Barkha Dutt @BDUTT So #ManiShankarAiyar is the gift that keeps on giving... To the BJP. Ridiculous language in the garb of elitist punning. And just what the Congress does not need in Gujarat
Smita Prakash @smitaprakash To do a Mani. Yup! It’s a thing since 2014.