Assembly elections

‘I meant low level when I called PM neech,’ says Mani Shankar Aiyar after row over his comment

The prime minister said his answer to the opposition party will ‘reflect through the ballot box’.

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on Thursday defended his description of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “neech” or low-life by emphasising that Hindi was not his mother tongue. “I meant low level when I said ‘neech’, I think in English when I speak in Hindi as Hindi is not my mother tongue,” Aiyer said. “So if it has some other meaning then I apologise.”

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said Aiyar’s comments do not fall in line with the culture and heritage of the party. “BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party,” Gandhi said on Twitter. “I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.”

Modi hit out at the Congress over Aiyar’s statements. Modi said the sort of language that the Congress leaders were using was “unacceptable” in democracy and was a result of “dynastic mentality”.

“You have all seen me as chief minister and as prime minister,” Modi said while addressing a rally in poll-bound Gujarat’s Surat. “Has anyone had to hold his or her head in shame due to me? Have I done any shameful thing? Then why are they calling me ‘neech’?”

Earlier on Thursday, Modi had taken a dig at the Congress at the inauguration of Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi. “Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s contribution to nation building is very important, there had been attempts to undermine his role, but such attempts were unsuccessful,” he said.

In response, Aiyar said Jawaharlal Nehru had helped Ambedkar realise his dreams, and the prime minister should not make such comments. “This man is extremely low-life,” Aiyar told ANI. “He does not have any manners.”

In January 2014, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Aiyar had dismissed Modi – the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate – as “chaiwalla”.

Modi hit back at the Congress for Aiyar’s remarks at the rally in Surat, saying , “Yes, I am from the poor section of the society and will spend every moment of my life to work for the poor, Dalits, tribals and the Other Backward Classes communities. They can keep up with their language, we will do our work.”

Modi said the Congress had insulted him even when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. “They called me ‘Maut Ka Saudagar’ and wanted to jail me,” he said.

The prime minister said he has “nothing to say” to say to such people, and his answer to them will “reflect through the ballot box”.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said Aiyar’s comments do not fall in line with the culture and heritage of the party. “BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party,” Gandhi said on Twitter. “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.”

Campaigning for the first phase of Gujarat polls comes to an end on Thursday. The first phase of voting will take place on December 9, when a total of 89 seats will go to polls. The second phase of voting will take place on December 14.

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